Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I spent the majority of my Saturday making single dollar bets on decade-old episodes of Double Dare 2000 and Guts on Nickelodean for Graduates; it's the channel above the HD History Channel and the one below Sunrise Earth. It was amusing betting on kids in every physical challenge or Mt. Crag event (though it wasn't amusing watching my dollar go to the guy who bet on the girl every time), but it really brought me back to a time when physical competition in completely unrealistic events was the norm in Hollywood (or Burbank?)---and American Gladiators was the pinnacle of that.
Here's why American Gladiators is the best TV show that will ever exist.

Hospital drama: boring and redundant
Family sitcom: lack of creative space between an "Urkel" and a "Screech."
Quirky character-driven apartment sitcom: Friends sucks
Nature documentary: who watches these besides me and my grandfather?
Cartoon comedy: played.
Live athletic, high-contact competition pitting juiced beach-mutants against wormy accountants and failed runningbacks and strangely reminiscent of Running Man:
Sounds fantastic.

Let's take a look at some of our "favorite" TV characters.

  • "Ross" from Friends> a big pussy. Bumbling meant nothing until Ross stepped onto the scene. How could fuck up both pretending to be British AND let that prettyboy Joey take Jennifer Aniston away from you?

  • "Kramer" from Seinfeld> self-described racist and bigot. I heard they cut the Seinfeld episode where Kramer refers to a black man running down the street as a "spook with the heat on him."

  • "Agent Scully" from X-Files> hot, but never got naked.

  • "Dr. Doug Ross" from ER> easily the sexiest man alive for at least 2 nonconsecutive years, but his smugness could stop a monkey-driven rocketsled in its tracks.
Now let's look at the cast of American Gladiators.


Jesus Christ. I had to take a breath halfway through. There's just so much goddamn energy in there. It's Perfect. And that Turbo guy, what a name! I'm so pumped just thinking about how awesome Turbo is, I think he could easily win the next Presidency. And not only is the cast 4 times larger than any other TV show, but every single person is a model of physical fitness and Muscle Beach fashion sense in the late 80's. I mean, it's obvious that the production staff of American Gladiators just asked the nut-brained gladiators to think of names that reminded them of transformers, X-Men, hookers, and airports they've been to lately. But hey, in Hollywood, it works.

While American Gladiators could have chosen to have scripted sequences that flip between playful, witty banter and instructive, meaningfully-emotional moments, like Friends, they instead chose to fire tennis balls at scrambling competitors at over 100 miles-per-hour using compressed air. Instead of resolving disputes with quirky neighbors by hilariously unorthodox subterfuge, like Seinfeld, American Gladiators put everyone in huge metal spheres and forced them to uncontrollably roll around an arena for 5 minutes. X-Files liked to pique the viewer's bewilderment by mysterious twists and endless conspiracy theories, but American Gladiators seemed content having the gladiators try to pull people off of a 60-foot climbing wall.

Check out Billy Wirth's (Axl Rose) victory against gladiator Malibu (Dave Mustaine) in the Assault in Season 1.

It's pretty obvious to me at least that Malibu is a younger, healthier Dave Mustaine. He must have gotten embittered to the internal politiking within the American Gladiators cast set.

If it's not enough to have a cast of characters to rival a Dickens novel and a series of bone-crunching, ponytail-tangling competitive events, they "went there" and created THE ELIMINATOR. I capitalized the entire word out of respect and awe. I can just imagine the show's muscle-bound creators cackling in a dimly lit room buried in the heart of a mountain somewhere in the Urals.

Running up a 45-degree incline on a reverse treadmill is a tough way to start The Eliminator, but then you have to run across a 40-foot rotating cylinder while gladiators toss heavy boxing bags at you to knock you off. If you fall, the pit below is filled with venomous Cobras genetically bred with cat legs. Many unfortunate souls fell victim to these mutants' fangs (and claws). Then comes the 50-foot cargo net that I, personally, mastered in 5th grade yet, so I never understood the people who managed to nearly hang themselves in it. The zip line was put in for good measure, it didn't really take any athleticism. In fact, it would've been quicker for the contestants to simply leap off the platform into the bean bags but zip lines were all the rage in the early 90's, thanks to the Rambo franchise. Somewhere in there was a hand bike event, which while probably the most physically demanding (even moreso than the zip line!) section, it was only interesting when someone had trouble with it.

The kicker in The Eliminator was the endgame, where the contestants had to choose one of four paper doors to run through to the finish line. Immediately behind two of the four doors was a gladiator with a shield and a trident who would impale the unwise contestant who chose poorly. It really made for great television when contestant Wesley "Two Scoops" Berry thought he had easily beaten his rival in the race, threw his arms up in victory just before running through the paper door and having a medieval weapon pushed into his neck. It was sometimes difficult to gauge victory on the occasions where both contestants ended up dead, though. Later seasons saw the production staff convince the gladiators to replace their medieval weaponry with cushions, probably at the behest of the families of the deceased. Instead, and somewhat ironically, to give the competitors more motivation, the show would suspend their loved ones from the ceiling and slowly lower them into a vat of acid.

Here's the thrilling conclusion to Season 5 featuring Mark Ortega and Tim Goldrick. Mr. Goldrick's family didn't make it out of the studio with their lives that afternoon.

After reading this, it's pretty difficult to deny that American Gladiators was not only the most novel, entertaining television show ever created, but also accurately circumscribed the complex moral and political atmosphere that shaped the early 1990's. If you're like me, then you should feel a visceral duty to sign this petition to bring back American Gladiators.


Nate said...

Does Malibu slip on a pair of sunglasses prior to manning the Assault gun? Attempting to fire a tennis ball at a man in a dark-colored leotard, running along a blue floor on a dark playing field, inside of a dark, cavernous, indoor television studio. Where exactly do the sunglasses fit into this equation?

Brice Lord said...

That's probably why Malibu missed Axl Rose but nailed the unathletic dude once his eyes got accustomed to his own horrible fashion sense.