Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Join as a $13-a-month sustainer and get the retro NHPR t-shirt!
NPR Blogs

In 'White Collar Brawlers,' The Punchable Become The Punched

One of the fascinating things about the new Esquire Network is that it, not unlike Hallmark or Lifetime, can function either as a gift to its demographic or a parody of it.

Consider one of its earliest shows, Knife Fight, in which Top Chef [trash]bag Ilan Hall conducts a faux-tough-guy chef battle that's shot and framed like it's war, like it's gritty, like it's not basically Chopped with more yelling. If you're the kind of dude who thinks Ilan Hall is a bad-ass, you can watch the entire thing headbanging and yelling "GET HIM A BODY BAG! YYYYYEAH!" If you're like me, you can watch the entire thing pointing and laughing and ... well, and also yelling "GET HIM A BODY BAG! YYYYYEAH!", because that's fun for all ages and irony levels.

And now comes White Collar Brawlers, which was apparently invented to provide absolute proof that if Fight Club were real, the sensibility would be less "David Fincher" and more "Judd Apatow."

In the premiere episode, which airs Tuesday night, or "Bruiseday night," as I think everyone must begin calling it instantly, we meet two [book]bags who work in the same office and used to be roommates until something something argument lease rent something something. Now, they are enemies! Kind of! They are rivals at work! They have a personal beef! You can tell that one of them is a [feed]bag because when his mother asks him what he and his girlfriend are going to do when they're separated by distance (she's going away for a while), he says – to his mother! – "New f---ing topic."

And this is where you realize that one way to watch White Collar Brawlers is the way it ostensibly asks to be watched – as a show about how men learn about life from fighting. These lessons are not always particularly subtle, as when one of them says that he's learned that if you just stand there, you get punched. But hey, it's something.

The other way to watch it, however, is that Esquire has figured out the only way to make reality television specializing in punchable dudes – who are very common on reality television – more palatable to me is to promise me that at the end, they're going to get punched! Both of them! In the face! Because they will volunteer for it! This is a reality show where you can watch how they talk, you can watch how they swagger, you can watch them debate the finer points of their roommate arrangement, you can see how they talk to their mothers, and you can know without question that before the show ends, they're both getting punched in the face. They're not getting hurt, because they'll have safety gear! But they'll get punched. Not very well, but punched just the same!

Imagine how much more viscerally satisfying some of your favorite Food Network shows would be if people sometimes got harmlessly punched in the face at the end by choice. I mean, if they punched Ilan Hall at the end of Knife Fight, I would let episodes of it accumulate on my DVR like I was collecting precious gems. In other words, you can watch the show because both of these men become the punchers. Or you can watch the show because both of these men become the punched. Either way works.

I think Esquire should extend this to other kinds of shows, actually. If you made a show about young guys looking for "man caves" who, at the end, would get into a carefully regulated punch-off with their [hand]bag realtors? If you made a show where a guy got a makeover and then he and the makeover guy picked up those huge foam swatters and went at it? I can see the audience for that. I'm not proud of it, but I can see it.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.