Poor li'l Bear Grylls. The world's best known extreme adventurer has been having a hard time of it.
In 2007, the British "tough guy" was accused of sleeping in posh hotels and not under the stars, as portrayed in his Born Survivor series. More recently, it was alleged that his survival reality series The Island (currently showing on Discovery Channel, Sundays at 11pm) had been perpetuating gender stereotypes by excluding women from the fun and games.
In response, the second series (which finished airing in Britain last week) featured two islands, both off Panama - one hosting an all-female cast, the other all-male. Some of the hungry women were filmed capturing an apparently sleeping pig before slaughtering and eating the poor swine, the third such creature to be killed on the show in a fortnight. The producers then admitted the animals had been flown in especially for the contestants to hunt, drawing outrage from animal-rights groups. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called for Grylls (pictured, centre) to be arrested for cruelty.
It's hard not to conclude that the controversy was deliberate, though; the first series gained many angry column inches when it transpired that a slaughtered animal had been a member of an endangered species.
So as television's Mr Survival this week premieres what feels like his 85th show, Bear Grylls' Breaking Point (Discovery Channel, Tuesday at 9pm), we should expect to see some headlines. Who will the big bad Bear pick on next? Big-boned people? The mentally challenged? Maybe he'll just wander around poking homosexuals with a big pointy stick until they tell him to get lost. Poking things with a stick, of course, is what Grylls does best.
Well, nope, this show picks only on people's anxieties. In the first episode, Grylls drops a pair of aquaphobes into the Mexican jungle, their only escape being through cascading waterfalls and raging rivers. Determined to have them confront their fears, Grylls takes the two scared souls on a wild expedition but, just as they are beginning to conquer their demons, he drags them into a pitch-black underwater cave. Then adds crocodiles.
It's easy to knock Grylls' over-the-top machismo but what's refreshing about Breaking Point is that it's not about his bravado at all; it's about helping people to heal. Of course, it's all staged and ends well, and along the way there are plenty of tears and buddy back slaps, but after all the scandal, Breaking Point demonstrates a humbler approach Grylls would be wise to explore further.
Slightly less toned but just as willing to embrace controversy, stand-up comedian Louis C.K. returns this week as a fictionalised exaggeration of himself, in the fifth season of sitcom Louie (Mondays, 10pm on FX).
Continuing with the tried-and-trusted formula - part stand-up comedy routine, part scripted storyline - Louie rediscovers the playfulness that was sorely missing from last year's run. Our anti-hero appears to be in a far happier place than when we last saw him, crouched naked in an overflowing bathtub. As with previous seasons, not a lot happens to our titular star as he stumbles his way through life in New York, trying to form relationships while raising two daughters.
This week, Louie attends a potluck dinner at his daughters' school. Hardly groundbreaking, right, but the joy is in watching the middle-aged comedian confront the daily grind. Sex, work, family and therapy: in lesser hands, uncomfortable scenes would elicit smirks and a sense of relief that our lives aren't that absurd. C.K.'s bungling, on the other hand, demands to be laughed at, out loud.
Undoubtedly the series will get deeper and deliciously darker as it progresses, but this breezy premiere reminds us why Louie has been a joy to watch for the past four years.
It's good to have you back, Louis.