Other than patriotically wrapping itself in a flag, “American Grit” is a warmed-over reality concept, not only aping various programs on Discovery, but coming across as a near-remake of “Boot Camp,” a Fox series that premiered in 2001, six months before the Sept. 11 attacks. The one wrinkle here is wrestler John Cena, who turns out to be something of a natural as hosts go. Still, that’s relatively small compensation to enlist in this latest competition series.
Cena quickly introduces a quartet of military veterans, each of whom will serve as a mentor to four competitors, as the teams are put through a series of challenges. These aren’t just any civilians, though, but a variety of folks who bring certain credentials to the party, from a celebrity fitness trainer and an ex-NFL player to a bodybuilder, lumberjack and roller-derby athlete.
If everyone is in pretty dang good shape, that’s still no assurance of success in the various trials to which they’re subjected. But the real ordeal for viewers, inevitably, is the petty squabbling and sparring that begins almost immediately, with the trainer in particular seemingly eager to cast himself in the bad-guy role as a cocky jerk. (That does inspire one unintentionally amusing moment, when a rival refers to him as “the epitome of what’s wrong with our fitness in America,” while pronouncing “epitome” as if it rhymed with Jim Rome.)
As noted, Cena brings energy and earnestness to the hosting chores, as do the mentors. Yet barring audiences forging some unforeseen bond with the by-the-numbers competitors, “American Grit” seems too familiar and derivative — down to the pounding and relentless music — to break out in any significant way. That’s unfortunate for a network that could certainly use another unscripted standout, with another series that features “American” in the title having just signed off.
Under former reality czar Mike Darnell, Fox enjoyed a longstanding reputation as a risk-taker within the genre, for better and (often) worse. By contrast, when programmers are content to throw out the sort of me-too fare that mimics what cable networks are already supplying in abundance, well, “Grit” happens.