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'Regular Heroes' review: Pandemic's essential workers deserve better

This combination photo shows, from left, Houston Texans

This combination photo shows, from left, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt during a news conference in Houston on Jan. 4, 2020, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul during a game against the Phoenix Suns in Phoenix on Jan. 31, 2020 and Brad Paisley at the 51st annual CMA Awards in Nashville, Tenn. Watt, Paul and Paisley will appear in upcoming episodes of Amazon Prime's docuseries "Regular Heroe."   Credit: AP

DOCUSERIES "Regular Heroes"

WHEN|WHERE Streaming on Amazon Prime

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "Regular Heroes" tells the story of the essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic who have soldiered on in high-risk jobs to keep society running for the rest of us. Profiles include a Hospital for Special Surgery inventory specialist in Manhattan, a Lower Ninth Ward grocery store owner in New Orleans, a trucker, a New Jersey zoo worker, advocates for the homeless and more.

The Amazon Prime series adds a new episode to the streaming service every Friday — five out of the eight can be seen now. 

MY SAY There is no doubt that we need all the tributes we can get to the essential workers that have put their lives on the lines. There are some extraordinary people featured in "Regular Heroes" and we are all in their debt. It is a great thing that their stories have been given such a prominent platform.

So it's rather painful to report that the series itself is just not very good, playing like an infomercial without any sort of deeper engagement with the subjects at hand.

Part of that is because of the structure of each episode — a celebrity such as Alicia Keys or Nick Jonas introduces three workers, each of their stories are told in brief snippets, and then we're forced to watch the celebrity at hand surprise each of the workers with a sizable gift.

This does not allow for a lot of time to really delve into the story of someone like Burnell Cotlon, whose Lower Ninth Ward grocery store stands as the only one within miles, having survived the devastation Hurricane Katrina brought to that neighborhood. There's a fascinating documentary to be made about him alone, soldiering on in his mission of providing healthy and fresh food in the face of another unimaginable horror.

Having him serve as just a small segment of a single episode of an anthology does not even begin to allow for the opportunity to do him justice, and the same is true for just about any of the other subjects as well.

The presence of the celebrities is understandable in that viewers inundated with streaming options and altogether sick of being saturated with news of the pandemic need a reason to click play.

The hosts of the first five episodes (in addition to Keys and Jonas, they are Kevin Hart, singer Kelly Rowland and NBA player Chris Paul) are clearly well-intentioned and genuine, often tearing up at the end along with the heroes as they "surprise" them with calls and expensive gifts. Other hosts include NFL star J.J. Watt and country singer Brad Paisley.

But even the poster for the show displayed on Amazon Prime's platform highlights the problem with injecting the A-list into material like this: Jonas and Keys take up the center of the display of four faces, while the two essential workers who have made the cut for being featured occupy the ends.

This is really not a story about entertainment bigshots being empathetic and generous, but too often "Regular Heroes" veers into that sort of infomercial territory. That materializes in big block letters appearing in each installment, informing us that "None of the heroes know that [the episode's celebrity] has been following their stories. They have no idea [the celebrity's] about to call …"

It can be seen in Keys' "Good Job" being overplayed on the soundtrack, hammering the point home. And it can be felt in all of the shots of the misty-eyed, saint-like celebs being thanked profusely for their generosity. No thanks.

BOTTOM LINE The essential workers of the COVID-19 pandemic deserve a better series than this.

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