Representing Esquire network’s first serious bid to get noticed, “White Collar Brawlers” is so conceptually distasteful that it’s easy to overlook the banality of its execution. Like many reality shows, there’s an underlying movie-inspired conceit — in this case “Fight Club,” except the goal here is to violate the “first rule” by getting everybody talking about it. Still, however appealing donning gloves to pummel the guy in the adjacent cubicle might sound, the result is fairly substandard reality fare — a show that’s more about the “journey” and six-week training process than the slow-build to the fisticuffs at the end of each hourlong episode.
The premiere deals with financial planners and former roommates Andrew Devine and Ryan Sainsott, who had a vaguely described financial dispute over their old apartment. Competitive at work, they’re both eager to step into the ring, they say, and settle old scores, filling their direct-to-camera interviews with typical macho bravado.
Once assigned to respective trainers, however, self-doubt begins to creep into the conversation, largely because neither guy is exactly a natural pugilist. Moreover, the two work out in the same gym, so they can watch each other as they fret about their own progress, seemingly just to maximize the pre-fight hype. Where’s Don King when you need him?
Mostly, the show leaves you with questions, like how the workplaces of those who participate can seemingly sanction and embrace such an event, and what happens in that inevitable episode (at least, should the show go beyond its initial six-round order) when someone is actually disproportionately good and beats the living daylights out of the guy sitting adjacent to him. Now that ought to add a slightly uncomfortable dynamic to the next staff meeting.
Without giving too much away, that’s hardly the case in the premiere, and Devine vs. Sainsott (as the press release too cutely characterizes the fight) is perhaps inevitably a letdown — about as compelling as “Celebrity Boxing” as the two awkwardly flail away, despite all the urgent music and slow motion used to foster a sense of excitement. (The series hails from the company behind “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” so they know a thing or two about massaging reality.)
In that respect, “White Collar Brawlers” — a slightly incongruous addition to Esquire’s Bravo-for-men-like lineup of lifestyle fare — is less upsetting for what it is than what it says. Namely, the show reinforces a presumption that the male audience, in particular, is so numb and resistant to anything that isn’t sports the only way to rouse it is with poor dumb slobs agreeing to get punched in the head for our amusement.
From that perspective, when it comes to word-of-mouth about “White Collar Brawlers,” let’s hope the first rule of “Fight Club” really does apply.