'American Daredevils' Review: Stunts Represent Best, Worst of Modern America

The daredevils on The History Channel's latest reality show drape themselves in the American flag. Do these thrill seekers represent the true American spirit, or is it nothing more than a patriotic branding game?

American Daredevils, debuting at 10 p.m. EST Oct. 22, offers a variety of answers to that question.

The entertaining series focuses on several stunt men who risk life, limb and small crowds by hurling themselves into harm's way.

Mr. Dizzy. Spanky Spangler. Dr. Danger.

They're all old enough to know better, but they can't help it. Even Spanky, who is carted off to the hospital after one stunt goes awry, is back in business the next day against his doctor's orders.

These courageous types all bow at the altar of Evel Knievel, the stunt icon who rode tall 30-odd years ago. He's the patron saint of their profession, inspiring a line of toys and a permanent place in pop culture lore. These daredevils will likely never reach that plateau, unless American Daredevils reaches Duck Dynasty-sized ratings levels.

These daredevils do embody much of what it means to live in America. They blaze their own trails, defy convention and aren't afraid of the consequences of their actions. They also live for a crowd, and in our YouTube age they crave the spotlight. One daredevil bemoans the tiny crowd that shows up to watch him defy the laws of physics. Others realize the elements needed to be successful at a particular stunt aren't in play, but they go ahead anyway merely to appease the fans.

This show could be their ticket to 15 minutes of fame, assuming they survive all the stunts on their schedule.

We do get snippets of actual reality here beyond the admittedly cool stunts, like when Spanky confesses why he continues to risk everything into his 60s.

"What else am I gonna do?" he asks. Elsewhere on the show, we hear him mutter, "I'm too old for this shit," after successfully completing a stunt.

In between we endure the standard reality show bluster--"It's time to go big ... or go home" one daredevil announces. Those obligatory solo interviews are full of bravado delivered with a grin ... they're still in entertainer mode.

Along the way, American Daredevils reveals some of the nuances of the craft. When falling from a building it's wise to rotate one's body so it lands relatively flat on the cushion awaiting below. The show's editors maximize the thrills, cutting between stunts to ratchet up the tension.

American Daredevils offers red, white and blue entertainment with an undercurrent of where the country stands in 2013.


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