America’s Got Talent: Extreme insists, via a Jackass-style disclaimer, that its stunts “are extremely dangerous and should not be attempted by anyone, anyplace, anytime.”
Yet they are still being attempted for a prime-time NBC reality TV show, and that show is now airing, even though production stopped when a stunt went wrong and almost killed someone.
Former Britain’s Got Talent performer Jonathan Goodwin—yes, this show also uses international acts from other versions of the franchise—was smashed between two exploding cars and then fell, landing on his head.
That happened during a rehearsal Oct. 21; he was just released from the hospital yesterday, his birthday, four months later.
Why did the show go on? America’s Got Talent: Extreme turns to former President John F. Kennedy.
“Why climb the highest mountain?” he asks via audio from his 1962 send-a-man-to-the-moon speech. “Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” AGT’s version cuts out all that moon nonsense, though, and edits JFK’s words into epic justification for all of the extremeness we’re about to see.
Yes, AGT knows how to put on a melodramatic, extravagant show.
To accommodate the acts, its home of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium has been replaced by a parking lot at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
America’s Got Talent has gone outside to parking lots before, for acts that wouldn’t work on a stage, and America’s Got Talent: Extreme (NBC, Mondays at 8) is basically four episodes and eight hours of those kinds of acts.
They’re augmented with fire and fireworks, slow motion and screaming that couldn’t possibly be coming from the small audience of masked people.
Yes, masked people—in Georgia! Now that’s extreme.
For the spin-off, judge Simon Cowell and host Terry Crews are joined by new judges, Nikki Bella and Travis Pastrana. Bella and Pastrana react and judge with ease, and since they haven’t been doing the job for years, offer something that feels fresh, despite an unfortunate moment of inspiration porn (“Your life is so aspirational,” Nikki Bella tells someone who uses a wheelchair).
Simon Cowell, though, has been doing this so long none of what he says has any impact. We’ve heard him pretend to not like something (“I didn’t particularly like that”—pseduo-dramatic pause—”I absolutely bleeping loved it”) so many times that it’s obvious what’s coming. He does it twice in the premiere.
When Cowell tells someone that’s “one of the most sensational auditions I’ve ever seen in my life,” it no longer has any meaning, because he says things like that all the time.
Everything can’t be the most extreme, and that’s true of America’s Got Talent: Extreme, which includes two acts of people dodging moving cars, and also someone throwing a football.
The two-hour premiere has time for just eight acts, because there must be more than 30 minutes of commercials, and time for bio packages, Q&A with the judges, and dramatic build-up, and then the judging, and dramatic build-up to the vote and/or golden buzzer. It takes 13 minutes just to get to the first stunt.
That’s familiar, since this is AGT’s formula, and it’s also exhausting.
In the era of TikTok, never mind YouTube, why would anyone sit through two hours of commercials just to see a few seconds of a stunt?
I mean that quite literally: One of the acts, Aaron Fotheringham, who performs as Wheelz, did the same trick six years ago on Nitro Circus Live, and you can watch that and other stunts he’s done right now without sitting through all the filler.
Does that make the stunt any less technically impressive or dangerous? Nope. It’s a thrill to watch, and quite dramatic. But if you can watch virtually the same clip on YouTube, why does this show exist?
The $500,000 prize is the obvious incentive for the performers, though human cannonball David “The Bullet” Smith, says the other part out loud: “I wanted to be here because this is the biggest stage in the world, and I’m very aware of that.”
That attention and platform, however, is going to professionals.
Smith is “the world’s most accomplished Human Cannonball”; Fotheringham does this for a living; the football-thrower is introduced as an influencer. One of the acts, Joogsquad, already appeared on America’s Got Talent.
There’s even a company competing: Verge Aero, which was hired to choreograph the drone show for Joe Biden’s victory party, shows off a fleet of flying drones, an impressive performance but one we’ve also seen before—including right here on NBC, during the 2018 Winter Olympics.
America’s Got Talent keeps giving itself credit, as if what we’re seeing is new, just for this show. Aaron Evans, who opens the show with an impressive parkour act in which he jumps over moving cars, has been doing that for more than a decade.
All of this effectively makes America’s Got Talent: Extreme like an amped-up version of MTV’s Ridiculousness: a clip show to fills the time. Except instead of just showing clips, it offers higher production values and a cash prize while asking people to perform again, risking their lives while wasting our time, all for a few seconds of real-life drama.
America’s Got Talent: Extreme
AGT knows how to put on a melodramatic, extravagant show, and does so with its collection of extreme acts you can mostly see elsewhere. B-
What works for me:
- The production design is impressive, minus the fake crowd noises
- Some of the talent is genuinely impressive, even if it is done by a pro
What could be better:
- More acts or shorter episodes
- Fewer professionals