American Gladiators finds perfect blend of drama, game show and sporting contest

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

American Gladiators

Gazette File Photo

IF THIS SHOW IS TRASHY, THEN I’M OSCAR THE GROUCH. Although the old American Gladiators and its recent new incarnation are very cheesy, they represent the type of entertainment television is famous for.

American Gladiators has returned and all of a sudden I’m a giddy 10-year- old again.

I definitely have a huge bias when it comes to this tacky TV reincarnation. I loved American Gladiators when I was a kid. Like any childhood favourite returning from the dead, I would love the new one even if it sucked.

I’m no purist either. I’m obviously upset the original theme song is gone, and my favourite event involving contestants in giant hamster balls is missing too. I choose to focus on the similarities to the original.

The emotional background information on contestants still gives us a reason to cheer someone on. The ridiculous names and costumes for gladiators are more ostentatious than ever and it’s fantastic.

Last year’s biggest sports headlines were dominated by negative stories featuring drug use and criminal charges.

American Gladiators is a breath of fresh air even as a pseudo sport, if only because the steroid use is so obvious no one would bother to deny it. Plus, hairy and unwashed gladiator Wolf is more likely to be in a dog fight than run one.

The show has crossed the gulf between TV drama, game show and sporting event. I’ve cleverly dubbed this genre sport-o-tainment.

The XFL tried to span this bridge. It was too much sport for drama junkies, and too much of a joke for sports fans. Average Joes took a shot at reality sports as well, but it lacks the over-the-top sensationalism of Gladiators.

When the announcer, following the face wash of a contestant by a gladiator named Justice, drops gems like, “Justice was served facially!” I promptly forget the Writer’s Guild strike.

Unlike pompous windbags like John Madden and Pierre McGuire, the hosts and announcers on Gladiators know they aren’t worthy of being taken seriously. Or at least no one else believes they should be taken seriously.

American Gladiators is a return to ’80s pro wrestling in all its glory. Remember the good ol’ days when Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior battled it out in colourful duds and we could never be sure if it was scripted or not?

Hogan, trying valiantly to revive his career, is the perfect fit as host. His ridiculous voice and his habit of making a statement and then shoving the microphone in a contestant’s face as if it had been a question is priceless.

This show is what wrestling can no longer be since people gave up claiming it was real.

For those put off by wrestling’s cheesiness, or TV drama, Gladiators offers something new. By adding the reality game show element, the obvious cheesiness is appropriate.

Until American Gladiators is proven to be scripted, I’m in. [I quietly believe it is scripted " the way the first red female contestant of the season hilariously flailed on a conveyor belt while the blue contestant came back from a huge deficit is too amazing to be real].

American Gladiators is TV at its most effective: mindless, oversexed and mostly a waste of my time. I love every second of it.

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