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Case Number 23696: Small Claims Court

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Top Shot: The Gauntlet

History Channel // 2011 // 572 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // April 19th, 2012

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan's weapon of choice is the pen.

The Charge

"The competition that takes pages from history"

The Case

No matter where you stand on the whole Second Amendment issue, the gun is a fascinating bit of engineering. Harnessing a miniature bomb to throw a projectile that's less than an inch in diameter at over a thousand feet per second across several hundred feet with accuracy down to the inch is simply amazing. Just as amazing are those people who've trained to utilize that power, putting bullets where they want them to go with consistency. Realizing that folks would appreciate a shot at watching these displays of prowess more often than the four-year Olympic competition offers, Top Shot emerged as a reality show that focused on competitive recreational shooting. This third season of the show, Top Shot: The Gauntlet, presents some interesting challenges and impressive weaponry, with contestants worth rooting for.

The basic idea behind Top Shot is to collect two teams of top marksmen (and women) and have them go through a number of physical challenges that involve shooting different kinds of guns. For this third season, we get teams comprised of competing homeland security agents, police officers, and survival experts, including a lone pair of women. The teams set up in a house and at varying intervals have to perform team and individual challenges. Losing generally means an elimination competition, and last person standing gets $100K in prizes. All twelve episodes of the season are spread across four discs.

I knew nothing about Top Shot when I put on the third season, but I figured the fact that I grew up very comfortable with guns would make me an ideal spectator for this show. That was partly right. What I didn't realize is that, more than a shooting show, Top Shot is pure reality TV. When the first episode opens, we're introduced to sixteen shooters in eight pairs—those pairs consist of people from similar backgrounds, like Homeland Security or the police—and they face off firing a .50 caliber handgun at three targets. The first person to shoot all three targets goes to the "winning" team, while the other shooter goes to the "losing" team.

All seems well, with the two teams established, but then the show takes a turn for Reality TV Land by making the two teams bunk in a house together. Though I'm told the drama has been turned down for this season, we're still stuck with the "slice of life" scenes where members of each team lamely strategize or speculate about what challenge will be next.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the reality show format, and fans of reality show drama will probably enjoy those moments in Top Shot. However, of the reality fare that I've sat through, this is by far the worst marriage of reality TV and the show's basic premise. The competitions (and, more importantly, the marksmanship) are what set Top Shot apart, and those can be white-knuckle affairs as teams come from behind and screw up in surprising ways. These moments are sometimes amazing, and they're so strong that they even make up for the wasted moments of "reality" in between.

As for the competitions themselves, I hesitate to give too much away. Just from perusing the box, the interested viewer can see that the competitors will have to master some of the most primitive (a rock!) and sophisticated (a Gatling gun!) weapons available for people to hurt one another with. Beyond that, some of the competitions themselves involve obvious elements (like an obstacle course) and surprising ones (a stagecoach shows up this season). Looking at episode titles like "Turn the Corner" and "Wheel of Fire" will give fans a pretty good idea of what to expect from this season.

The DVD lives up to the show's high standards. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers are bright and clean, showcasing the show's daylight competitions with bright colors. Detail is consistent and strong, and black levels are appropriate. No serious compression artefacts mar the transfer. The stereo audio handles the show sometimes overeager use of dramatic music handily, and keeps the gravelly voice of Colby Donaldson easily audible. Even the audio captured in the house between the teams is clearly audible, though English subtitles are included as well.

Extras start with "Behind the Bullet," a kind of bonus episode meets behind-the scenes featurette that appears to have been cobbled together from older and more recent interview footage combined with shots from the TV show itself. We get a slightly less censored version of the participants' feelings on what happened during the season. Three bonus featurettes cover everything from the weapons to a "look back" at the show.

Top Shot: The Gauntlet contains some amazing shooting, interesting weapons, and fun competition, though I could have done without the reality TV aspects of the show. The presentation and bonus features are well thought out, making this an easy disc to recommend.

The Verdict

With all these weapons on hand, I'm going to be safe and call this set Not Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 87

Perp Profile

Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 572 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Reality TV
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurettes
• Bonus Footage


• IMDb
• Official Site

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