Better Late Than Never: Reality TV for non-reality viewers

Better late than never…to watch Better Late Than Never

By all accounts, I should not like NBC’s Better Late Than Never. I’ve never cared for reality TV. I realize that may alienate me from countless viewers and even some of the writers on this site, but I’ve always seen this genre as a cheap, effortless form of entertainment with nothing to offer.

I hate how artificial and staged the supposed “reality” is. I hate how first-world most of the problems seem. I hate how entitled yet devoid of charisma the contestants typically are.

The only exception I’ve ever considered is the plethora of nature shows, such as The Crocodile Hunter and the recent Crikey! It’s the Irwins. At least with those, the hosts seem genuine, often coming with an infectious enthusiasm for their work.

In addition, it’s hard to stage an incident with a wild animal. These hosts simply know how to handle these creatures, which in turn helps viewers actually learn something.

What sets Better Late Than Never apart from the rest of the reality pack?

So, why do I like Better Late Than Never? By extension, why would this appeal to others who are also repulsed by reality shows? After all, it’s essentially about a group of celebrities going on vacation.

Honestly, much of the draw comes from the celebrities themselves. We’re often invested in fictional stories because of the characters at the center. We follow those characters as they go on a journey, personal and/or physical, and learn something about themselves or the world. That applies here to an extent.

Adapted from a South Korean show called Grandpas Over Flowers, the series follows former NFL player Terry Bradshaw, former heavyweight boxer George Foreman, and famous genre actors William Shatner and Henry Winkler. Their guide (sidekick) is a young stand-up comedian named Jeff Dye.

Together, this mismatched group travels to various exotic locales to experience firsthand the exotic sights and cultures the world has to offer. The first season sees them visit Asia, and they spend the second season kicking around Europe.

What a character!

Even though this is reality TV, the guys heading it up have such personality, charm, and presence that they are basically characters in themselves.

Shatner is the self-proclaimed intellectual who ambitiously seeks out different cuisines and activities and laments how the others aren’t willing to expand their horizons. Winkler is the gentle, accommodating soul who tries to maintain an air of wholesome politeness.

Bradshaw is the vulgar, easily-amused child with no filter. Foreman is the quiet, reserved adult who’s annoyed by his peers’ immaturity. Meanwhile, Dye is the put-upon schmuck who trades verbal jabs with his older companions and laughs at how absurd it all is.

The chemistry that arises from these boys is easily the strongest part of the show. They have a natural dynamic akin to brothers, giving each other a hard time while also relying on one another for support.

Because they work so well together, their interactions are always entertaining. You never know when one of them will have a bad reaction to the food, start playing with their new toys, make a joke about their careers, or get a wild hair and drag the others to an event.

Where will we wind up next?

Speaking of which, Better Late Than Never also stays fresh due to the world travel element. It sort of goes back to the aforementioned analogy about fictional narratives. The celebs obviously go on a journey and grow closer, but the novelty stems more from their comical reactions to their settings.

The series constantly gives viewers new and odd factoids about these countries. Sure, they’re all presented in an exaggerated and somewhat cartoonish way, but this makes them more memorable and often suits how the common American would see these foreign concepts at first glance.

As a result, the relatable responses of these ignorant celebrities are all the more appropriate. Their charismatic and sometimes over the top reactions echo the thoughts that we’d likely have when confronted with something outlandish. It’s like your friend accepting a silly dare or blurting out a joke that you’re too polite or self-conscious to initiate. In essence, these five travelers are speaking to us while simultaneously entertaining us.

I can relate to this.

Yeah, it may be staged like most other reality shows. These situations and reactions could all be artificial, created solely to make audiences laugh at these guys’ pain. However, it doesn’t come across that way as much as you’d think.

So many people on reality shows are transparent in their attempts to be relatable and draw viewers’ attention. Sadly, it rarely ever feels genuine. In my case, it’s insulting. These guys, on the other hand, are entertainers who have spent most of their lives in the public eye. Their whole “regular schmo” routine could be a facade, but they may just be better at faking it.

Either way, Better Late Than Never is a rollicking good romp across the globe. Moreover, thanks to the likability of its leads, it’s a reality show for those who hate reality shows.

Have you seen Better Late Than Never? Are you a fan of reality shows? Am I just ignorant of their appeal? How would you react to some of these locales? Which exotic place would you visit? Share in the comments below.

Better Late Than Never is available to watch on NBC.