Cable television used to hold the promise of uncut Hollywood movies, live sporting events, and all the Superstation repeats of Petticoat Junction a household could stand. Now, decades after the cable revolution, some of us spend our evenings and weekends watching gamblers make stupid bets, truckers haul oversized loads on frozen rivers, and meter maids argue with ticketed drivers. And honestly? It's not so bad.
I Bet You: Season 1 contains nearly 10 hours of poker stars Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari roaming the streets, wagering over who can get the most hugs from strangers, master the basics of surfing in an afternoon, or coach a YMCA basketball team to victory. The entertainment value of I Bet You has little to do with who wins or loses; it's all about the odd-couple pairing of the gregarious, goofy Laak and the shrewd, wiry Esfandiari, and their running patter of trash-talk, second-guessing, and nitpicking. It's fun to watch Laak do just about anything, but especially when he's impulsively yelping, "It's a crush, kid! I'm crushing you!"
Similarly, History Channel's series Ice Road Truckers is addictive not because fans expect to see a big rig crack the ice and sink into icy water, but because the people engaged in arctic freight-hauling are such outsized characters. Each year, veteran truckers brave subzero temperatures and the dangers of iced-over bodies of water to deliver equipment to mines and oil wells in extreme northern Canada, and in the process, they swear a lot, get on each other's nerves, and gripe about every minor equipment failure or bureaucratic snafu. Ice Road Truckers: On And Off The Ice consists of three special episodes that probably should've been tacked onto the first-season DVD set, but for the uninitiated, the disc offers a fair introduction to a dangerous job and the gruff folks who do it.
Then again, what's more dangerous: unstable driving surfaces, or disgruntled Philadelphians? In the tradition of docu-series like Cops and Airline, which ask viewers to identify with the harried service people and low-level authority figures who ordinarily ruin our days, Parking Wars takes us behind the scenes with the men and women of the PPA. A third of each episode is dedicated to the ticketing beat, a third is about the long lines of irritated citizens at the municipal tow lot, and the final third follows the process of giving cars "the boot." Of course, there's innate drama in watching people get irritated, but as with the best time-wasting cable shows, the eight half-hour episodes on the Parking Wars: The Best Of Season One DVD offer a twisted kind of wish-fulfillment. We step into the shoes of the guys and gals with the ticket-pads in their hands, and live vicariously through their ability to make life hell for people who probably deserve to be left alone.
Key features: Negligible bonus footage on each.