The Hero: TV Review
8 p.m. Thursday, June 6 (TNT)
Electus, 5x5 Media, Charles Wachter, Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson looks for heroes among ordinary men and women through a variety of physical and mental challenges, but allows viewers to make the final call.
TNT's The Hero, hosted and executive produced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, features nine competitors who must convince viewers they are worthy of a grand prize, with plenty of twists along the way. The Hero's focus is not only on physical challenges, but also on mental and moral tests as well. In addition to a dizzying number of combinations for the nine to be shifted into each episode (six people in the team challenge, three in a post-team challenge, one in the hero challenge, three who sit out, six who vote for the three, etc.), there are also a number of secret "temptations" thrown in for each individual.
The point of The Hero is to not only find a "real hero," but to define what that means. Johnson has assembled nine diverse competitors (who are diverse racially, age-wise and from a variety of backgrounds) who live together in a luxury condo in Panama City and compete each week for a cash prize. Only one, who is voted on by their peers, can go for the prize money each week, and can then decide to keep the money or put it into the overall pot, which could add up to $1 million. Of course, each competitor only has a one-in-nine chance of winning it back. While the decision to keep or contribute the money is a public one, Johnson appears to others throughout the episode like a hulking spectre, whispering temptations whose outcomes will be kept a secret (except to those watching).
Those watching are important -- The Hero also wants to know who viewers think is morally corrupt or full of selflessness throughout the series. In the end, viewers will be able to decide who wins the money as well. Competitors are aware of this, which adds another layer to their strategizing. While almost all of them in the premiere episode are friendly and swear they will share the money, many are also catty and two-faced in their one-on-one interviewers. A few make meta comments about how their housemates are putting on an act for viewers while they, "the lone voice of truth," are laying it all on the table.
The rules of The Hero can be a little hard to follow at first, with its numerical permutations and war rooms and "temptations," but the series is an easy watch. Already in the first hour, housemates bicker and strategize and cry, which is dramatically promising. Without the element of elimination (at least, none was discussed), there's also a great sense of development, as even nefarious personalities will have to stick around (many times voters eliminate the "crazy" ones, which as producers know, are sometimes the greatest draw). In The Hero, everyone stays, but only the best among them potentially will be rewarded with victory.
Johnson owns the show by being a motivator, a tempter and a charismatic host. It's unsurprising that the show plays out so easily -- 5x5 Media has certainly honed their craft with series like Survivor and The Amazing Race, and had a successful partnership last year with TBS, one of TNT's sister stations, to produce the surprising and under-appreciated King of the Nerds. The challenges in the premiere are dramatically filmed, and the editing is at a nice pace that gives some feeling of tension without feeling rushed, and even manages to juxtapose a few scenes to good comedic effect.
Any series that includes audience voting is going to be about character, even if it's not as overt as on The Hero. But these nine individuals have to walk a tightrope of asserting themselves without looking self-serving, and sacrificing for the group without looking weak. The results of such sociological experimentation are engaging, even when competitors grate on everyone's, viewers included, last nerve. Ultimately, even with so many competition shows on the air that have done almost every formula there can be, The Hero finds a way to make things feel fresh and interesting, with Johnson as a great anchor.