Digging around for Discovery's Chrome Underground

CU2 [Editor’s Note: We asked Eric if he wanted to review a new reality show about cars. He said he doesn’t watch reality TV. We said “perfect”.] I’m not typically someone who would be called upon as a television critic, let alone one of a reality show, but I recently got my greasy hands on a copy of the first episode of Discovery Channel’s new automotive show. That showcalled Chrome Undergroundpurports to chronicle the exploits of two classic car dealers, Yusuf Johnson and Antonio Brunet, from Austin’s Motoreum as they travel “to lawless countries where no other dealer would dare” before smuggling them home to flip for big dollars. Oddly enough, I happened upon my own copy through carefully cultivated contacts in the secret cable-reality-show-screener-copy ring run from, as best as I can tell, the far-flung corners of Manitoba. CU3 The details of the screener copy’s transit are sketchy at best, but I can tell you that my contact left a poutine-and-Molson-Golden-soaked Eagle 2000GTX at the Sheboygan County Memorial Airport for me with the keys strategically hidden in a derelict Chipmunk. I don’t pretend to know the trappings of the trade, but I secured my contraband copy from its hidden location (duct-taped to the underside of the trunklid beneath the 22-year-old fabric liner), waved goodbye to the Piper pilot who’d flown me there, and started the rebadged import. If I had gone through this trouble to obtain my screener copy, I thought to myself as the 2000GTX’s single-cam Mitsubishi engine dubiously ticked along down I-94 South, I could only imagine what the show’s intrepid protagonists undertake to fetch actual high-dollar cars. As I neared the Illinois border, I felt the Mitsu engine shudder a bit, as if to protest traveling so far afield from its glacial home. Within minutes, alarming sounds knocked through the firewall and I knew the jig was up. The reality-show-screening vultures would be on in minutes to pluck from my hands both this rare-in-the-U.S. Eagle and my show. My stories. I dared not give in until the 2000GTX came to a full stop, which it somehow never did. Despite knocking rods and blazing idiot lights, the wretched beast limped all the way to my abode. To safety and sanctuary with oil and sadness pooled underneath. I popped the one-watch-only screener copy into my laptop and let the encryption softwareprovided to me from another airport drop (that one under the utilitarian floor mats of a Lada Niva)decode the program. I waited for the show to load and soon my hard work came to fruition. I found myself embroiled in a bizarre television landscape that seemed too cinematic to be genuine, but not too ingenuine to be entertaining. The premise for the protagonists’ visit to Mexico City seemed a tad odd. The tertiary character’s introduction appeared heavily staged. The stylish shooting and editing made it all feel scripted or at least guided. It was “reality” TV at its best (and worst). Lede1 Despite this, I still found the show’s situations interesting  and even a bit suspenseful. As I’m not a TV critic, I can’t really say how this was achieved. Maybe it’s just good packaging and post-production. Maybe I just liked the cars. Maybe that’s what the show’s producers are counting on. Whatever the case, Chrome Undergroundfor its foiblesisn’t meant to speak to any deeper human condition; it’s entertainment. And if your idea of entertainment is two Texas car dealers and a third guy (no spoilers) playing out automotive Jason Bourne-style intrigue in real-life settings (and flipping cars…that’s a thing, too), this is a show that can do that. Ultimately, the show didn’t leave me wanting nor did it sate any deeper existential questions, but I hadn’t time for those anyway. I had a date with a Niva, a tow chain, a 2000GTX, a box of matches, and the secluded wilderness a few hours distant. But I’ve already said too much. Chrome Underground premieres Friday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Discovery Channel. Eric is prone to exaggerating in the name of a mediocre story.

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