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Is Man vs Bear the weirdest TV show of the year? | Television & radio

An MMA fighter stands on top of a platform, hopping up and down as he prepares for a game of tug-of-war. “Come on baby, get some of this,” he shouts down at his opponent, attempting to psyche him out. Except he can’t psych his opponent out, because his opponent is a 1,400lb grizzly bear who unthinkingly yanks him screaming from the platform in about 10 seconds. A commentator intones: “I’ve seen just about everything in sports, but this tops it all.”

Welcome to Man vs Bear. It is a television programme about some men who want to beat a bear in a fight. It is a real television programme that really exists. Donald Trump is president of America.

In round two of Man vs Bear, the men try to push a 2,000lb barrel across a patch of land faster than a bear can. They all fail, because the bear is eight and a half feet tall, and also a bear. In round three they have to eat a giant mound of bear food faster than a bear can. Again, they all fail because the bear is a bear, and it has both the jaw size and dental structure to accommodate the food, and it weighs between six to 10 times more than the men, and the men are not bears. To reiterate, this is a real television programme that someone went to the trouble and expense of making, and Donald Trump is the leader of the free world.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show as stupid as Man vs Bear. And that’s saying something because, for a while back there, shows really tried to be stupid. There was Naked and Afraid; a Bear Grylls-style survival show about people who were nude for some reason. There was Man vs Food; a food series determined to make all food look unnaturally revolting. There was Eaten Alive; where a man attempted to get eaten whole by a snake. There was Touch the Truck. There was Don’t Scare the Hare. Before streaming came along and provided everyone with a smorgasbord of prestige drama, this is the sort of dumb crud that people actually watched.

So in a way, it’s good that someone has made Man vs Bear. It’s a beautiful throwback. It’s heartening that, in this fractured media landscape, there is still room for an aggressively gormless television programme about a bunch of absolute idiots who have the sheer deluded balls to assume that they would ever be able to beat a bear at anything at all.

And, obviously, the bear does win. The bear wins everything. It’s a bear. It’s a giant bear that dwarves all humans in every physical manner imaginable. Of course it’s going to win. It’d be a different story if the producers levelled the playing field a little and introduced a few categories that were weighted in the human’s favour. Maybe if there was a round about sudoku, or tying a Windsor knot, or working on the advice of a relationship counsellor in a doomed bid to save a failing marriage, the humans might have a shot. But no. Man vs Bear is all about people who think that they can be a bear better than a bear can. They’re all doomed right from the get-go. But, honestly, God bless them for having that sort of chutzpah in the first place. We need it these days.

Brad during the rope challenge.
Brad during the rope challenge. Photograph: Discovery Channel

It’s hard to see what the point of Man vs Bear is, having watched the first episode. Is it that we should fear bears? Because that seems sort of redundant, given how inherently petrifying bears are. Is it that man will never be able to eat a pile of dead insects faster than a bear? Because, if it is, who does that information even serve? Is it, perhaps, that bears are some of the most majestic creatures on Earth, and that they deserve our respect? Because, if that’s the case, don’t make a TV show where you goad bears into playing tug-of-war with MMA fighters. Because, and I hate to break it to you like this, watching it sort of cheapens the majesty a teensy bit.

In the final round of Man vs Bear the men get inside a big metal ball and try and stop a bear from pushing it into a ditch. They always fail, because they are normal-sized men and the bear is literally a bear. Donald Trump will be re-elected president next year.

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