I had been looking forward to last night since this summer. I remember reading online this August that NBC was bringing back American Gladiators, and that open try-outs were being held in New York City later that week. No lie, I quickly checked my work schedule and savings account to see if I could possibly swing an east coast trip (I was residing in San Diego at the time) to NYC. Sadly, I could not (but, this is official, I will go to try-outs for season two if the show is not cancelled—this I promise). Nonetheless, the thought of seeing the shining star of TV shows from my childhood back for a second go-round warmed my soul.
Then, as the date approached, details of the show started to leak. Hulk Hogan would be co-hosting with Laila Ali. Ouch. I hate wrestling, have ever since I was a child. In my opinion, it’s midwestern soap opera.
Two weeks ago I encountered a preview commercial on NBC. Spandex was still in—good. The big technological improvement from the earlier shows was water—bad.
Regardless, I made sure to place myself in front of the TV well before 9 last night so as not to miss one second of the two hour premiere (also so I could watch the Clemens 60 Minutes interview—more on that in a later post.
Soon, the opening graphics were before me, followed by a wide shot of the entire playing field/warehouse full of random metal, mats, water, and lights. It looked small. I liked how the old Gladiator never showed the entire studio stadium at once.
Before I knew it, an old and tired looking Hulk Hogan yell-spoke an intro, and the new Gladiators were introduced. It’s about here that my night took a turn for the worst.
The old Gladiators had funny names. But they weren’t like WWF wrestlers: they didn’t have a shtick, a catch phrase, or ethnic garb. The new ones… Wolf? The best you could come up with was Wolf? Let me guess what he will do; I bet he’ll howl… Oh my goodness he howled! No one even saw that coming! And he has messy hair? Get out!
And what the hell is this? This is a joke right? Toa? His bio states he has “the strength of a thousand warriors flowing through his veins, and he will never, ever show mercy.” Great. But he’s wearing a skirt.
Then, to top it all off, there is a female Gladiator named Hellga (notice the creative addition of an extra “L.” Get it? She’s like Helga, but now her name spells hell… get it?). So her character is just a rip-off of Fran from Dodgeball? Good one. I can look around my desk and think of better names than Wolf, Toa, and Hellga. Sharpie! Grrr. Thumb Tack! Surge Protector! Really though, Surge isn’t better than WOLF? You and I both know it is.
Needless to say, I was disheartened after that. But the challenges had yet to start. There was always an aura of corniness in the old show, maybe I just needed to get used to this new, 21st century corny.
Or maybe the show just really sucks. Some of the good games from original are there, including Powerball and the Joust. But they use too many cuts, taking away from the feel of watching live action. Even though I knew what I was seeing on the original series had been pre-recorded, it felt like watching a sporting event because it was from mostly one camera angle, with the replays coming after the event finished. On the new show, Powerball was being shown from about four different cameras, with the footage jumping from one vantage point to the next.
Not only that, but what’s with all the focus on the pre and post event commentary? I don’t care what the contestants have to say—show me! Last night we had an over-the-hill original show contestant who managed to miss his shooting time, a 155 pound lightweight who referred to himself as a spider monkey, a life coach whose over-exuberance nearly induced suicidal thoughts, and a rehab therapist who I’m convinced needs to be on ritalin.
And we had to hear an ungodly amount of worthless sound bytes from each of them, with Hogan and Ali using leading dialogue that just begged for clichéd answers: “So, Chad, you continued to suck at this game, scoring no points yet again…”
“Well, yeah, but I have kids, so I’m going to try hard, for THEM! Anything can happen! It’s not over ’til it’s over! I’m just happy to be here! I’m doing my best!”
Lastly, why did they have to tweak the old events to make them “better?” Why is the Eliminator heart-attack inducing now? Maybe it has something to do with the state of our society these days, but if we as a nation can’t climb an incline without fainting, then make the damn course flat so I can see photo finishes! There is no drama in seeing one exhausted contestant fall through foam blocks while the other catches floor burns on their chin from lying on the fake escalator.
And what is the deal with the sand box in Assault? You now need to find and load your ammo for your guns? Bring back the NERF guns, and let me see the entire course instead of using Michael Mann style hand camera shots!
Maybe the original American Gladiators only seems great because I was young enough to be captivated by a combination of athletics, spandex, and muscles. But I don’t think so. I think the reason the original show as glorious lies in the myriad moments like this one below. I just hope that NBC figures it out before I have to stop associating the term “gladiator” with awesome.