In practical terms, NBC’s decision to launch a flag-waving reality show directly out of the Olympics qualifies as a shrewd maneuver. Brimming with patriotism and expressions of gratitude to the U.S. armed forces, “Stars Earn Stripes” pairs eight celebrities (the term is applied generously in some instances) with military personnel, executing a series of missions. While hardly a breakthrough on any level — indeed, about as unoriginal as the genre gets — if the goal is simply to keep the torch flickering between the Games and the fall season, mission probably accomplished.
As an interesting footnote, CBS and “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett explored legal remedies in 2001, when Fox introduced a series called “Boot Camp.” Now Burnett’s involved in his own offshoot, which is essentially “Celebrity Boot Camp.” Ah, those halcyon days when reality TV was young, idealistic, and “derivative” could be a dirty word.
The two-hour premiere quickly introduces the various stars and their guides, dispatching them on an amphibious mission that begins with jumping out of a helicopter into water while weighted down with gear. “I know there’s a chance I could die,” says actor Dean Cain, adding the necessary note of gravity to the proceedings, apparently without consulting the show’s insurance company.
Each celebrity is equipped with a POV camera, which does add a nifty visual wrinkle in terms of what they’re seeing (or swallowing) as they tread water, fire live ammunition and bust down doors. Meanwhile, retired Gen. Wesley Clark presides over the festivities — from a war room that looks as if he’s planning an assault on the Death Star — while the more camera-friendly Samantha Harris serves as his co-host.
This is, of course, a way to pay homage to the military while simultaneously seeking to approximate the look and urgency of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. More practically, the show demonstrates that even athletic ability doesn’t necessarily prepare someone for the skills these sort of military operations require.
Continuing unscripted TV’s commitment to provide full employment for Sarah Palin’s family, her husband Todd is also among the participants, albeit billed only as a “4-time Iron Dog champion,” as opposed to his more obvious claim to fame.
Apparently, “Stars Earn Stripes” isn’t worried about earning merit badges for transparency, but why sweat such details? With the Olympics ending, the show has one objective: Provide NBC another prominent platform above which it can wave the stars and stripes.