Wednesday, 30 January 2008


The news today that The Gladiators is to return to our screens (albeit on Sky One), made my inner-child positively jump around like back when I was 7 years old and my mother had given me too much Um Bongo. If any show has been calling for a revival back to it's Saturday Night slot, it's the cheesefest that is The Gladiators. Thankfully NBC thought the exact same thing I did, although it may have to do with them scraping together any old crap they can make quickly; seeing as how all their actual television shows have ground to a halt due to the writers' strike. But one man's loss or another man's gain, and whilst some poor sap is mourning the loss of a season of 24, I'm experiencing the delight that is American Gladiators.

See, American Gladiators is quite possibly the the craziest show to be put on TV in a long while. It's exactly what you'd expect The Gladiators to be if it were: American, made in 2007, and targeted at teenage boys. Yet somehow it manages to give you so many "WTF!?" moments that make you laugh out loud, even if that wasn't the intention.

So let's compare the old-school 90's Gladiators from the era when ITV on a Saturday night was brilliant, with the new American Gladiators from an era when the kids that are watching can't stay still for more than 3 seconds. It's still the same format, play games, win points, gain seconds, do Eliminator. It's still the visual feast it's always been, only the new version whacks it up about 10 notches. Even in just the intro you have the logo spinning round, exploding, coming back, spinning some more, jumping from side to side, breaking apart, coming back together, staying still for about half a second, then exploding into your face once more. As this time we get to hear the first delights from the commentator who takes it all seriously, like he's bet his house and his family on one of the contestants to win.

Then there's the differences, instead of John Fashanu and Gladiator shag-piece Ulrika, it's hosted by Hulk Hogan. Yes, they thought it'd be a good idea to give an aging old man hosting duties. And yes, he still does that hand to the ear thing and says the word brother in every 3rd sentence. There's the wealth of new Gladiators, all angry, glistening and full of attitude, at one point in a game, a contestant is hanging on for dear life, so the Gladiator does the only plausible thing - kicks her in the face so she falls off. Of course.

The oddest difference to the British version of old is that, for some unexplained reason, most of the events take place above a huge pool of water. Get hit off in The Duel, down in the water you go. Get pulled off The Wall, better hope you can swim, cause it's nothing but pool for you. I was hoping for some kind of morbid twist to mixed in with the whole water gimmick, perhaps the contestants have heavy weights tied to their ankles, so they know that if they fail that there'll be a fight for survival. Or perhaps a shark... and a crocodile... and a bear with snorkeling gear, so they get ripped to shreds when they lose a game. Unfortunately, the only morbid twist is during The Eliminator round, for some reason, again not entirely explained, the pool is set aflame, so the contestants not only have to swim through the water, but they also have to make sure they don't catch fire.... whilst underwater... I'm not sure the makers of this show thought that deadly obstacle through...

The best water related piece in the whole show is the round called Assault. Now this isn't in the British version so let me explain it. The contestant runs from weapon to weapon, each getting more powerful than the one before, in the hope that they can use these weapons to fire Nerf balls at a big circle. But up top is a Gladiator, who also has a big Nerf gun, who is trying to shoot the contestant below with his Nerf balls. Yes, this round is actually sponsored by Nerf. So far so Gladiators, but what's odd is when the big circle target is hit, and the Gladiator i one final inexplicable moment, gets fire from the stage to the other side of the arena, and they end up in the pool. Just because you're as far away from the pool as you could possibly be, doesn't mean you're safe from a soaking. Seeing a 6 ft, 200lb bodybuilder scream whilst airborne and then get dunked in water is the funniest sight you'll see in a long time.

This is the kind of show that's so bad it's good, which gives me high hopes for the Sky One version that is imminent. If it keeps the cheesy nature and the incredible music of the original whilst borrowing a little of the exploding typography and general anarchy from the American version, this could send Sky subscriptions through the roof.

But if they don't bring John Anderson as the referee, there's gonna be hell to pay. I know where you live, Sky One.

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