One Car Too Far: TV Review
9 p.m. Sunday, August 19 (Discovery Channel)
David Pritikin, Sarah T. Davies
Discovery Channel's latest man-vs.-nature series follows a former British Special Forces soldier and a Southern California car enthusiast who set out each week to find their vehicle and drive it back to civilization.
In One Car Too Far, Discovery's latest man-versus-nature series (or in this case, man and machine versus nature), two men -- former British Special Forces soldier Gary Humphrey and Southern California car enthusiast Bill Wu -- are dropped in extreme Chilean locales, with the mission during each of the show's five episodes to find their vehicle and somehow drive it back to civilization.
If one accepts One Car Too Far as little more than a random exercise in survival tactics (how to scale a tree using a seatbelt, for instance) and the extremes of what a car can do (like ford a river), the show is rather enjoyable. In the first episode, the duo struggle against the wilds of the rain forrest; more accurately, Humphrey struggles against the wilds of the rain forrest, machete or ax in hand hacking away at the brush so Wu -- perched safely inside the car -- can drive the vehicle through the growth (a theme).
The chemistry between Humphrey and Wu is essential, and it doesn't really start to gel until the second episode when the men are stranded on a frozen volcano and fighting against some truly extreme elements. Humphrey is a typical hard-nose survivalist -- stern and knowledgeable -- but as the second episode reveals, he also can crack a smile and showcase some heartbreaking emotion. Wu, a nerd-boy, is less instantly likable as he is a constant whiner. He wears an "I (Heart) Wu" cap and wraps himself head to toe in Gore-tex, continuously complaining about how hungry he is in between references to Star Wars. In one sequence, after Humphrey fashions a smart fishing rod to catch some dinner, Wu says that the way Humphrey eats is "like a bear," and pulls retractable chopsticks from his hat, "because I'm used to a certain level of eating."
Wu's behavior may often be grating (including to Humphrey, who at one point hacks away at bamboo repeating "Kill Bill, kill Bill [...] as a motivational technique"), but he does know his stuff about cars. In a thrillingly filmed sequence late in the first episode, Wu fords the Jeep across the rapids of a freezing river like a scene from the Oregon Trail, finally proving his usefulness besides simply driving the car while Humphrey cuts paths for him.
In terms of tension, One Car Too Far might have been better as a scripted film, where there would have been real stakes built in to the idea of two men stranded in harsh conditions who find a car to help them escape. As it is, we know that these men might come up against some intense unpleasantries, but at no point is there an urgency to the proceedings. As for the series' third character, the red Jeep (10 years old with 4-wheel drive, we are told, though the word "Jeep" is never used), it survives such creative abuse that the entire thing seems primed for a "Little Engine That Could" car commercial.
Though the show's reason for existence may be without explanation (what exactly is it proving?), its general theme of "how to use all of a car's parts to survive" is engaging enough to want to follow Humphrey and Wu's travails, particularly once the team begin acting as a team and not just as two strangers caught in an unlikely situation. The addition of a competitive element would be helpful in making it more interesting for those not naturally attracted to the survivalist or car enthusiast elements, but in the end One Car Too Far does maintain just enough traction to get by, even for casual viewers.