Dan Miller and the Steele Penny Band- "Gauntlet"
(My hard drive is better than yours.)
Before I say anything else, maybe the original "American Gladiators" isn't as great as I thought it was.
I'm one of a handful of people who are genuinely excited about the return of "American Gladiators" on NBC tonight. Or at least that's what I thought. In my head I pictured a bunch of intellectuals lamenting the writer's strike and what it has wrought. But as three of my friends called me this evening, excited about the return of every twentysomething's Saturday morning staple, I realized there are a lot of intellectuals who value trash culture as well.
Joining me for this running diary was my northeast sympathizer and lead guitarist of our Rock Band supergroup The T-bles, Will. We're two wild-and-crazy guys.
9:00- NBC has to explain to us how the show works, as if we haven't all been watching reruns every night on ESPN Classic. In the first incarnation of AG we saw "ordinary men and women battle the greatest athletes of their time." Because Jerry Rice couldn't hold a candle to Lazer.
The contestants can actually become Gladiators, which is a nice wrinkle. Will includes, "A few of the chick Gladiators are hot. This was not the case on the old show. I'm not sure how I feel about that." And, unlike the '90s version, we can definitely tell they're women from the shorts. Will: "This is basically a long commercial for camel-toe."
9:05- Koya Webb, one of the contestants is a life coach, and her speed is all she needs to "shake...and break on these here Gladiators." Man, how fucked are you if even your life coach is a loser?
9:07- The biggest change, besides me understanding irony, is the way the network treats our attention spans. The camera angles are so fast and unwieldy that you can't even tell what's going on sometimes. And NBC can't even take a break to explain the rules. They just kind of dump some nonsense about points on you while the game is being played.
Powerball, one of the best old games, but it's ruined because "the baskets are bigger than Jamie Lynn Spears' vagina." A chick gets hurt during it, and the Gladiators look concerned and stand over her, whereas in the past they would celebrate when they hurt someone. And, yes, I'll keep comparing this to something I've romanticized out of nostalgia. The injured broad is replaced with a new girl named Venus, which works out fine if she goes onto be a new Gladiator. I'm worried otherwise though. Will the contestant-cum-Gladiator make up a new persona, or will it just be like, "Fury, Hellga, and...Jan"?
9:12- We're finally introduced to the male contestants: Chad, a skateboarder who ends up being a pussy, and Anthony, a New York City firefighter who is pretty much exactly what you're picturing. "Jager Bombs should be his middle name," Will adds.
9:15- Gladiator Wolf looks like Ben Stiller in Dodgeball. Titan "looks way more feminine than any of the female Gladiators."
9:18- It turns out the producers were able to dig up the same referee they used fifteen years ago. How long do you think he waited to call them back and tell them he was available? Did he already have all the networks' numbers programmed into his phone or did he have to replay the message? Or had he been calling each of the networks every week for the past fifteen years to ask if they were bringing the show back?
By the way, he changed the classic "Gladiators: readyyyy? Contestants: readyyyy?" but I'm glad it's still there at all.
9:23- Will: "On the old AG, wasn't dropping to a knee in Joust a loss? Why not just sit down Indian style and get half the points guaranteed?"
Tank: I'm just trying to set an over/under for when Hulk Hogan will start pimping out his daughter on the show.
By the way, I thought Hulk Hogan would be the worst candidate for replacing Mike Adamle as host, since he's never listened to another human being in his life. Asking him to ask questions to contestants and calmly wait for their responses is like asking Barack Obama to have a platform. (I give myself one political joke a month. That's it.) Turns out Hulkster's doing an admirable job though, and I like the '90s cachet he brings to this.
9:29- Earthquake is a new event but is pretty stale. Koya, the brokeass Ellen Cleghorne life coach, tumbles about four feet to the padding. We're having fun with the new Gladiators:
Will: Militia seems like a toolbag. I mean, it's probably not his fault, but going around saluting and shit is pretty offensive to people actually in the military.
Chris: That's such an uncreative hook too. If you had told me to come up with ten new Gladiators, I would have probably been like, "One is named Militia and salutes. One is named Mayhem. He has creative dreads and a half-shirt."
9:35- Jager Bombs is getting ready to participate in Hit and Run, which is a new event that seems easy if one has any agility at all. This is, verbatim, his response to Hulk's readiness prompt: "We used to play this game where I'm from on the lower east side, but we used cabs. I better represent."
The show is obviously scripted, as most of the contestant and Gladiator responses sound like cut-scenes from a video game. I think someone from NBC found some of the introductions from MTV's "Next" and slipped them to the players. More on the scripted nature of the show later.
Wolf howls every opportunity he gets, and his shtick only gets funnier each time.
9:37: Everything seems so much easier than the first time around, and the contestants seem so much wimpier. The Pyramid event is basically, like, one section of what the Eliminator used to be. It seems as if neither the Gladiators or the contestants are trying. And have any of these people ever even seen the show? They have no strategy. Venus opened the event with, "Just like in med school, I'm going straight to the top!" and then got paced by a Gladiator.
Yep. They don't make 'em like they used to.
9:47- It all comes down to the Eliminator, and one of the first things the ladies have to do is swim under fire? That's actually the gulliest thing AG has had to offer all night. I guess if you can't do that you die, which is fine with me.
The contestants seem so out of shape. They're walking through the event. "Just like I did in med school, I'm...not even going to attempt the hand-bike."
9:52- Koya has some major problems with the treadmill and finishes as Venus is doing her victory interview, which is the highlight of the night. Will: "I don't know which was better, lying on the conveyor belt for two minutes or falling through the blocks after Venus was done with her entire interview."
