ABC’s Shark Tank
August 9th, 2009
I wasn’t going to bother saying anything about ABC’s Shark Tank, which debuted tonight following Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but then my brother made a pretty reasonable point: as a Canadian critic, I have more experience with CBC’s Dragon’s Den, the Canadian series based on the Japanese series that inspired this ABC series, than most. And since I’m in the process of analyzing Canadian television in my thesis, I figure it makes sense to take some time to consider just how the different sensibilities of these two countries have inspired the way these two series differ.
However, I came across two problems when I tried to do this watching tonight’s premiere. The first is that I don’t particularly like Dragon’s Den – no, it’s not a bad series, but I find that its back and forth between “look, embarrassing entrepreneurs!” and “legitimate success” to be like American Idol but without either the humour or the enjoyment. Because they’re real people, you feel bad when they’re clearly so far off the mark, and when they are successful I don’t really know them well enough to know just how much of a success it’s been. It just does nothing to appeal to me (I don’t particularly like Idol auditions to begin with), and the “cruelty” of the dangerous Dragons (cutthroat business people) isn’t really all that interesting.
The second problem, however, is that the differences between these two programs are driven less by national differences and more by economic ones – while Dragon’s Den was brought to Canada during a relatively successful period, Shark Tank was developed in the midst of an economic recession and emerges at a time when this kind of success seems legitimately rare, and where dreaming big and failing big are both staples of the American (and for that matter, North American) experience. It makes my own opinion of these entrepreneurs kind of moot, and shifts the show’s responsibility from entertainment to topical connectivity, a burden that has little to do with nationalist discourses.
And a burden the show deals with as best it can, really.