The New York Times
By Neil Genzlinger
August 12, 2012
The thanking of our troops is a fine gesture, but one easily exploited by anybody looking for an applause line or a few more votes or, perhaps, improved television ratings.
Monday’s two-hour premiere of the NBC series “Stars Earn Stripes,” in which entertainers and athletes work with experts to complete militarylike missions, drenches a promising premise in a distracting amount of troop-thanking. “We get it!” you’re tempted to yell the fifth or sixth time a celebrity gushes about how great America’s soldiers are. “We even agree. But you’d be doing these men a favor if you stopped thanking them so much and let us get to know them instead.”
The show features eight stars, among them the Olympic skier Picabo Street, the actors Terry Crews and Dean Cain, and the World Wrestling Entertainment champion Eve Torres. Each is paired with a man — yes, they’re all male, for reasons unclear — with impressive military or police credentials, usually in his past.
The teams race to complete missions under conditions that include live ammunition and explosives, the claim being that this will give the stars a taste of what real soldiers experience. That is an absurd overstatement, of course, since no one is shooting back or planting roadside bombs intended for them.
The premiere, though, does include a few moments when the stars genuinely seem to be getting more than they bargained for. The mission involves destroying a cache of enemy ammunition, and reaching it requires leaping from a helicopter into water while wearing heavy gear. Two of the stars learn that this is a dangerous maneuver even when it isn’t being done under enemy fire.
Wesley Clark, the retired Army general, is a welcome presence overseeing the proceedings and evaluating the performances. He has an easy manner on camera and, as you’d expect, plenty of real-world knowledge to bring to these fake soldier games.
Everyone else isn’t given much of a chance to establish a persona beyond platitudes, at least not in the premiere, and so viewers have no way to develop a rooting interest unless they were fans of one star or another going in. Nick Lachey, the former 98 Degrees singer, and Todd Palin, Sarah Palin’s husband, have brief moments that demonstrate they could bring spunk and wit to the show if given the chance; the producers would do well to turn them loose. Mr. Palin, perhaps surprisingly to some viewers, also makes a pretty strong case that he is the celebrity you’d want in the foxhole with you if you were ever caught in a real war.