Unrelated to the eponymous movie, “The Great Escape” comes from (among others) the producers of “The Amazing Race,” and can be best viewed as a series for those who find the CBS hit too intellectually taxing. Pitting three teams against each other in pursuit of $100,000, the self-contained episodes are fast-paced and chaotic, if not particularly exciting — laboring too hard to approximate the feel of a cinematic adventure. The absurdly bombastic score does most of the heavy lifting; otherwise, this is a harmless exercise in false advertising, since the show at best qualifies as a mediocre escape.
Credit TNT with at least putting its best foot forward, with the premiere set on Alcatraz, as a trio of couples — friends, lovers, siblings — vie to see who can survive what host Rich Eisen (yes, the NFL Network guy, creating a sportscasting atmosphere while doing little to augment his personal credibility) refers to as “a long night of grueling challenges.” And that’s just for the viewer.
Actually, the challenges prove as murky as the cinematography — which treats the audience to many familiar shots of people running with a steady-cam chasing after them — as the teams seek to avoid the “guards” (shoot to wound!), amass pieces of a key and engineer their escape. Being captured means suffering a significant setback against the competition, but on the plus side, does allow a robotic-sounding voice to intone, “The green team has been captured.”
Like a lot of physically oriented TV competitions, this one conveys a sense of kids playing cops-and-robbers, down to the contestants soberly whispering to each other. The format’s advantage — getting to visit a new venue each week — also involves a tradeoff, since we barely get to know the participants, or what $100,000 means to them, before they’re thrown into the brig.
In another reality convention, there’s also a clear desire here to co-opt memories from movies — not with Steve McQueen, so much, as “The Rock” and “Escape From Alcatraz” — to replicate the experience on the cheap. That’s the best explanation one can muster for the almost comically over-the-top score.
From a practical perspective, the show’s muscular, guy-oriented approach should fit well enough with lead-in “Falling Skies,” as TNT seeks to grow its original-programming footprint by expanding into unscripted fare.
Even so, “The Great Escape” isn’t really worth catching.