American Gladiators is what it is. Cheesy fun, with underdog contestants, awkward interviews and sometimes gripping action. After tuning in to the two hour premiere of the new American Gladiators (the original closed down shop 13 years ago) last night, one thing was clear – the show is almost exactly like the original. Format is the same, most of the challenges are the same, and it’s as corny as it was in 1988. It’s amazing what the writers’ strike has turned prime time TV into: a series that was on Saturdays at midnight in syndication is now a prime time event. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gladiators becomes a significant hit in this current reality TV-infused network landscape. The show has its merits – anything that involves an excess of tight spandex usually does.
American Gladiators now involves water. Fall off the Joust, you’re falling into water. Same with Hit and Run, same with Wall. If a contestant hits the target in Assault, the gladiator gets catapulted backwards into water. In terms of events, American Gladiators brings back all of the old favorites. Joust, Powerball, Hang Tough, Pyramid, Gauntlet, Wall, and Assault. There was a new event called Earthquake, where a contestant and a gladiator wrestle on a circular disk suspended above the ground. Cool enough.
The new Gladiators aren’t anything special, just a bunch of behemoths without much to say. Wolf is easily the most annoying Gladiator – he looks like a wolf and insists on howling a lot. On the ladies’ side, Crush is the hottest Gladiator in the show’s history, if that’s something you might be interested in.
Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali do their best to force excitement out of interviews with people who aren’t used to being interviewed. Hulk is the more natural TV personality, and is always likable, while Ali was a bit awkward at times. It is her first hosting gig, though, so she should be fine after a few episodes. But, the forced interviews speak to the most annoying part of American Gladiators, one that I hoped NBC would fix upon the re-boot: everything is hopelessly cheesy and forced. The Gladiators spout lame smack talk, the announcer puns his way through the events, crowd shots involve heavily coached cheering and jeering, and the contestant interviews are so blatantly rehearsed that it’s embarrassing.
The highlight of the two hour premiere was the unveiling of the new and improved Eliminator. The Eliminator is now very challenging, with a couple of the women struggling to even finish. Here’s how it goes: Scale a wall, jump into a pool and swim under 20 feet of flaming pipes, up a 30-foot rope web, across the hand bike, down one of those spinning Ninja Warrior things, climb up the Pyramid, down a zip cord and up the angled treadmill thing that used to begin the Eliminator back in the day. It’s a grueling end to the competition and the best part of the show.
American Gladiators is a reminder that everything is much more awesome when you’re a kid. I was an avid watcher of Gladiators during its first run (I was five when it debuted), and I loved it. The reality of Gladiators just can’t hold a candle to my youthful memories of its glory. Try as I might, this new Gladiators is going to be difficult to watch, if only because I don’t want to tarnish the opinion of my childhood self.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of NBC)