Knights Of Mayhem

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Knights Of Mayhem

Knights Of Mayhem debuts tonight on National Geographic Channel at 9 p.m. Eastern.

There are probably good reasons that jousting isn't a professional sport, but that isn't stopping the guys in Knights Of Mayhem from trying. I suppose in a world where MMA can be broadcast on a major network, anything is possible, but the barriers to entry for jousting – like owning horses and plate armor and possibly dying – are pretty damn high.

But Knights Of Mayhem, which serves as the name of both the show and apparently the organization, is driven by a man with a dream, Charlie Andrews. Andrews also happens to be the #1 ranked jouster in the world, and the kind of guy whose bro-tastic charisma veers wildly between “Yeah, this guy could pull it off” and “did he seriously learn to talk from watching action movie trailers?” Andrews wants to be the star, the CEO, and Chairman of the Board all at once, and even describes himself as “everything” to pro jousting. Which may be true, and there are constant references to his money being the primary investment behind the league, but he doesn't exactly come across well when he trumpets that constantly.

Really, Andrews comes across as a bully, grabbing the others by the scruff of the neck and forcing them to come along on his crazy plan because they want to be pro jousters. And perhaps also that his combination of bullying, manipulation, aggression, skill, and theoretical business savvy are exactly what's necessary in a hyper-masculine group like, say, people who want to joust each other for money.

The big drama of the first episode comes from the arrival of Brian, a fellow with an imposing build, a theoretically-imposing goatee, and a bunch of opposite-of-imposing freckles. Brian's pissed off from last year, when he skipped the World Championships because another jouster, Jason, told him that Charlie wasn't going to let people without their own horses ride. We never find out what was actually said, mostly because Brian storms in grumpily, starts some arguments, gets shoved around, then jousts and everything turns out okay. Here are the men in their element, arguing about gossip like “schoolgirls”, then fighting it out and embracing as men in the aftermath of the field of battle.

Despite the somewhat contrived reality-show framing inflating the drama, I think there actually is something legitimately interesting going on with the jousting and the show. These men all have existing relationships with one another, but one of them is trying to fulfill an ambitious dream. So on one hand, you have the feeling that a bunch of friends are getting together and knocking each other off of horses for concussions and fun, and on the other hand, here's an attempt to make it as a professional sport, “Ultimate Jousting.” (I do kind of wish that we saw a bit more of the business end of things. Are these guys getting paid? Are they breaking even? What kinds of attendance do they need?)

This tension comes across the most when it involves the two best jousters, Charlie and Patrick. Patrick goes by “The Black Knight” and comes across as the only guy who won't take Charlie's shit. Charlie, on the other hand, keeps referring to Patrick as his “brother” but also to undetermined “personal problems” that have sabotaged Patrick in the past. I'm not sure if it's the show's editing or Charlie having a vendetta, but since we never actually hear anyone talk about the specifics of what Patrick has done that's so horrible, it comes across as Charlie doing petty sniping against the one jouster who can actually compete with him.

There's no resolution to this in the first two episodes, which air tonight, and it's clear that it's being set up as the big conflict driving the series. It's good for that, but the fact that we don't hear about the reasons for their rivalry makes it come across as more than a bit manipulative on the part of the show's producers.

On the technical side Knights Of Mayhem does quite well for itself, especially visually. The jousting makes for an incredible visual at times, especially with cameras attached to the lances. The sound isn't quite as impressive, though the music is an entertaining collection of generic metally riffs. They even show some of the jousting matches all the way through, which is fun and even a little bit tense at time, although as a sport, I think it's a little bit too fast and chaotic to grasp as it happens. Still, the whole package comes together nicely. It's plenty interesting to watch the jousting happen, and there's a sufficient amount of behind-the-scenes drama to make a reality show worthwhile.

Stray observations:

  • “I don't care if it's my grandma in a suit of armor. I'd be gearing up to knock her ass off.” - Charlie Andrews
  • One jouster describes how a man died in a joust in 2007. A piece of the lance drove through his eye into his brain.
  • “I've had more concussions than I can remember.” - Jason, the nerdiest of the jousters.
  • “I really hope that his personal life has caught up with his jousting.” - Charlie on Patrick
  • “The economy's just crashed. I had to sell my business. I gotta do what I gotta do to take care of my family.” - Joe, one of the rookies, getting his priorities straight.