Only in the wild world of reality TV would Captain Kirk and Fonzie embark on a 30-day trip around Asia together.
That’s the deal on the offbeat new series “Better Late Than Never,” which premieres Tuesday on NBC. Of course it’s not actually Kirk and the Fonz but the actors who famously played them, William Shatner and Henry Winkler, respectively. But there’s still something trippy about the pair teaming up as tourists with Winkler serving as one of the show’s executive producers.
Also joining in on the adventure is two-time world heavyweight champion George Foreman and NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw. Lesser-known comedian and actor Jeff Dye tags along as their guide. The end result, at least as far as the pilot is concerned, is a knee-slapping giggle fest filled with predictable outings and outcomes and unexpectedly edifying factoids.
For instance, the first stop on the trip is Tokyo, Japan where the five men stay in a capsule hotel, perform karaoke, go on a Japanese game show, breathlessly gaze upon Mount Fuji and unintentionally eat pork vagina and later dirt.
In between scenes of the five wittingly and unwittingly making fools of themselves over and over again, the show splashes fun facts across the screen. This includes information such as: Tokyo is home to 35 million people, uses 24 billion chopsticks each year and has more neon signs than any city in the world.
While “Better Late Than Never” is clearly more scripted than it is real – no matter what they say, Shatner, 85, and Foreman, 67, were not best buds before appearing on this show – the late-summer offering still benefits from some truly honest moments.
When Winkler, 70, gets more attention from fans than Shatner and Shatner grows visibly envious, for example, that feels real as does former athletes Foreman and Bradshaw bonding quickly and actors Winkler and Shatner doing the same. In another scene, Shatner mocks Bradshaw for not wanting to try new foods and Bradshaw perfectly imitates the way Shatner talks and that also feels genuine. But if Bradshaw, who turns 68 in September, is afraid of heights why would anyone take him up the 1,092-foot Tokyo Tower except to exploit that fear for viewers?
Speaking of scripted scenarios, if this were a premium cable show, Shatner – who is seemingly the most uninhibited – would’ve been able to go full on “Hangover” with an obnoxious degree of debauchery expected on overseas trips. He’s playing a version of himself anyway, right? Instead, the Shat’s wildest moments are jumping up and down on the glass floored observation deck of Tokyo Tower and battling Bradshaw in robotic armor. Spicy. And why cast Bradshaw and Foreman? Were Craig T. Nelson and Robert Guillaume busy?
But this is NBC after all, and what the mock-reality series lacks in raciness and symmetrical casting, it makes up for with charm and easy laughs. Think “The Bucket List” minus the morbidness or “The Real Husbands of Hollywood” for the silver fox set.
After all, Winkler, Shatner, Foreman and Bradshaw have a lot of life left in them and as they prove time and time again on their show, you’re never too old to laugh at yourself.
Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles-based TV critic and entertainment reporter.
‘Better Late Than Never’
10 p.m. Tuesday