The formula for "One Way Out" goes something like this:
The series provides a look at the science behind the physical stunts of escapologist Jonathan Goodwin. No, wait, it's a study of the work an escape artist puts into his craft. Hold on, no, it's just a series of goofy tricks where Rube Goldbergian devices aim to pummel Goodwin and his friends.
I've watched hours and hours of the Discovery Channel series and still can't quite figure out what the point is. Sure, it's plenty fun, and like most Discovery offerings, the rewatchability factor is quite high, thanks to a quick pace, fun stunts, and the undeniable charms of its stars. But just what the hell is this show about?
When "One Way Out" premiered as a one-off special in April 2008, it knew precisely what it was: a one-hour pilot episode about an escape artist, his latest challenge, and the clever prep work behind it all. At the center was British escapologist Goodwin, who had already made a name for himself across the pond courtesy such programs as "Dirty Tricks" and "Death Wish Live." "One Way Out" brought him to the States alongside college pal (later dubbed "chief collaborator") Mikey Nelson and ace engineer Terry Stroud; Stroud's job was to build an office that could be flooded with water, from which a well-bound Goodwin had only minutes to escape before drowning.
The special had all the hallmarks of your average Discovery presentation: lots of build-geek talk about the technical problems inherent in filling a massive metal container with over twenty tons of water, lots more science-geek talk about the human body and what it can endure, plenty of footage of Goodwin and Nelson hammering out pre-stunt tests, and constant reminders to never, ever, ever try this at home, or at work, or anywhere else you might be thinking of drowning yourself in a bathtub with an anvil and bungee cords.
Better still, there wasn't a hint of the gaudiness of a "secrets revealed!" show - Goodwin isn't an illusionist, so there's no magic to debunk. Indeed, Goodwin has a pretty high failure rate, and he's not ashamed of it, leaving the show to become a warts-and-all look at how these professionals train their bodies and minds.
In January 2009, Discovery premiered a revamped "One Way Out," this time as a ten-episode series. But so much had changed: the episodes were reduced to a half-hour; narration was streamlined, with Goodwin doubling as our first-person host (fixing the pilot's most notable problem: multiple narrators, with multiple points of view); and, most notably, more pre-trick stunts were added, some of them only thinly related to the "final" stunt.
This is the series' biggest trouble, as all those extra stunts and tricks and neat-o side ideas weaken the focus of the show. Too few of the series' episodes have a consistent purpose - in "Bee Stung Brit," Goodwin prepares to cover himself in bees but must first learn about what bee stings do to the body and why; "Dizzy Limit" uses escapes from various spinning devices to examine centripetal force. In both cases, the information is ample and the theme is clear.
The rest come across as too random, too on-the-fly. "BMX Bounce" features a string of stunts resulting in Goodwin hitting something (or, more often, vice versa), intended to be a study of force and impact but barely covering it; while it's all quite fun to see the wacky contraptions Stroud's built to, say, crash a heavy door onto Goodwin's trapped noggin, the whole episode lacks a purpose other than "here are some ways we made up to comically hit people." (The big finish, in which Nelson rides a bicycle at full speed toward Goodwin, is one hundred percent Johnny Knoxville, without much in the way at all of scientific education.)
Usually, the science being taught comes to us as a mere aside, as it's likely episodes were planned merely by their stunts and not educational value: "OK, I'd like to have a car run over my head this week. Any science chatter we can toss in there in between?" Most evident of this is in "Long Way Down," where the trio can barely be bothered to discuss notions of drag and lift while practicing how best to break a fall. (And even without the science, the episode is all too random, leaping from stunt to stunt with only the thinnest of connections.)
I assume Goodwin and company planned on crafting little more than an extension of his British programs, but had to shoehorn educational elements in once Discovery came along. The result is fabulous entertainment - Goodwin is a crackerjack host, and his stunts truly dazzle - muddied by attention-deficit concepts, with a too-quick running time that keeps the action from building enough speed to really get going.
Discovery and Image collect all ten episodes, plus the 2008 pilot/special, onto a two-disc set. The two discs are housed in a single-wide keepcase with a hinged tray.
Most notable about these episodes is their length. The numerous, insanely redundant "coming up next" bits that plague most Discovery titles have been thankfully removed; however, that leaves the episodes with an average running time of twenty minutes each.
The episodes presented here are:
Disc One: "Bee-Stung Brit," "Ice Trap," "Dizzy Limit," "Long Way Down," and "Human Catapult."
Disc Two: "Buried Alive," "BMX Bounce," "Trial by Fire," "Car on My Head," and "Bird-Brained."
Video & Audio
Barring the occasional use of underwater/in-the-coffin/etc. cameras and their grainy footage, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks very good here, at least as good as it looked during its original broadcast. Like all Discovery shows, colors are straightforward and detail is sharp but not showy.
The soundtrack is a simple Dolby stereo mix, which delivers an adequate balance of dialogue, narration, and music, just fine for a documentary series. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided.
As mentioned above, the hour-length pilot/special is included, although it's treated here as an eleventh episode, as part of the "play all" function.
Discovery's wondrous "The World Is Just Awesome" promo plays as both discs load. One of the best commercials I've ever seen, its inclusion anywhere is always welcome.
With more screen time to flesh out his ideas, or at least focus them, Goodwin might've stirred up a real keeper. As it is, "One Way Out" offers plenty of fun and the sporadic educational moment (ever wonder how cell phones vibrate, and what that has to do with washing machines? Stay tuned!), which is enough to make it well worth watching, but not enough to make it worth buying. Rent It.