Capture debuts tonight on The CW at 9 p.m. Eastern.
Capture, the CW’s new adventure game/reality show ends with the disclaimer, “Portions of this program not affecting the outcome of the competition have been edited/recreated.” For most viewers, that revelation will be greeted with a bemused, “Thanks, we got there already.”
It’s a shame, too, as Capture’s premise has some promise. It’s essentially a large-scale game of “capture the flag” (although the producers would no doubt like viewers to think Hunger Games as much as possible), pitting 12 two-person teams against each other in an expansive, woodsy playing field. The rules, as explained by Luke Tipple, yet another smirky Australian tasked with hosting such things, involve one team being chosen as the hunters, who must attach a cylindrical doohickey (named, perhaps overdramatically, “the talon”) to the vests of another player. If you get taloned, your team is sent to jail to cool your heels and see if you get voted out on the last day. The hunters have two days (made up of two four-hour rounds) to capture two teams. If they capture just one, they might be voted out. If they capture no one, they go home. Everyone wears cool, color-coded jumpsuits and the winning team gets a quarter of a million bucks. Simple.
Unfortunately, Capture muddies up the water by incorporating an element of Survivor-style gamesmanship to the proceedings, apparently succumbing to the conventional wisdom that everything on television has to have a “reality show” element to attract viewers. Each duo is introduced via a brief sound bite where they are assigned one easily-identifiable trait for viewers to latch onto. There’s the couple who love parkour and live in their car, the fitness freaks who are “just friends,” the athletic gay couple who proclaim themselves “a different breed of gay man,” the British twins, the comically douche-y bros who boast that being “the most handsome guys here” will help them win the competition, the two women from Brooklyn with the overemphatic hand gestures who actually say “fuggeddaboutit,” and so on. That a surprising number of players make reference to their scheme to use, as Jenna Maroney might say, “their sexuality!”, to help them win is puzzling at first, since it’s not clear how being flirtatious will aid them in evading capture while running through the woods. (I had a mental picture of Bug Bunny in sexy lady disguise popping out from behind a tree and saying, “Hello there…”) As the game’s “reality” dimension is revealed, however, it becomes dispiritingly apparent that Capture is going to cram in as much “drama” as possible between the sprinting and the bug bites.
After the first day’s competition, the players retire to “the village,” a series of metal frame bunks where they find a trunk filled with supplies and have to spend the night battling the elements. Man Vs. Wild it ain’t, but over the course of the episode, players do have to contend with chilly temperatures, rain, and even a hailstorm (the show was filmed near Shaver Lake in Fresno, California). It’s here where the reality show elements come into play, with the bros successfully pitching a coed sleeping arrangement “just for warmth” and a jailed female player politicking for votes. It’s also where Capture’s questionable sexual politics come to the fore—and get downright creepy at times. Especially look at the scene where a jailed female player is being leeringly propositioned by one of the “handsome” duo about some sort of “trade”: There’s an unnecessarily sleazy undertone to Capture which, going by next week’s trailer, is only going to get more icky.
Apart from its creepiness, this aspect of the show is also the least interesting. It’s only the first two days of the competition, so no one has to endure that much hardship, making the show’s attempt to heighten that facet of the game perfunctory and rushed. The same goes for the alliances some teams attempt to form—there are so many players, about whom we know too little, to become attached. Also, few of the players are especially good at, shall we say, simulating spontaneous conversations, making the artifice of this purportedly unrehearsed jockeying hard to sustain.
Speaking of fakery, when the first attempted capture comes, the potential excitement is lessened somewhat as the realities of filming intrude on the immediacy of the moment: Each player has a shoulder mounted camera, sure, but as the chase begins, complete with establishing shots, the manufactured nature of the confrontation deflates the tension. Each team is clearly being followed by at least one camera/sound guy, which renders the show’s assertion of spontaneity somewhat suspect—I mean, if the hunters are so intent on sneaking quietly up on their prey, isn’t the presence of a TV crew tromping along beside them kind of a handicap? As that initial chase goes on, the contrived drama gets more pronounced, with cameras clearly already set up to capture the prey team’s hiding place. That, coupled with the fact that interspersed talking head interviews comment on actions we’ve just seen while they are supposedly in hiding, gradually lets the air out of Capture’s tires. Reality genre staple or not, this level of blatant narrative cheating is pretty insulting.
It’s a shame, as the physical and strategic elements of the competition itself have promise. Described as 4000 acres, the show’s course is nice and rugged, necessitating a combination of speed, stamina, and smarts, and the fact that many of the participants seem to have been selected for their unique skills adds another level to the contest. Will the parkour practitioners’ abilities give them an advantage over the personal trainers’ overall fitness? Will the self-proclaimed survival expert trump the track stars? (Sort of like how the first UFC events pitted, say, a ju-jitsu expert against a sumo wrestler.) Sadly, these traits don’t really factor into the first episode’s action. Apart from hopping onto a few rocks, the parkour couple don’t bring their skills into play, and each round involves a lot more tramping through the underbrush and dramatically saying, “Let’s go this way!” and “Did you hear something?” Again and again.
On the practical side, there’s some solid strategy built into the game. Several times, more athletic players decide to travel alongside weaker ones, reasonably assuming hunters will go after easier prey if they’re discovered. (As in the old punch line, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.”) Most interesting are the tracking devices every team has on their wrists, which show where they are in relation to the map, but which also reveal their location to the hunters if they stay still for more than three minutes. Thus, when the hunt team is nearby, the urge is to lay low and keep quiet until they leave, but staying still for more than three minutes alerts them to your presence. Neat. The voting process, too, revolves around a lot of long-game deliberation, although the obvious play seems to be to vote off the stronger of the captured teams and thus decrease the overall level of competition, and the actual voting process itself is drawn out in predictably interminable fashion.
A gimmicked-up game of capture the flag sounds like passably enjoyable TV—it’s a shame Capture’s reality show trappings and chicanery suck most of the fun out of it.
- One team’s position is given away by some loud and graphically-depicted vomiting. Thanks, Capture!
- The vomiter later complains about the fact that meeting up with another team is causing too much noise. To a cameraman. In a very loud voice.
- A member of the yellow team says the hunt team, in their grey vests, look “like silverback gorillas.” Skinny, jump-suited, sprinting silverback gorillas.
- Another player also asserts that “those grey vests—they’ll freak you out.” I remain unconvinced of the fear potential of nondescript grey vests at this point.
- I’m also calling shenanigans on the crystal clear picture quality on the teams’ wrist trackers whenever Luke pops up to make an announcement. Remember the Austin Powers joke about Basil Exposition’s image being clearer in the (obviously fake) past than it is in the (technologically accurate) present? Yeah, it’s like that.
- When a storm rolls in, the twins both say, in sing-song unison, “What if one of those trees get struck by lightning and it falls on us?” It’s creepy.
- Luke claims that the 4000 acres are surrounded by ten miles of electric fence and contains mountain lions—and bears! None of these things appear, strangely enough…
- The talon is activated with a very familiar, overdubbed “powering up” sci-fi sound effect that I’m sure was stolen from somewhere. Can anyone place it?
- My wife called Capture “Battle Royale With Cheese,” because she is very, very funny.