Jesse James is a badass. I can tell because he has a lot of tattoos, claims to be related to the Old West outlaw Jesse James, says he stole Scott Hamilton’s car when he was 17, was allegedly a bodyguard for Danzig, builds expensive custom motorcycles, fathered a child with porn star Janine Lindemulder and is now married to Sandra Bullock—all of which sounds like the résumé of a badass. On the other hand, he could just be a total, self-promoting douche bag who got fired off “The Celebrity Apprentice” and is defiling America’s sweetheart on a nightly basis. It’s a fine line, really.Back in 2003, Jesse James came to national attention when he was hired to host the edgy automotive show “Monster Garage” on Discovery Channel. As the owner of the famed motorcycle shop West Coast Choppers, James was a fine dude to share America’s weekly obsession with large engines and chrome. By 2005, however, James seemed to lose interest in the show. He didn’t even show up for the series finale in June of 2006. Now, though, James is itching to be known as something other than “that biker dude nailing Sandra Bullock” and is returning to television with the docu-reality series “Jesse James is a Dead Man.” The show begins by introducing James as “America’s most notorious outlaw”—making him a higher value target than Osama bin Laden, the Zodiac Killer and those Somali pirates combined. The enthusiastic narrator also mentions that James has “a thirst for death.” It’s more likely James has “a thirst for publicity,” but let’s not split hairs. Each week, this death-thirsty outlaw performs some dangerous, possibly life-threatening stunt involving an engine and two or more wheels. For all its macho posturing (and there is a lot), “Jesse James is a Dead Man” is must-see TV for serious gearheads and people who get a half-chub when they hear the words “1,000 horsepower.” In the first episode, James takes on the challenge of riding a top fuel nitro bike—which is basically a jet engine with wheels. Now, piloting a nitro bike down the quarter mile takes all of two seconds, so there’s a lot of padding to be done here. Each episode, James spends a week in training, gearing up to the particular challenge. In order to squat on a 250-mph nitro bike, for example, James preps himself by riding in an F-16 jet fighter and blowing things up with nitro-methane. OK, so the logic of the “training” isn’t real clear, but it makes for serious dude TV. James isn’t actually the most charismatic, well-spoken fella on the planet. He’s a man of actions, not words. But he does wear a Slayer motorcycle helmet! How metal is that? If you wanna watch a guy with tattoos crush a house with a monster truck, “Jesse James is a Dead Man” is your kinda show. If not, you can always watch in the hopes that he fulfills the title promise.
“Jesse James is a Dead Man” premieres Sunday, May 31, at 8 p.m. on Spike TV.