Like a lot of reality TV, “Risking It All” employs an extreme, all-or-nothing approach to an otherwise manageable problem. Three families in different parts of the country choose to explore their pioneering spirit (another well-established TV tradition) by forgoing modern conveniences for three months of “life off the grid” — without electricity or running water. The fact all three have fairly large broods of kids turns the children into props, a tried-and-true TLC formula, which makes the show not much of a risk, development-wise, and still mostly a snooze, TV-viewing-wise.
Part of the challenge facing the premiere involves introducing the three families and boiling down their issues to TV loglines. So the Kemps, with five kids, are seeking to reconnect after dad was laid off from his no-time-for-family job; the Elliotts, with three kids, desire a more holistic existence, due to mom’s degenerative arthritis; and the Watfords, with four children, want to save their marriage.
In this opening phase, there’s a lot of talk about “livin’ off the land,” as if Steinbeck had a hand in the development process, and how the kids “need to unplug a little bit.” Of course, simply taking away their iPhones or limiting their TV time wouldn’t make for much of a series, would it?
“Risking It All” doesn’t make for much of a series either, despite following in the footsteps of ventures ranging from “Survivor” to PBS’ “Colonial House,” which also asked the burning question of how modern folk would fare deprived of all the gizmos we have come to take for granted.
At least initially, the producers seem so desperate for any crumb of legitimate drama that they make a big music-thumping deal out of a lost parakeet, which one parent describes as “devastating.”
That’s not to say there isn’t an audience, if perhaps a modest one, for watching people who want to play at being frontiersmen. From that perspective, “Risking It All” does reinforce the impulse to save electricity — even if that just involves turning off the TV.