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9 p.m. Tuesday, June 26
The idea of Shaquille O’Neal leading a network reality show on which he’s the self-appointed drill sergeant browbeating fat kids into exercising and cutting out the pizza and cheeseburgers to save their lives (let’s call it “Scared Slim”) sounds on the surface like a typically shallow, self-righteous photo op in the guise of public education.
While there is indeed some truth to this perception, ABC’s “Shaq’s Big Family Challenge” proves a genuinely well-constructed and timely summertime diversion that figures to inspire a decent number of kids and their parents to reverse their destructive eating habits and sedentary ways. The message: If they don’t, say hello to a lifetime of health issues before meeting an early grave. If that sounds overly heavy (no pun intended) for a piece of primetime featuring a guy who has himself fought weight problems, well, the truth is that kids and teens really are packing on pounds at an epidemic rate and could use a little wake-up call right about now. This is probably as effective as any.
The primary weakness of the show is made obvious throughout. It’s too much about promoting Shaq as heroic do-gooder. As an announcer breathlessly blurts at the outset, “He has just six months to change the future — and save a generation!” Yes, there’s that whole alter-the-course-of-humankind thing. You just wish it weren’t solely the responsibility of a 7-foot egomaniac of a pro basketball superstar who has suffered workout issues of his own.
But let it also be said that Shaq comes across in the premiere as being legitimately dedicated to this task nearly as much as to his own image enhancement. He is charged here with whipping six profoundly obese adolescents into something resembling shape in six months, using his own distinctive motivational techniques (“Hey! I’m Shaq! You’re gonna do this for me — because Shaq said so!”).
It’s clear in the opener that he’ll have his work cut out with kids who can’t do a single push-up or sit-up, giving him an excuse to glare and flex his biceps with utter impunity. At least no one gets voted out of the gym by America via telephone vote. That alone makes this thing unique.
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