Mondays, 8 PM EST/7 PM CST, NBC.
During my childhood, American Gladiators was an integral part of my weekend routine. My sister and I would often spend the weekends at our grandparents’ house, which meant watching American Gladiators on Sunday mornings, and then turning the house into an obstacle course as we mimicked the events and hit each other with pillows (we’d even time each other with a stopwatch as we navigated our homemade Eliminator). I also remember playing the American Gladiators game for the original Nintendo and Larry Csonka means more to me as the sideline reporter for Gladiators than he ever could as a member of the ’72 Dolphins.
So, naturally I was excited, but apprehensive, when I heard that NBC was bringing back American Gladiators after over a decade on hiatus. Which events would they pick? (answer: some classics, but not all) Would there be new events? (yes, a couple of really lame ones) Would Laser be prominently involved? (unfortunately, no) Would they pick the absolute worst announcing team possible? (Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.) And of course, could the new version ever live up to the classic? (Not even close.)
Before I get into the meat of the review, you may be asking yourselves, could this be one of those things that are great when you’re a kid but when you grow up you realize that they’re awful, like cotton candy, Scooby-Doo, and Adam Sandler movies? Well, in college, a friend and I watched re-runs on cable and saw Wesley “Two Scoops” Berry absolutely dominate the Gladiators on his way to becoming the greatest contestant in any game show ever (take that, Ken Jennings!). Plus, he could long jump a car. A car! The man was unbelievable. I also “prepared” for this review by watching some youtube clips of the old Gladiators and yep, it’s still awesome.
So why doesn’t the new version live up to the original? I think part of it stems from some network executives wanting to jazz up the show and make it seem more modern and cool (goodbye awesome red white and blue unis, hello boring silver and black leather ones), without realizing that you shouldn’t mess with a classic. First and foremost, Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali are absolutely atrocious. They may be the worst announcing duo in television history. I’d rather see that kid from the “boom goes the dynamite” clip than these two. An example of Hulk’s commentary: “Hey brother….you’ve got all these tattoos dude….they’re awesome.” Hulk has also managed to use the word “brother” more times in one sentence than anyone ever before — “One hell of a man, brother, you gave it your all brother, but unfortunately, brother, your quest has come to an end. What was the toughest part, brother?”
Secondly, the camera is constantly cutting during the events, making it difficult to tell what’s going on — I mean, Christ, does NBC think our attention spans are so low that a single overhead shot of a 30 second event is going to make us change the channel? And please stop with the cutting to commercial right before an event starts — it’s annoying. We’re going to keep watching until the end either way, I promise.
But the major problem lies in the format of the events and the Eliminator. For starters, there are only four events before the eliminator, as opposed to six (I think) in the original. This gives players very little time to build up a head-start for the Eliminator — which itself is absolutely too long. The old eliminator took contestants about a minute, meaning a 10-second head start was HUGE. This one is taking contestants 2-3 minutes, making head-starts less meaningful and the events before the eliminator practically pointless. Not only that, but by the end of the thing, everyone is so tired that they can barely finish, leading to the worst, most anti-climactic finish I’ve ever seen at the end of episode 2, where neither contestant could make it up the final obstacle and they both stood around catching their breath for like 20 seconds before one finally crawled his way up. Sweet! How exciting!
As to the events themselves, most of the old ones are the same, except the cylinders in Powerball are about 5 times bigger than they used to be, and a woman actually made a jumpshot into one. You shouldn’t be making jumpshots in Powerball! I mean, how do you fuck up Powerball? The new events, Earthquake (a wrestling match on a shaking platform), and Hit & Run (crossing a bridge while Gladiators push heavy bags at you) are pretty useless.
And how can you have American Gladiators without Atlasphere? For those who don’t know the events by name (I had to look it up, too) this is the iconic event where the gladiators and contestants were inside those ridiculous rolling cages. I also miss Human Cannonball.
The one change I do like is that in some of the events, like Wall & Joust, after you lose, as an extra kick to the crotch, you fall like 15 feet into a water pit. Because getting ripped off a climbing wall by a roided-up psychopath or getting whacked by those jousting sticks isn’t bad enough by itself.
As for the Gladiators themselves…The good: Titan & Justice (6’8″, 290) are absolute beasts who pretty much have dominated everything. The bad: There’s a jackass named Wolf with a huge mustache who howls (seriously), and one Gladiator, Militia, lasted about 2 seconds of his first event before injuring himself and not returning. Also, Mayhem, in Joust, took about 10 total seconds before stepping on the other guy’s platform TWICE, automatically disqualifying himself, and after the second time, shoved the contestant into the water for no reason. Dude, just because you suck, don’t play dirty.
Titan. Holy crap.
Most of the women have been fairly unmemorable, except for Crush, who is surprisingly hot, and Hellga, who is terrible, unless you like watching contestants run by her because she’s too big and slow to react.
Finally, the contestants. NBC has decided to spend way too much time profiling them in favor of extra events, so you get to learn that the fireman contestant loves his momma (“If I ever meet a girl with half of her qualities, I’ll marry her on the spot”…atta boy Oedipus) and that the single mom has to sell toilet paper for a living. And then the poor toilet paper-saleswoman with the three kids and bad divorce lasts about 4 seconds in her first event before ending up on crutches.
I’d still probably watch the show if it’s on, but I’m not going to make any time for it. Give me the classic show and Wesley “Two Scoops” Berry any day. Just show that instead, NBC.
Crush. Too bad she would Crush me! Ha! Get it?