Once every four years Americans get swept up in a strong sense of national pride. No, I’m not talking about the upcoming presidential election, but rather the Olympics. I’m not a huge sports fan, but even I checked in to make sure the United States scored more medals than any other country, mostly because it’s one of the only categories in which we can beat China these days (other than belief in angels and defense spending).

So it’s fitting that, one day after the 2012 London Olympics Closing Ceremonies, NBC launches a new reality competition that is all about American pride: Stars Earn Stripes. Premiering Monday at 8pm, the show pairs eight celebrities with eight highly trained military and law enforcement operatives to compete in various missions. The competition is part obstacle course, part marksmanship (with live ammo!).

The result is an impressively-produced, earnest love letter to the U.S. military that will leave viewers humming the tune to Team America: World Police‘s “America (F*** Yeah).” The intellectual, liberal elite portion of my brain wants to find some flaw with Stars Earn Stripes, but it just can’t. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, we can all agree that the men and women of our armed services do a remarkable and necessary job. Who could possibly find fault in a show extolling their virtues while raising money for military charities?

But that’s not to say the show isn’t bound to cause some political battles. The co-host is retired General Wesley Clark, who once ran for president as a Democrat, and one of the celebrities is former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s husband, Todd. Then there’s Terry Crews, an actor currently starring on Aaron Sorkin’s political lightning rod The Newsroom.

The politics, however, come second. Stars Earn Stripes works as a reality competition series because of the people. The military operatives have the right amount of light-heartedness and intimidation. One in particular, Chris Kyle, is the deadliest sniper in American history with over 160 confirmed kills, and Dean Cain has a huge man crush on him. And Todd Palin is favorably compared to Rambo and Chuck Norris, which should have most Republicans clamoring for him to be Mitt Romney’s running mate.

Those are the moments that make this show fascinating to watch no matter what your political affiliation. At one point boxer Laila Ali asks her operative if he’s ever killed anyone in battle and he says “We really don’t talk about that kind of stuff.” It’s a small, human moment that reminds viewers of the intense emotional toll war puts on soldiers. These operatives aren’t on this show for fame and glory, which is a refreshing change of pace from most reality TV stars.

In a world filled with exploitative reality shows about child beauty pageants or celebrities desperate to get another 15 minutes of fame, Stars Earn Stripes is unlike anything else. It treats its subject matter and contestants with respect, and the contestants do the same. Sure, there’s a joke or two about Nick Lachey being from a boy band or how happy the one operative is to be paired with sexy WWE diva Eve Torres, but there’s always respect.

The celebrities respect and admire each other and the operatives, the military guys respect how hard the celebrities work and the hosts respect how serious everyone takes it. This isn’t some joke and it’s not a vacation (even though one of the military operatives refers to the grueling mission as “recess”). Stars Earn Stripes is the rarest of TV events, a non-exploitative reality series.

Stars Earn Stripes airs Monday at 8pm on NBC with a two-hour premiere before moving to 9pm starting August 20.

(Image courtesy of NBC)

John Kubicek

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

John watches nearly every show on TV, but he specializes in sci-fi/fantasy like The Vampire DiariesSupernatural and True Blood. However, he can also be found writing about everything from Survivor and Glee to One Tree Hill and Smallville.