Wow. After sitting through a 2-day marathon of The Amazing Race's first season, all I can say is "Wow." But in the interest of giving you something more insightful to read than 14 paragraphs of "Wow," I'll try to elaborate just a little bit.
When it comes to television, I'm kind of an insufferable jackass snob. Woe is the personal acquaintance who says "Talk to you later. Everybody Loves Raymond is on!" And they know it. With very few exceptions I detest sitcoms, loathe police procedurals, detest medical stories, and absolutely abhor "reality TV." (I do, however, hold a special place in my heart for Survivor, which I freely admit to never missing. Not ever.)
Aside from what I so snootily consider the "high-end" television shows that are still on the air (Arrested Development, Scrubs, Lost, The Simpsons, and a small handful of others), my television is used mainly for playing DVDs and checking out the Phillies score. My life is governed by movies, so if a TV show is ever going to hit my radar, it's through the magic of DVD.
DVD is how I discovered the joys of Firefly, the wistful brilliance of Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared, and the non-stop guilty-pleasure power of The O.C. and Smallville.
I once watched the entire first season of 24 in 28 hours.
Who's got time to remember when that new sci-fi show is coming on? Oh, and that new teeny-bop soap opera that you like? That's now on a different night at a different time but it doesn't matter because it'll be canceled in two weeks anyway.
Ptooi to the whims of network schedule-makers; DVD is where the good shows go to find their audience, and now I sit here wondering why it took so long for The Amazing Race to make its digital debut. Season 1 is just now hitting the DVD shelves ... but the broadcast schedule is already gearing up for Season 8! Get with it, fellas! Let's get these subsequent seasons ready for DVD-time, because if they're even half as enjoyable as the inaugural season was, The concept is simplicity itself: 11 teams will race around the world. The winning team, on top of a vacation/adventure experience they'll never forget, gets a cool million bucks.
But just think about the logistical nightmares that a project like The Amazing Race has to offer. This is "reality TV" on an epic scale, and the show offers a non-stop barrage of exciting chases, twisted road-blocks, outrageous challenges, and lots of real heart and emotion.
It seems that "reality TV" works best when the participants have much more important things to focus on than the omnipresent camera crews. Shows like Big Brother and The Real World got real old real fast when I realized that none one of the participants ever had a "sincere" moments. It's all overdramatic theatrics, forced banter, and camera-mugging. But in programs like The Amazing Race, the contestants seem to forget that the camera's even there. Frankly, they have bigger problems to deal with.
As The Amazing Race's first season hops from Africa to Paris to China, you get to know the contestants in up close & personal fashion. But then one duo that you love to hate turns around and does something sweet. Or your favorite team pulls a sneaky tactic and you start to root for someone else. The producers are smart enough to portray their players during their nastiest moments, as well as their most noble ones. This allows the viewer to see the players as everyday folks, and not just golden boy goodies and hiss-worthy bastards.
And this season is pretty much loaded with colorful characters; two best buddies from New Yawk, a plucky mom & daughter team, a solid handful of bickering young couples, two lawyers, and a pair of conniving gay guys who turn out to be the contest's most colorful inclusion. And since the viewer is dropped right into the whole confusing mix right from the very beginning, it takes a few episodes before you get to know these folks -- but by season's end, I can guarantee you'll find yourself rooting for someone and jeering towards others.
The Amazing Race is a whole lot of fun, and with 13 full episodes* packed into this four-disc set, you're going to have the ride of your life. Just remember to get up for food once in a while, because The Amazing Race: Season 1 is digital quicksand. Stick one toe in, and you won't be able to extricate yourself until it's all over.
Video: The episodes are presented in their original Fullframe aspect ratio, and the picture quality is quite excellent throughout. Shot mainly with handheld cameras, the footage is surprisingly crisp & clean, plus the numerous shots of the gorgeous backdrops add a lot of class to the adventure.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which serves the series perfectly well. Optional subtitles are available in English.
*Now here's a great little addition: Be sure to enable the "Side Trips" option prior to each episode. Then you can click "enter" on your remote when you see a little signpost, and that will take you to a chronologically-appropriate "side trip" (a deleted or extended scene). This adds a lot of little character moments and mini-adventures to whichever episode you may be enjoying. It might have helped to offer the "side trips" as part of an overall "deleted scenes" package, as well, but I'm certainly not complaining. All told, the "side trips" add more than 90 extra minutes to Season 1's quest-fest. Great stuff.
You'll also find four different audio commentaries scattered throughout the set.
Disc 1, Episode 1: "The Race Begins" -- Team commentary with Karyn & Lenny and Drew & Kevin
Disc 2, Episode 6: "Whatever It Takes to Win" -- Team commentary with Rob & Brennan and Team Guido (Bill & Joe)
Disc 3, Episode 7: "Triumph and Loss" -- Team commentary with Karyn & Lenny and Drew & Kevin
Disc 4, Episode 13: "Race to the Finish (Part 2)" -- Team commentary with Rob & Brennon and Team Guido (Bill & Joe)
The commentaries are entirely fun, especially for the longtime Race fans. The teammates look back over their adventures with much fondness and more than a little humility.
Also included are a trio of fine featurettes:
The 20-minute Reliving the Race features lots of fond looks back from many of the contestants and producers. Specific adventures are touched on, as is the overall impact that The Amazing Race's first season had on its audience.
Running just under ten minutes is Creating and Coordinating, which is an all-too-brief look at how such a massive project is undertaken ... especially during its first try!
The Lost Roadblock is a deleted challenge that involved the nasty drinking of an entire ostrich egg. Combined with the producer's intro, this humorous bit runs about seven minutes.
I'm hooked. Period. I'd contend that The Amazing Race should be the only logical response when someone says "all reality TV shows are garbage." OK, I still dig Survivor, but from now on I'll take the real-life rendition of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World over the real-life rendition of Gilligan's Island. Then again, they're not on at the same time, so I could probably watch both. More likely I'll just wait and enjoy The Amazing Race's separate seasons the way all good television should be enjoyed: on DVD.