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Spike’s “Jesse James Is a Dead Man” probably is the most boring show ever made about a guy trying to kill himself.
The problem isn’t necessarily the stunts undertaken by host Jesse James, who in his spare time from running the West Coast Choppers bike shop likes to drive fast and live recklessly. The real issue is that the series goes to such pains to sell itself as edgy and dangerous that it comes off as anything but. After every breathlessly narrated setup that posited whether James would indeed finally die (spoiler: he doesn’t), I couldn’t help but hear Homer Simpson shouting, “To the extreme!”
Each episode will involve James undergoing a potentially lethal stunt just because. In the opener, he has his sights set on the nitro bike, an honest-to-God rocket-fueled motorcycle that actually killed a buddy of his in an accident a few years earlier. But one of the show’s weaknesses is that James’ training, prep and eventual stunt are dragged out over an hour, meaning he winds up doing a lot of tangential things that aren’t related to the main event. To get accustomed to higher G forces, James rides in an F-16; to know what it feels like to be in a fire, he’s immolated while wearing a special suit; and to see what an accident looks like, well, they just blow up a bike and mannequin. Even James doesn’t pretend there’s any scientific value to that one: “Come on, we’re just blowing shit up. That’s what we’re doing.”
James eventually gets to ride the nitro bike and after a few false starts makes it through the quarter-mile run. That’s it. Roll credits.
The point of the show isn’t to be suspenseful or even entertaining. It’s just another Spike show where stuff gets blowed up real good. As such, it’s hard to get too worked up over its mediocrity. It’s a dull but harmless hour of explosions, ideal for background noise while doing laundry, hung over. James probably would approve.
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