In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, BBC3. Repeated 11.30pm, 2.25am; Sunday 8pm, 12.30am
In the US: Nowhere yet, but who knows. Maybe Discovery or BBC America
Anyone fancy a game of monkey tennis?
That if, you'll recall, was one of Alan Partridge's last-ditch pitches to a BBC commissioner in an attempt to get his own TV show. It's easy to imagine a similar conversation taking place in Soho House, not so long ago, between a desperate producer, a little the worse for wear from white wine and 17 rejections, and a BBC3 commissioner looking for new shows.
“Anthropology Agro!” suggests the tipsy prod. “We send six buff men around the world. They meet all sorts of tribes and cultures. They learn about their lifestyles and their customs. Then they pick fights with them.”
“Hmm,” muses the somewhat patronising BBC3 commissioner. “We are the BBC. We are supposed to be educational and informative. Except we're BBC3. We're watched by chavs and morons and Torchwood fans – who are both chavs and morons. The only way we're going to get our target demographic of XYZ9s to be interested in another country and its culture is by sticking it in an XBox360 first-person shooter backdrop and making sure there are plenty of naked tribeswomen in it.”
Decided, she exclaims, “Brilliant! You're hired” and Last Man Standing is born.
Except, it's the BBC. It's too liberal to be sending the prime of British youth around the world to beat up the natives. That's too Raj, too Empire. We can't do that anymore.
So they've stuck in a couple of provisos.
- Three of the six buff young athletes have to be American
- They all have to be bollocks at fighting
When it comes to wrestling, kickboxing is the chocolate teapot of martial arts.
Take this week's first episode. Our intrepid hextet are flown out to Brazil to meet the Kalapolo tribe. The Kalapolo tribe like to wrestle. They wrestle with each other. They wrestle with other villages' tribes. They wrestle from when they're kids until old age.
If you were going to send the best team possible to fight the Kalapolo, who would you pick? Maybe a judoka, someone who does Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or a Russian Sombo expert? At a push, how about someone who did Greco-Roman wrestling in high school or at college?
No. You great silly. You really want to send one of these guys, apparently
- Brad: Weightlifter
- Corey: Skiier and mountaineer
- Jason: BMX champion
- Rajko: Fitness guru
- Richard: Rugby and cricket player
All very good - indeed, excellent even – in their respective fields.
But BMX champion? Really? Ho hum. We're going to lose.
Hey! What's this? There's also Mark, a kickboxer! Surely he can win something. Surely it's not all rigged from the beginning.
Hmm. Kickboxing. Can you see the problem? Kickboxing teaches you to do two things very well
Wrestling? No. Not so much. When it comes to wrestling, kickboxing is the chocolate teapot of martial arts. And with the remaining seven episodes consisting of things like Zulu stick fighting and bull racing, it's not going to come into its own any later on. Mark is a martial arts 'beard', providing cover for accusations we're not trying our hardest.
But essentially we're sending a bunch of blokes around the world to get beaten up. We might just as well have sent Newcastle-Under-Lyme's over-60s crochet team. How edifying.
Still, there is that anthropology element, where we get to learn about other cultures. That is relatively interesting, even if the whole show's narrated by Richard Hammond off Top Gear (who's actually not bad).
And suspiciously, it's also where our intrepid team seems to do well.
The Kalapolo want to go fishing in their canoes. What's this! Corey rows at Harvard. How handy.
Now the Kalapolo want to chop down a spirit tree and carry it a long distance. Here's Brad, who carries really heavy things a lot. And here's Jason who's… really? Seriously? Okay… Jason's a tree surgeon, everyone. How handy's that?
It is the British Raj*. We've sent out a bunch of people who are all jolly nice to get shot at by natives and then recline with them in the clubhouse afterwards.
I'm not exactly sure how much you actually learn from a show like this. You get to learn a bit about the mindset of athletes, which turns out to be a semi-transferable skill.
If they can't even get England right, how can they get the tribes of Brazil right?
But you certainly don't learn anything about fighting. It's pretty clear that after a week of training with the Kalapolo, our hapless team were no wiser about balance-taking and other standard groundwork techniques than they were when they started, and we certainly didn't get to know anything about the Kalapolo's fighting style except the rules (unless you already know stuff, in which case you might go 'Oh look. Ura nage,' to yourself at various points).
As for the anthropology side of things, you do learn a little more about the Kalapolo, such as their shamanic customs, their mourning rituals, how they live and how they eat – although nothing about their history, their religion, marriage customs, etc. You also learn their chief is a bit like Alan Sugar. But it's not really in-depth stuff.
I'm not entirely sure how accurate the anthropology side is, though. Let's face it, Richard, the Oxford theology student, is naturally depicted playing croquet, standing in front of Oxford colleges (rather than crap-hole student accommodation), and cycling around town in a gown and white bow tie, which hasn't been compulsory - I don't think - since the 70s. If they can't even get England right, how can they get the tribes of Brazil right?
Nevertheless, it's quite enjoyable. It's education-lite, the athletes - even the Christian fitness guru and the posh-boy Oxford student - are all actually really very likeable. You do get to see cultures you don't normally see on television except in boredom-inducing, equally content-lite National Geographic documentaries. Hampster's narration is very amenable.
And you get to see fights (and naked tribeswomen. And semi-naked buff blokes).
Worth a look-in, I reckon, and I'm certainly going to be tuning in next week. Heavens. Am I part of a BBC3 target demographic? That can't be right...
Here's a clip of some amusing hardness the Kalapolo put the athletes through. Tee hee. That's got to hurt.
* Clearly, Teddy Roosevelt's dreams of empire have sunk into the DNA of America as well over the last century
- July 23, 2007: Review: Human Weapon 1.1
My review of Human Weapon
- August 31, 2007: Series Review: Last Man Standing
My series review of Last Man Standing
- October 13, 2011: Review: Last Man Standing 1x1-1x2
A review of the first episode of ABC's Last Man Standing,