I watched the second and third episodes of "Driving Force" last night, after finally catching the premiere episode the day before. And in the words of Siskel and Ebert, "two big thumbs up."
"Driving Force" airs Monday nights at 9 pm ET on the A&E Network, and chronicles the lives of 13-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force and his family; wife Laurie and racing daughters Ashley, Brittany and Courtney. The show will give rabid race fans just enough action to keep them interested. But "Driving Force" is really not about racing. It's about an obsessive, workaholic father who has toiled long and hard to overcome his humble beginnings, achieve his lifelong dream and provide for his family; only to discover that somewhere along the way, the very obsessiveness that made him a champion has driven that family away.
Force's personality is overpowering. Calling him a "bull in a china shop" does a disservice to bulls, and within minutes of the opening credits, viewers begin to feel sympathy for anyone who lives in his world. It's all about winning for Force -- both on and off the racetrack -- and anyone who doesn't share his insatiable hunger soon finds themself in the crosshairs.
It's always loud, and it's never pretty.
Wife Laurie banished Force to their nearby beach house seven years ago, for indiscretions Force summarizes as, "looking at a few too many girls." The two remain legally married, but the relationship seems more financial than emotional. "My wife loves me, but she doesn't like me," says Force, and while the line is intended to produce a laugh, the pain behind it is plain to see.
Force also struggles to connect with his teenaged daughters. While Ashley, Brittany and Courtney Force clearly love their father -- and also the many perks that come with being his daughters -- they struggle to live-up to his impossibly high standards; both in and out of drag racing. "I can't be normal," admitted an emotional Force in one of last night's episodes. "I try, but I just can't do it."
The man tries, though. He really does.
The 13-time Funny Car king has apparently realized that all the trophies in the world (and the fancy houses to keep them in) don't mean a thing if there's nobody home to share them with. That's a realization that many of us come to, in time. He has made a collossal effort to re-connect with his wife and daughters -- an effort they often seem ambivalent about -- at the possible expense of the career he worked so hard to build. Last season, John Force Racing lost the NHRA Funny Car championship for the first time in more than a dacade, a fact many pitsiders blamed on Force's own lack of focus.
He's at it again this season; running in the thick of the 2006 championship chase, while dealing with the demands of a multi-million dollar business, the ever-present A&E cameras, and a family that often seems moments away from coming apart at the seams. Will he be a winner on the racetrack? Will he be a winner in life? The answers to both questions are most certainly in doubt.
I have always considered John Force to be one of the most colorful characters in all of motorsports. Now, after 90 minutes of truly compelling reality TV, I see that Force is not a character, after all. He's a man -- flawed like the rest of us -- struggling to hold it all together, attone for his mistakes and make amends with the women he loves, beforte it's too late.
I was a John Force fan before watching his new TV show.
I'm a much bigger one now.