I must admit right out front that I'm rather biased against reality TV. The weekly drama that unfolds as random people are forced into tight living quarters just doesn't interest me. I do, however, enjoy some of the games and competitions people are often put through, and as many I'm interested in the end results. I'm choosey when it comes to this kind of programming, but The History Channel's Top Shot was definitely more my style.
Top Shot aired in 2010 and the first season featured ten episodes. A second season is underway right now, but for the purposes of this DVD review History Channel collected the entire season on four DVDs.
The concept in Top Shot is a bit different than what you might find in some of the more popular reality programs. Basically 16 people are brought together for the purpose of competing for a $100,000 cash prize. They compete as a team, winning challenges and advancing, and eventually when only a few players remain they square off against each other. The goal is to give the contestants a variety of weapons, both modern and historical, and see who the better marksman is. It's a simple formula that has worked for many other shows in the genre, but it's more effective here due to the focus on competitions, rather than interpersonal drama.
As the season begins we are introduced to the competitors and host, Survivor contestant Colby Donaldson. I won't get into whose who among the competitors, but let's just say that they mostly stem from military or law backgrounds. There are, however, a few standouts that come from other career fields and shoot simply as a hobby or competitively. These competitors are forced to live in a house together, and naturally there are things that stem from that, but thankfully they play second fiddle to the focus of the program.
The episodes follow the typical reality TV pattern with an opening to the episode, a first competition that determines a bonus, followed by a second that prompts elimination of a contestant. The twist here is the way the producers of the series approached the material and competitions. There is a nice variety of trick shots, obstacle courses, and long ranged courses. Peppered in between are historical elements with dissection of particular guns, where and when they were used, and some background information on the weapon as well. The balance between history and competition is handled well and it definitely set itself apart from the rest in that regard.
Rifles, pistols, and revolvers are featured here, but the real interesting competitions involve other types of weapons. Slingshots, bows, crossbows, and throwing knives all make an appearance here. It's clear that some of the competitors are better equipped to handle some of these weapons than others, but even so they all put up a fight for sure. Still, I'd say it's the trick shot competitions that are the most entertaining. Throwing a tin can into the air, shooting at a deck of cards, hitting targets while flying down a zip-line, and firing at moving targets are just a few examples of what's available here.
At the end of the day Top Shot Season One is an entertaining show. The competitors are likeable enough, though I feel that's because the focus is stronger on the competition rather than the individuals, but the real heart is in the concept itself. Sharpshooting, sniping, and marksmanship may be a niche market, but the series broadens it with the historical focus. It's a skill-based reality show, and those are few and far between. If you're looking for a reality show that marches to the beat of a different drummer, this is one that's worth checking out.
Top Shot is presented on DVD with its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Unlike History Channel shows of the past, this one comes in anamorphic widescreen. The quality of the picture is solid with sharp details, clean lines, and decent black levels. There is some noise in the picture, and there's some slight pixilation as well. By and large the production quality is good enough and that carries through to the transfer of this DVD.
For audio Top Shot comes with a 2.0 English stereo track. The quality is on par with expectations, so plan for a rather flat, front-centric presentation. That's a shame because this is a series that could have benefitted greatly with the focus on firearms and weaponry, however it's just not in the cards.
For bonus features here there are elimination interviews, contestant bios, and some additional footage that didn't make it into the final episodes. These are totally worth checking out once you finish the show, which is convenient since they are featured on the final disc.
If you're worn out with reality TV like I am, you might just get a kick out of Top Shot. The concept is "out there" and is interesting enough to keep you tuning in episode to episode. It's also nicely edited as well so the interpersonal drama is kept to a minimum and there's real tension in the competition. As entertaining as it is though, I'd say this DVD set is worth a rental. The show isn't the type that you'd go back to time and time again. It's still a solid pick though.