Brainiac On Banjo: A Million Pounds of Bond

Diamonds are forever. Hold one up and then caress it, touch it, stroke it and undress it. I can see every part. Nothing hides in the heart to hurt me. “Diamonds Are Forever,” written by John Barry and Don Black.

Generally speaking, I’m not interested in “reality” television. It’s not really reality, and when I want reality from my ol’ cathode ray tube I’ll watch the news until I decide what I really should be doing is updating my will.

There are exceptions. A thousand years ago, I watched Ice Road Truckers because the contestants were as ludicrous as the concept of hauling many tons of stuff across frozen-over lakes that, under the weight of same, could kill the aspirants and — more important — destroy their swag. Much more recently, I’ve been enjoying the challenges of James May, of car wrecking fame, as he ridicules modern manhood by attempting even more ludicrous but somewhat more useful DIY projects. However, these shows (Man Lab is the best, Toy Stories and The Reassembler are almost as entertaining) are built, by James May, to revolve around James May, who is clever, honest, committed and wonderfully sardonic. He’s a mere 60 years old, but probably looks a bit older because he’s spent decades working next to Jeremy Clarkson. He’s also done a number of food-oriented shows and has lunched with Gordon Ramsay, consuming bull penis and rotten shark. Funny stuff.

There’s only so much one man can produce and I can watch it a lot faster than he could write, produce and star in it all. So as I was nearing the end of what’s available on free streaming, I was left bereft at the thought of having to find a replacement. Hey, I’m a fan and you just can’t replace James May with… well… hardly anybody.

And then Brian Cox came along.

If you’re anything like me — and I’d get that checked out were I you — your first thought after conflating Mr. Cox with Mr. Bond was “damn, he would make a great James Bond villain!” After watching his work on the 007: The Road to a Million game show, you might become convinced that Cox would make one of the very best James Bond villains, and I do not make that analysis lightly. Rosa Kleb rules!

It helps that the show was produced by the same bunch of people who have been making the James Bond movies since before James May was born. They copy the patented (well, trademarked) James Bond graphic elements, the style of the early movies, their location ambiance, and — by far most important — they, too, continuously use Monty Norman’s James Bond theme, the best known character theme since the invention of ears.

Lotta Lenya and Robert Shaw, From Russia With Love

The concept is typical of reality shows, or so I surmise, although the scale might be a little bit tougher than usual. IMDB defines the show thusly: “Nine pairs of everyday people are unleashed on an epic global adventure through a series of Bond-inspired challenges, for a shot at winning a life-changing £1,000,000 prize.” Sounds easy, but they made eight episodes so, believe me, it ain’t.

And all for a measly million pounds! OK, that’s more than I have on me, but one million pounds is worth a mere 1.2 million United States bucks, and quite frankly I wouldn’t scale a large construction tower hanging over a beautiful, deep Italian gorge unless I was co-starring in a Road Runner cartoon. All this just to rescue a briefcase with a computer in it that will ask me about the major ingredient in an ancient poison some 600 women used to get rid of their husbands. Yes, I assume they were arranged marriages…

My reaction to 007: The Road to a Million is much the same as my reaction to most of James May’s “reality” adventures — why the hell would anybody do that repeatedly for a mere million pounds. If they offered me the Tower of London to do it, I doubt I have the bladder control to even contemplate the effort.

I have yet to finish watching the streamer. It’s on Amazon Prime and the whole thing dropped at once. I tend not to binge; a problem I share with others who have limited attention spans. I doubt even they have the guts to show us one of the contestants actually getting killed. Well, Brian Cox might, but he’s not producing the show. Or perhaps they’re just holding that for a next season.

They captured the mood and the tone of the James Bond movies which, if you dwell on it, really is about 90% of each movie. I assume somebody wins, but that person won’t be cast to fill Daniel Craig’s shoes.

Check that. Brian Cox and the soundtrack make it work. And Brian Cox might even fill Lotte Lenya’s shoes.

Editor’s Note: If Mike’s analysis has your curiosity piqued, check out the trailer below to see Mr. Cox and the contestants.