9:57- If NBC is going to write the whole thing, you'd think they could come up with some better material. Anthony, of course, compared the Eliminator to the twelfth round of a boxing match. Really, Jager Bombs? You couldn't fit in anything about thin-crust pizza and domestic violence?
9:58- The men are just as underwhelming in the final event:
Will: Shouldn't a firefighter be capable of climbing a rope ladder?
Tank: Shouldn't the Gladiators be a part of this? Shouldn't one of them be waiting at the end to surprise you?
Will: Yeah, this is ridiculous. You also used to get time penalties for falling off shit. I mean, why even attempt the handcrank or log roll if you can just fall off and keep going?
10:01- Jesus. I forgot we had another hour of this. We're introduced to a new pair of contestants, one of whom is named Moli, who decided against Rec Specs, does some backflips, and explains that the Gladiators are "Cruisin' for a bruisin'." Maybe we are still in 1992.
His opponent is Jeff Keller, an ad man who tried out for the show in 1994 and got stuck in traffic on the day of his taping. He worked for fourteen years to stay in shape for the show. I think that's enough of a joke; I have nothing to add.
10:05- The Black Gladiator is, of course, the one who has to do the majority of the trash-talking. He looks like Jax from Mortal Kombat II. Keller gets the whistle blown for, as our ref explains, giving a Gladiator "the business on the side." No homo. Once again, very little strategy on the Gladiators' side. They could easily pin the dude down until the clock ran out, but they just sort of reset and let him by.
On the short list of Things That Taste Worse Than Astronaut Pizza.
10:07- Ah, two new women: One is a body-building youth counselor: "I over-came my lack of self-esteem with weights." Welcome to American Gladiators.
The other is a twenty-five-year-old retired Marine and mother of two. She promises to "wipe these girls out like a little sandstorm." I don't really know what that means.
Will: "This is binary. You're either a one or a zero, alive or dead." Bad movie quotes--gooooo.
10:22- Mayhem apparently doesn't even know the rules to his own event, as he twice steps on the contestant's platform during Joust. One of the contestants rides his pugil stick like a donkey. If I look outside and there's a billboard for Ace Ventura, I'm going to be very worried.
10:24- Hulk, who is wearing tight black jeans if I haven't mentioned that, says that the contestants have "just brought women power to a whole new level." Bonnie, who, if I haven't mentioned that, is a Marine, replies, "That's what separates Marines from just little ladies. And that's all she is. A little lady." I think everyone associated with this show is retarded, and I am becoming retarded by watching it.
10:31- Thankfully, Assault is back and kept mostly intact. I would have put a hundred bucks on Justice, the Jax-looking guy, being the Gladiator shooting out the tennis balls. Moli loses because he gets shot while he's trying to get his bow to work, even though he didn't know he had to find the arrow for it at the previous station. For the second time, Justice yells, "That's how it should be done!" Really? Winning because the contestant doesn't understand how the game is played? That's how it should be done?
Tonight's program was about as frustrating as the Gladiators game for SNES.
10:33- The Marine yells, "Ooh-ra! Semper Fi!" (no, seriously) and outlasts Fury on Hangin' Tough, which always seemed like the most intimidating game to me. Even though NBC has obviously shortened the field. The announcer keeps pointing out that Fury has a signature move called the Suicide Squeeze. It seems as if it's way too difficult a maneuver for its own good. Will is particularly pissed about it: "Her signature move? It's the first fucking episode!"
10:37- This Moli cat promises to "unleash the fury of the spider monkey," whatever that means. I know these people are playing written characters, and I know they're spouting tired, written lines, but Moli is actually the most realistic person of the night. He's basically any batshit Asian freshman you know. No John Wong.
There have been many moments in the night (the Gladiators clearly letting the ladies win on The Wall for instance) that seem scripted, but the biggest evidence is that I never saw any kind of casting call invitations. I know two people who definitely would be on the show if they had been given a chance, and you already would have gotten a "Fatass Tries Out for 'American Gladiators' Just to Write a Story about It for His Blog" post.
10:41- Keller, who keeps flexing his muscles and talking shit, even though he's getting victimized by Titan, scores no points. Hulk describes the painful move in which he got thrown off the pyramid as "a sunset flip," and I'm glad I wasn't the only one who would use that term. I miss you, WWF.
10:44- The female contestants, in particular, are really unimpressive. Bodybuilder chick says, "I've battled four of these Gladiators before, and I look forward to feeding off their synergy." Okay.
I forgot to mention that when someone falls into the pit of water, thereby losing, the crowd sings along to "Another One Bites the Dust." This is gay.
10:53- Blah blah. The guys do The Eliminator, and for a guy who has been a fan for over fourteen years, the Keller guy still doesn't know that you need to use your legs for momentum on the hand-bike. Moli camps out before the finish line for about five seconds as the camera stays on Keller so that he can catch up in another bit of shameless staging.
Will once again compliments the show on humiliating a guy for not waiting until he has finished to interview the winner. Hulk asks Keller what the hardest part of the day was, and he responds, "Waiting fourteen years." Yikes.
Will: I wish I had counted how many times Hulk said "brother" the whole show.
Chris: If you had counted the number of times he said "I love you to death" to another dude, you would be at one.
10: 58- The women try their hands at the Eliminator, and the Marine says something about being a Marine. You would think she would have the edge since the Eliminator is pretty much Marine basic training, but she must have skipped the part where they learn how to swim. It's too bad Brag about Being a Marine wasn't an event, because she would have that one sewn up.
Surprisingly, the Marine mother doesn't win and even paces her forehead on a steel bar. I guess NBC can still surprise us. Overall, I chalk this one up as an L though.
In case you had to be reminded, this is how otherworldly and exciting the show used to be: