John Walker's Electronic House

American Gladiators

by on Jan.08, 2008, under Television

I’m not going to deny it. I’ve been looking forward to this since it was first announced back in November or so. Not because I thought it was going to be good. Oh no. But because I knew it was going to be ridiculous.

I loved American Gladiators. You’ll understand that I was about 12 at the time. I discovered it when staying over night at my friend Mark Arden’s house. We were proving our immortal strength by trying to stay up all night, aided by flicking through late-night television nonsense. I believe that evening we watched the film Elvira. Yes, that sort of 12-year-old boys type of night. So 3am comes along, and we’re weary. We’re ready to give in. And then on ITV comes something called American Gladiators. It’s already amazing by name alone. Just imagine being 12, and discovering the pure, ludicrous nonsense that is Gladiators – the bravado, the presentation, and the It’s A Knock Out With Weapons games. It was like discovering a new room in your house, filled with sweets and arcade machines.

A few years later the hateful British version came along, and I was not happy. Everything was wrong. I was 14 or 15 when it started, so possibly getting to the point of being too old/young to enjoy it. But bloody hell, it was awful. American Gladiators was, and I hesitate to say this, peculiarly modest. For the idiotic scale of the concept, the delivery was strangely low-key. The audience was very strangely small, the arena looking like a sound stage, and the presentation not nearly as trumpeted as you’d think. I stress here, so as to be completely clear, that it was still non-stop rubbish. Just low-key rubbish. Compare this to the hideous pantomime of the UK version, and it looked like lawn bowls.

From the moronic presentation of Ulrikakaka Johnson and Jon Fash-arn-ewe, to the Wrestling-style ‘characters’ of the Gladiators, it was unbearable. The idiocy of “Wolf”, a supposed baddy, underlined everything that made it so wrong. But then they, of course, had to mess up all the games too. Everything was made far more weedy, toning down the athleticism needed. So the contestants were embarrassing – just regular people with no noteable athletic ability. And there were the easier routes for the women. Sigh. A piss-easy wall with no overhang, a ladder walk rather than the hand cycle for the Eliminator. Patronising rubbish.

American Gladiators was almost the exact opposite. The contenders were all former army, or amateur wrestling champions, or similar, and they nearly always sounded like they’d attended far too many self-improvement seminars.

And now it’s back, nearly 14 years since it was first canned. So what’s changed in 14 years? Hilariously, almost nothing. In fact, the only noticeable difference is the infectious influence of the British incarnation. Now the referee does that tiresome and completely pointless routine of asking everyone if they’re “ready?” before a game can start. When someone loses, they play in the exact same songs for the audience to briefly shout along to (“Another one bites the dust” etc) as the British version had used. And worst, oh boy, they’ve now got a Wolf. Admittedly a far more convincing one, with the ability to grow facial hair, and he doesn’t look like a recently escaped rapist, but he’s still a Wolf. So there’s much howling to be heard every time anyone speaks to him. Except, they’ve forgotten to make him a bad guy.

But most weirdly, they’ve barely changed a thing. The only new games shown in the first three episodes (showed Sunday and last night) look so ordinary you’d have believed them if they said they were from the previous series. All my favourites like Assault (trying to fire weapons at a target while having tennis balls fired at you at 100mph) are still there. Oh, and it’s now hosted by Hulk Hogan. Oh yes.

Complete rubbish, and almost unbearable when you hear the contenders saying, “I’m just doing this for my family, who are everything to me, and God and the Bible,” between every game. But it reminds me of that same brainless thrill of being 12. And without the worst of the vile British pantomime, you’re basically a miserable old husk if you don’t abandon your pride and enjoy it.

4 Comments for this entry

  • mathew

    Is that a sneaky Mr. Show reference at the end there? Much props if so.

  • John

    Nicely spotted sir.

  • Masked Dave

    Man, you were a miserable 15 year old. I loved the British version, I loved the pantomime of it. The cheering and the jeering and the singing and the booing were what made that programme. And the hitting people with giant rubber sticks.

    Of course, I was about 12 at the time too.

  • DDude

    I got to see some of the Britsh version live, and I enjoyed it at the time..
    I cant claim to remember it well, but my Grandad used to take me to the Royal Tournament at Earls Court, and they had Gladiators! This was much better than on TV, because it was live!, and because the “Gladiators” were up against members of the armed services.

    P.S you probably guess that the armed forces won. Every year.