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Review: 'The Great Escape' is like 'The Amazing Race' lite

'The Great Escape' on TNT features teams competing for a cash prize in an hour-long episode.

June 23, 2012|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • "The Great Escape" was filmed at the Alcatraz prison.
"The Great Escape" was filmed at the Alcatraz prison. (John Nowak, TNT )

One could try to avoid comparing TNT's new reality show "The Great Escape" withCBS' long-running and perpetually Emmy-winning reality show"The Amazing Race," but why? Especially when the similarities and differences are so readily apparent.

In "The Amazing Race," 11 teams of two travel around the world chasing clues and fighting off elimination in hour-long episodes until the finale where three teams compete for the $1,000,000 grand prize. Meanwhile, in "The Great Escape," three pairs of contestants spend an hour-long episode chasing clues and evading capture as they frantically labor to escape from some labyrinthine site in order to win $100,000. So, a bit like "The Amazing Race: Home Edition."

And indeed, this is one of the first thoughts provoked by the premiere episode, which is set onAlcatraz:Wouldn't it be great if somehow this show got spun off into an event franchise and you could actually do this? Watching the three pairs — an engaged couple, a couple of best friends and a brother and sister — as they scuttle through the prison's darkened hallways, or skulk against the edifice's crumbling walls, the flashlight beams of vigilant guards crisscrossing just ahead of them, it's hard not to wish you could play too.

Yes, the prize is smaller, but even though most of us do not have the time, or the endurance, for a weeks-long, continents-wide race, we could all give up a day or so to participate in a super-cool treasure hunt.

In the second episode, on the aircraft carrier the USS Hornet, the activities were more demanding and a bit more extreme — contestants had to tolerate cold water and repel from lofty heights. Though the more timid among us might have hesitated, it was great fun to watch a father and daughter try to not just win but keep their relationship intact while doing so.

The show's episodic nature, however, limits the attachment viewers can form for the teams (and also, mercifully, the level of celebrity these folks can later attain). But there is something to be said for brevity — unlike many competitive reality shows, "The Great Escape" doesn't take itself too seriously. The contestants are playing a game, not transforming themselves as human beings.

Executive-produced by Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and "The Amazing Race's" Bertram van Munster, and hosted by the NFL Network's Rich Eisen, the show's success will depend a lot on the sites of the various adventures. After a season spent watching the drama"Alcatraz" (I don't care, people, I liked it!), I kept waiting for some mysteriously time-transported inmate to appear during the premiere escape, but even in the dark with minimal visibility, the Rock is a great and creepy place to play hide and seek.

The USS Hornet, though not as historically menacing, is worth crawling through as well. Upcoming episodes include a Titan missile silo, an Air Force boneyard and a Louisiana swamp, all of which sound promising enough for a fast-paced adventure on a hot summer night.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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