The series Armed and Ready follows Kevin Michael Connolly, an author, photographer and “self-proclaimed thrill seeker,” as he cliff dives in Hawaii, attempts lumber-jacking in Tennessee, trains with an Army corps and undertakes other high-intensity endeavors. What makes this Travel Channel series different from most though is not what it has, but what it lacks: Connolly was born without legs.
The reason for his birth defect has remained a mystery, and Connolly himself — who is young, attractive and extremely fit — says “my life is like one giant experiment.” He wrote a memoir about it, Double Take, and has published candid photos of people’s reactions to him as he has traveled the globe. In Armed and Ready, he challenges himself in new ways (he already participates in extreme sports and won a silver medal in skiing at the 2006 X Games) by testing his physical limits, as well as perceptions of what someone like him can do.
Connolly does double duty as star and narrator, and his immense sense of humor and willingness to try things like being tossed around in a Zorb (more or less a giant ball that rolls down a hill, made more difficult by the fact that he’s unable to use the leg restraints) makes for an engaging watch. Still, some of the best moments are when he is vulnerable, admitting his fear of jumping off of a 40-foot cliff because he’s uncertain he can get enough thrust just from his arm strength to miss the rocks below, or acknowledging there are just some things he simply cannot do, such as win a log-spinning competition with the lumberjacks — instead, he knocks them off just for the satisfaction and laughs. But he still puts in a massive amount of effort into every endeavor, usually accompanied (when he succeeds) by his wild, high-pitched maniacal laugh.
One of Connolly’s unique ways of dealing with his disability is his rejection of prosthetics or a wheelchair. He mostly gets around via skateboard, which he molds into various modified contraptions to suit the extreme landscape, like when he luges down dried, glass-like lava in Hawaii or fits the skateboard with a motor to jet over ice. He enjoys, as he puts it, “hurling my carcass” around, and his choice to go without these prosthetic aids is integral to his personality and the way he was raised. As he says in the opening credits, he was expected to participate in everything just like his siblings did and had an oar in his hands by the age of 6.
The series mixes in Connolly’s adventures and narration with animations and stock film footage to illustrate the mechanisms behind his challenges (like how a person with legs might experience this versus how Connolly does and why and how much harder it is for him), as well as his feelings about them. It keeps things lively, matching his buoyant personality. Not everything is a reminder of how tough things are for a legless man, though. Connolly makes a great show at one point of how he’s able to toss his pants off with ease, “Take that, Standards and Practices! You can pause it but there’s nothing there. Well, there is something there … but I magician’d it.”
The show misses something by not explaining more about Connolly’s background with his photographic art and talent for writing. What he achieves in the series is impressive, but the build-up to how he got to this point is in many ways even better. Though he does intersperse some reminiscences along the way (accompanied by pictures and video), it’s those short moments that really ground the show and make it more than just about extreme activities. Still, in the end, Connolly seems to be on his way to achieving both of his goals of challenging himself as well as viewers to see things differently: from the ground up.