Top Shot: Season 4
A&E Video // Unrated // $29.95 // November 6, 2012
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted November 27, 2012
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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 got "Top Shot: Revolutions". Apparently, once the series went beyond a trilogy, there was no more use for extended titles, as season 4 is ... merely season 4. The fourth season of the series tries - and to the show's credit - generally succeeds - to push the challenges a step further. The other change this season is with the batch of contestants picked, who are a somewhat more diverse bunch than in previous seasons. We still get police officers and current military personnel, but this time around, we get more self-taught individuals from other fields, including a high school custodian and IT professional.

The series pares down the group each week towards a "Top Shot" $100,000 winner 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. While the series originally starts off with teams, later in the season it comes down to everyone for themselves.

The challenges in the series have always been absolutely remarkable in terms of the level of skill and precision required to pull them off successfully, but the series continues to surprise with contests that seem near-impossible, such as a challenge that's more than challenging: trying to shoot a gumball off of a tee - without knocking down the tee. Watching the challenge, one may ponder whether or not future seasons of the series may take it to the point of a challenge that involves a fly and its wings.

We don't get that this season, but we do get a series of stunts that are at times nothing short of stunning, such as: trying to open a bottle by hitting a bottle opener, trying to hit targets while riding in a motorcycle sidecar, firing from 1,500 yards and even a memory challenge. Weapons range from rifles from the 1800's to a "bag gun" to a grenade launcher. It all comes down to a very close final challenge.

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. It's a little tired and feels like reality show filler at times when it happens, but thankfully, the series continues to be largely about showcasing the level of talent of the contestants. A few minor/mild issues I have with the series continue, the key one being the historical connections, which were apparent in the first season and have continued to lessen since. It would be nice to see a bit of history start to get integrated into the series again in future seasons.

Still, 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 still absolutely trying to be Jeff Probst) and (usually) focuses on the concept rather than contestant drama and remains tense throughout. Overall, the series continues to be a sleek, compelling competition show.

The set includes the complete 4th season, as well as the "Behind the Bullet" making-of documentary.


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: "Behind the Bullet" lasts about an hour and provides a solid overview of the season, as well as further background on the contestants. We get less additional bonus footage this time around (over half an hour), but it's less interesting, much of it basic contestant background. Previous season sets have offered additional documentaries ("Weapons Rundown", "Anatomy of a Shot"), but those aren't found this time around.

Final Thoughts: "Top Shot" continues to push the envelope on the challenges and introduces another solid group of contestants, making for a compelling season that remains tense right up until the close final challenge. The DVD edition boasts solid audio/video quality, although less extras than prior seasons. Recommended.

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