Despite the horrifically twee episode title, it's really not a bad kickoff for a season that can't really help but be quite different from what we've seen before. We're hanging around in our very own country this time, and as you probably already know, we're looking at family teams of four rather than the usual teams of two. Also, nobody's ever been eight before.
At any rate, the race kicks off with a harrowing drive around Manhattan, which: yikes, and then there is boating and tenting and, best of all, lots and lots and lots of driving and navigating with maps. You'd almost think it was a show where you had to race around and try to get yourself from one place to another. About half of the ten teams make a strong impression in the first episode, including the rude and nasty Paolos, the moppet-toting Gaghans, the pink and giggling Godlewskis, the obnoxious Linzes, and the adorable Blacks, whose sons are just about the cutest thing ever. In a tense finish, the aforementioned obnoxious Linzes squeeze out the adorable Blacks, which I am very sad about in every respect other than the unbelievably uncomfortable sentences that result from featuring an African-American family called "the Blacks." Because I did not need to do that all season. But I miss them already, and the Linzes are like an explosion of That Guy genetics gone horribly awry -- well, more awry -- and it's just sad. Boooo! But I have to tell you, my very favorite part of the episode was where they brought in famous former racers Kevin and Drew, and nobody until the very last team had the first clue who they were. Now that is comedy. That's going on my personal highlight reel.
Horns of Plenty Patriotic are not merely blown but overblown as we gaze at adoringly composed shots of New York City, thinking about how fortunate we all are to live in a country where you can drive an SUV that requires you to have your own designated refinery and still feel good about yourself. Look, there's the Statue of Liberty! As the HOPPs really get cranking, the voice of Phil "Don't Blame Me; I Wanted An All-New-Zealand Edition" Keoghan announces, "This is New York City." And that comes after the shot of the Statue of Liberty, so...thanks. This is going to be better than Weekly Reader. Phil goes on to explain that New York is a "beacon of freedom and cultural diversity," which is mostly true, as long as you're not talking about the freedom to move slowly on the sidewalk. Phil's tiny form is at the base of the statue as he explains that this is the city from which ten family teams will take off for something that is kind of, but not really, an edition of The Amazing Race. The most apt comparison I've heard so far is College Jeopardy!, where as long as you know they're going to go back to the regular one at some point, the watered-down version is something you can adjust to. Anyway, Phil does not say that they're going on a "racearoundtheworld," just a "race for one million dollars," so...make of that what you will. I guess they couldn't very well just call it a "race...around."
We get a look at five yellow boats carrying the teams to Fulton Ferry State Park in Brooklyn, and now it is time to meet the 40 freaking people of whom I am expected to keep track this season, because identical twins apparently were not enough of a challenge. I'm not sure when I started taking the casting as a hostile act, but there you go.
First up, The Gaghan Family. This group includes dad Bill, mom Tammy, son Billy, and daughter Carissa, who is instantly television's most controversial blonde since Deborah Norville. Tammy and Bill are marathon runners, and the kids run 5Ks. Tammy points out that Carissa can run a seven-minute mile, and asks, "What adult out there can run a seven-minute mile?" She's exaggerating, obviously, because a seven-minute mile is hardly unheard of among adults, but her point is taken, in that those are teeny legs to be able to run at a very respectable speed. I like the fact that they show the Gaghans hurling water balloons at each other, because I like any Family Fun Day in which somebody could actually get hurt. Carissa vows that she will run faster than the adults on the race, and Billy says he and Carissa will "work as a team spying on the other teams." He's been reading a little bit too much Encyclopedia Brown, I'd say, but all right. "I might be small," Carissa announces, "but I am not ssssstupid." Right there is your dividing line -- plenty of people found that perfectly dreadful, but it made me laugh out loud, and I laugh out loud every time I see it. I instantly see her twenty years in the future as some kind of really neat lady, snorting at this video of herself and imitating her own little precocious voice. "I can trick any adult that's trying to trick me," she insists. I have a feeling she is not an easy child from whom to hide the birthday presents.
Next, we have The Linz Family. Siblings from Cincinnati, they include Megan, Nick, Alex, and Tommy. As far as I can tell, Nick, Alex, and Tommy are products of that human cloning I've been hearing so much about. Nick says that they don't "take each other too seriously" and "there's always a joke being played," so take note right now: you are to find them hilarious. They're throwing stuff at each other in their intro also. Is this a theme? Megan says there are actually six brothers in her family, so I guess three didn't make the cut. That's going to make for an awkward Thanksgiving. ("Please pass the potatoes." "Gee, is passing the potatoes a task that only one person may perform? Does it have its own pros and cons? Because I wouldn't know, would I, you fame-hungry prick.") There's a very weird shot of two dogs right along here, and I have no idea what that's about. "Alex and I are the older of the two," Nick says in a conversational-impressionism kind of way. And then he implies that he will be the leader, and Tommy implies back that Nick is a big blowhard, and then they all laugh, because you are to find them hilarious. "Real-life situations," Alex says, "have been experienced more by Nick and I." I don't know about you, but when that kind of sentence construction is heard by I, a beat is skipped by my heart. Alex explains that Tommy and Megan are still learning things, while apparently he, at 22 years old, is fully cooked. Megan is 21, by the way, so particularly in her case, this makes remarkably little sense. As Alex bloviates about how Tommy and Megan don't know what it's like to pay your electric bill or your landlord, Tommy snaps, "Shut up, Alex! You're living at home!" Snerk. Staged, a little bit, but still funny. And, I'm quite sure, true. Oh, World-Weary Guy Whose Mom Does His Laundry.