Faux-war TV is hell: 'Stars Earn Stripes'


Savaged by anti-war activists, tut-tutted by nine Nobel Peace Laureates, and mocked by television critics, NBC's new competition show Stars Earn Stripes, which had its two-hour premiere last night, can add another pissed-off demographic to its rolls: fans of reality TV.

"Star" is a vaguely-defined taxonomy when it comes to reality TV, and Stars Earn Stripes' crew is really no sadder than Dancing With the Stars' recent celebrity casts. There's even a Palin — not America's Sweetheart Bristol this time around (she's all over the place as it is), but "four-time Iron Dog champion Todd Palin."

Stars Earn Stripes
— a study in breathtaking jingoism that pairs vaguely famous types (competing for charity) with actual military operatives (competing for ... recruitment? Dignity?) in "missions" that appear inspired by Call of Duty sequels — debuted to mildly crap ratings, so it may not go the distance anyway. But here are ten highlights, lowlights, and/or otherwise notable takeaways from Monday's episode.

1. Retired general Wesley Clark, who introduces himself as "Wes Clark," though he doesn't seem like the type who cottons to nicknames, explains in his intro that he's doing this show for "one reason: to introduce you, the American people, to the individuals who have sacrificed so much for all of us." This is military doublespeak for "Join the Navy" and also "I am getting paid more to read off a teleprompter for an hour than you are making in six months."

2. The faux-peril tone of the show is ridiculous. It is implied that the celebrity participants are in actual danger while performing war-esque stunts as camera crews follow steps behind. "They barely survived!" lies the announcer, who might as well have said "They just rode unicorns!"

To be clear, Stars Earn Stripes in no way resembles realistic combat, a scenario in which whoever you're fighting is actively trying to end your life or at the very least remove a limb from your body. Also, I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure there's no Twitter on the battlefield.

(Is Nick Lachey wearing lipstick with his turtleneck?)

3. Speaking of the celebrity contestants, they include a few people you've actually heard of, like Nick Lachey (whose opening-credits one liner is "Nothing prepares you for battle like a boy band!"), Laila Ali (whose father famously went to jail in opposition of the Vietnam War), and Sarah Palin's hubby, whose participation here can only have given rise to some kind of elaborate in-joke among the cast. How else to explain the line "He's just straight-up Rambo!" (delivered with absolute seriousness) in reference to Todd's goatee'd heroics?

4. Terry Crews actually looks like he could win a war all by himself. "WWE Diva Eve Torres" does not, though it's pretty obvious why she was cast.

5. Real, loaded, live weapons are used in the competition's "amphibious assault." A machine gun, a grenade launcher, and "the deadliest sniper in U.S. history." America, fuck yeah!

6. The line "Treat this gun like a woman. Baby her."

7. Crawling through the mud under barbed wire, the ultimate war-movie cliché, obviously gets trotted out here. Other stuff you might recognize because it's totally not original: bombastic music that stands in for actual excitement or emotion. Low-flying helicopters. Yo NBC, where's the sadistic drill sergeant?

8. The line "I know there's a chance I could die!"

9. Beefy size-zero badass Samantha Harris, decorated veteran of Dancing With the Stars, Seasons 2-9, hosts. She has been in the shit, people. IN THE SHIT.

10. The line "I'm looking forward to taking on a real mission." ORLY?

Stars Earn Stripes airs Mondays at 9pm on NBC, so you might want to make sure you're not watching NBC Mondays at 9pm. Instead, may I suggest TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo as a far better representation of what makes America such a special snowflake among world powers? You're welcome.

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