Wednesday, June 18, 2008

TV premiering tonight: Black Gold

I've never watched History's Ice Road Truckers or Discovery's Deadliest Catch, the very popular reality shows from producer Thom Beers, but they've clearly hit on some untapped market for stories about very manly men doing manly, primal things. Beers' latest, Black Gold, seems to follow the same formula, forgoing reality-show staples like contrived competitions, teary confessionals and staged situations to document the real-life perils of a tough-guy occupation (in this case, Texas oil drillers). I'm not quite sure I see the addictive appeal of a show like this, which to me seemed more like an educational program than a reality show. Sure, the two episodes I watched did spend a little time sketching out colorful characters on the three oil rigs that are the show's focus, and one episode featured that classic reality-TV staple, the drunken bar fight. But the nature of capturing such a volatile endeavor on tape means there isn't really any time to set up proper vantage points or properly cover each moment of drama, so the show is narrated nearly start to finish, explaining both the fundamentals of drilling and the relationships among the main participants.

You certainly learn more here than from your average reality show, but at the same time there isn't the emotional attachment to the participants that makes the show worth coming back to every week. When the narrator has to explain the same things over and over again (especially how much money everything costs, and how much they lose when things go wrong - the show is obsessed with dollar figures), the show loses its urgency and becomes just something teachers might use to pass the time on a rainy day in school. The producers do make an effort to establish some breakout personalities, but the people are generally too busy drilling oil to engage in too many TV-friendly hijinks. No one's all that lovable or hateable, either - it's not like there are any real-life Daniel Plainviews here drinking people's milkshakes; just hard-working regular guys trying to make a living. That may be admirable, but it's not great TV.

Learning about drilling is sort of interesting, but I don't think I need a weekly hourlong show for that. One special would be more than enough, and the drama here just isn't compelling enough to return week after week. Then again, there seems to be an underserved audience for this sort of thing, so maybe as a sheltered member of the creative class, I just don't get it. Tru TV, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.

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