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. Still, with recent shows like "Cajun Pawn Stars", one wonders if ideas are starting to run a little thin.
"Shot" 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.
After the second season ("Top Shot: Reloaded), we get "Top Shot: Revolutions", er, I mean, "Top Shot: Gauntlet". The series continues to gain in popularity and, as a result, the only answer to how the show can continue to hook audiences is to push the envelope further. The season sees 16 contestants - including homeland security agents, a restaurant owner and former Navy SEAL.
The series also continues with the same structure - if it ain't broke... - 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 challenges were brought up a notch in the second season, and the third season sees some of the challenges becoming almost Rube Goldberg-like (a series of cannonballs have to be guided through a little course by constantly hitting a series of targets.) Other challenges are, more simply, just taken to eleven: bigger, bolder and faster, including a stagecoach round and one going backwards on a zipline. Others are primitive, but still immensely challenging, including using rocks and bouncing arrows off a ramp towards a target. The weapons range from the primitive to the ultramodern and everything in-between - as per usual, contestants are kept on their toes by the constantly changing mix of weapons they have to master.
I'm a little skeptical of the show's historical connection, which seems to have lessened since the first season pretty considerably. Still, the series continues to push forward and gain a following.
The players still have to live with one another in a house over the course of a season. While the series does occasionally let egos take center stage as some of the players create drama, thankfully the skill is really the primary focus. The participants seem more serious and focused this season than the last, making for a more compelling experience than the prior season.
Overall, this continues to be a well-made series (excellent use of slow-motion cinematography and some stunts that are creative in their staging), 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.
• Season 3
24 3-01 09/Aug/11 The Gauntlet
25 3-02 16/Aug/11 Down and Dirty
26 3-03 23/Aug/11 Slug it Out
27 3-04 30/Aug/11 The Bulldog Gatling
28 3-05 06/Sep/11 Throwdown Showdown
29 3-06 13/Sep/11 Turn the Corner
30 3-07 20/Sep/11 Tricked Out
31 3-08 27/Sep/11 Ramp It Up
32 3-09 04/Oct/11 Stacked
33 3-10 11/Oct/11 Odd Man Out
34 3-11 18/Oct/11 Wheel of Fire
35 3-12 25/Oct/11 Season 3 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: Over an hour of bonus footage is included, with the "Behind the Bullet" behind-the-scenes documentary, "Anatomy of a Shot" and "Weapons Rundown" pieces, as well as additional bonus footage. The bonus footage is a little more enjoyable than usual for this sort of series, and some of the behind-the-scenes footage (such as the detailed looks at some of the various weapons used) will likely be of great interest for those in the subject matter. The documentaries also provide a greater look into the background of the contestants.
Final Thoughts: "Top Shot" continues to push the envelope on the challenges and introduces a good set of contestants, making for a compelling season. The DVD edition boasts solid audio/video quality and an enjoyable amount of bonus footage. Recommended.