Netflix UK TV review: You vs. Wild
Ivan Radford | On 28, Dec 2019
“Do I face a mountain lion or take my chances with the abyss?” That’s the sound of Bear Grylls teaming up with Netflix for You vs. Wild. The interactive series marks the streaming giant’s continued push into the future, building on the success of Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch. That special was a landmark moment in the last decade of TV, highlighting the potential and opportunities opened up by giving users the chance to dictate what happens on their screen – a small screen equivalent of choose-your-own-adventure books that, much like Soderbergh’s app-based thriller Mosaic, could well signal the immersive nature of TV to come.
You vs. Wild sees viewers join survival expert Bear Grylls on adventures all over the world. Dense jungles, towering mountains, brutal deserts, and mysterious forests await, with tough decisions around every corner. The format asks us to make decisions on Bear’s behalf, determining whether or not he succeeds in the task at hand. That might be to rescue a Saint Bernard who has gotten lost in a search-and-rescue effort in a snowy landscape. Or to make his way through a forest to get to safety. Or deliver malaria vaccines to children by finding the doctor responsible, then locating the jungle village in need.
It’s an impressive mix of locations and challenges, and Grylls commendably will have recorded every action multiple times to let you tell him what to do at every point. He rappels down cliffs, climbs trees, swings on vines and sleeps under rocks. The editing is as seamless as you’d expect, which helps to add to the attempt at immersive realism.
But You vs. Wild is missing one vital ingredient: actual danger. Because for all of Grylls’ attempts to hike the stakes up – “This will be tough,” he grunts, before attempting some audacious physical feat – there’s never any risk that it will go wrong. Telling him to crawl along an icy lake in the wrong way puts him at risk of “total body shutdown”, but that shutdown never occurs, because he and us are promptly whisked away to safety so we can rewind and try again.
With his insistence on repeating the fact that we decide what he does, that only reinforces the lack of consequences our choices have. The worst thing we can make happen is for Bear Grylls to eat poo – and, while there’s some satisfaction in forcing such unpleasantness upon our intrepid explorer, just to see how much power we have, the lack of anything more dramatic taking place undermines the whole endeavour. As a result, the low-key episodes are the most effective, such as him trying to survive for 24 hours in an improvised igloo, when the stakes are real and not artificial. The result is, like Bandersnatch, an ambitious, groundbreaking project, but one that highlights the importance of matching the interactive format with an appropriate subject or story. It’s a glimpse of TV’s possible future, and a reminder that the future isn’t ready just yet.
You vs. Wild is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.