The History Channel certainly deserves credit for continuing to provide quality content exploring various topics throughout the ages. However, the question to any similar cable channel likely becomes this: how do you keep up and attract new audiences? The History Channel has done a commendable job in this regard, coming up with a series of new reality shows that can be at least tied in some regard to the remainder of their content. While the biggest success is the highly entertaining "Antique Roadshow"-meets-Vegas show "Pawn Stars", "Top Shot" is another good entry from the channel.
The series stars former "Survivor" star Colby Donaldson (who actually makes for a pretty good host, although it often does seem like he's trying to imitate Jeff Probst) in a competition show that sees various competitors trying to prove that they are the best marksman in a series of challenges based upon various historical events. As mentioned before, the History Channel's reality efforts do at least try to tie the concept into the various shows. In this case, the challenges are related to various historical events or themes.
While the series became a success in the first season, it was a little difficult to see how the series would change over time in order to keep from being repetitive. In retrospect, it should have been easy to see how the show would change for the second season: go bigger. Fans followed, as the second season opener saw the show grab a larger audience and a 2.8 rating.
Additionally, the series also continues with the same structure when it comes to contestants, choosing to keep with the same group and pare down the group each week towards a "Top Shot" $100,000 winner ($2,000 Bass Pro Shop gift cards are also awarded each week) rather than having a different set of contestants every week. As a result, audiences can have a consistent player or players to root for to keep pulling them through the series rather than the jarring effect of new people each week. The players are generally an interesting mix - both men and women - who are all very skilled and have different experience and backgrounds.
The challenges are definitely given a bump up in terms of required skill (and scope). Nature decides to interact with the first challenge, as the newly formed teams have to contend with rain and an increasingly thick fog as they have to focus in on pool balls set up on a course. Other competitions include bow-and-arrow work, firing from a moving vehicle, a relay race from target-to-target and much more.
Again, the varied weapons and stunt set-ups keep players on their toes, as they have to keep adapting to various changes and be both quick and often precise. Excellent editing and music enhance the tension, as well as the fact that when players are in teams, their team's counting on them.
The players have to live with each other in a house; while some drama is seen at times, thankfully the series continues to mostly keep away from the familiar reality show staple of trying to create personal dramas and bickering. There is some here-and-there, but the series remains mostly serious and focused. The series remains snappily edited, with what feels like minimal filler.
Overall, this is a well-made series (excellent use of slow-motion cinematography) that offers some historic tidbits of information, has a solid host in Donaldson (even if he is trying to be Jeff Probst) and (usually) focuses on the concept rather than contestant drama and remains tense throughout. I don't know how long the show's producers can extend the core concept, but so far, the series continues to be a sleek, compelling competition series.
The set includes the entire second season.
1.1 Episode 1: "Sharpshooter Surprise"
1.2 Episode 2: "Shoot or Be Shot"
1.3 Episode 3: "Uphill Battle"
1.4 Episode 4: "Compound Fracture"
1.5 Episode 5: "Quickfire Face-Off"
1.6 Episode 6: "Bury the Hatchet"
1.7 Episode 7: "Trick Shot Showdown II"
1.8 Episode 8: "Catch .22"
1.9 Episode 9: "The 1,000 Yard Shot"
1.10 Episode 10: "The Shakedown"
1.11 Episode 11: "Down to the Wire"
1.12 Episode 12: "Season Two Finale"
VIDEO: The History Channel presents the series in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation remained crisp and clear through much of the program, although there were a few inconsistencies with a scene or two looking moderately softer at times. Flaws were limited to occasional traces of pixelation. Colors remained vivid and bright, with no saturation or smearing.
SOUND: Basic stereo soundtrack.
EXTRAS: "Extended Team Selection", "Weapons Rundown", "Top Shot Experience" and "Anatomy of a Shot" run about 85 minutes in all and consist of what feels like a mixture of promotional and deleted footage. "Top Shot Experience" in particular provides a look behind-the-scenes as contestants talk about some of the benefits of having to have to live with other contestants and work on both their weapon and people skills.
Final Thoughts: If it's not broke, don't fix it: "Top Shot" ramps up the challenges but otherwise keeps what worked in season one similar. The DVD edition boasts solid audio/video quality and an enjoyable amount of bonus footage. Recommended.