Throughout his career, Shaquille O'Neal has been one of the most entertaining athletes on the planet. From his rap albums and movies, to his press conferences, to his reign as King of Twitteronia, Shaq has never been content to be merely a basketball player. So it comes as no surprise that he created Shaq Vs., a reality show to showcase his oversized persona and ambitions. As the intro tells us, Shaq wants to prove that he is "not just one of basketball's best, but that he is one of the world's greatest athletes."
Every week, Shaq will play a different sport against a professional athlete. In last night's premiere, Shaq challenged reigning Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger to a quarterbacking competition. But before they could compete, there was a requisite 45 minute session of trash talking. Shaq went to Ben's house to play HORSE. Ben won mainly by shooting free throws, Shaq's Achilles heel. Then they held a "combine" where Shaq didn't run very fast or jump very high. This didn't stop him from making bets and predictions for how badly he was going to beat Ben. Finally, they competed in a 7-on-7 football game, with Ben and Shaq each quarterbacking a team. Shaq looked good early, scoring on both his first two possessions. But Roethlisberger matched him, and then won with a third touchdown after Shaq threw an interception.
While this doesn't sound like extraordinarily compelling TV, it sort of is -- because of Shaq. He makes jokes, he steals Ben's Super Bowl jersey, he comes off the sideline to intercept one of Roethlisberger's passes and run it back for an illegal touchdown. It's interesting to see him in a more informal setting. And in the moment it's entertaining. But once the show ends, there is a pervasive feeling of "that's it?"
The problem is that there is no reason (other than to sell advertising) for this show to be an hour. A touch football game with two professional athletes at QB is still a touch football game. Way too much time is spent building up to what is always going to be an anticlimactic payoff. If Shaq Vs were only 30 minutes, this would be less of a problem.
One other aspect that made last night interesting was the legal trouble Roethlisberger was facing right around the time he was shooting this episode. There is obviously no mention of the lawsuit on the show, and Ben seems to be in good spirits the entire time. While his accuser now seems to be mostly discredited, it's still interesting to see him act in a way that is so disconnected to what must have been going on in his head.
Every week will not have this kind of (implicit) controversy attached to it. Next time, for instance, Shaq will play beach volleyball against gold medalists Kerri Walsh and Misty-May Treanor. We'll probably watch, but might fast-forward through a lot of it. And if Shaq wears a bikini, we might cry.