You can’t beat an original

Jan. 14, 2008

by Jesse Menden

Growing up, every Saturday consisted of eating a large bowl of Cheerios and plopping down in front of the television to watch an episode of “American Gladiators.” So when somebody told me that it was coming back to network television, I couldn’t have been more excited.

As a kid, I appreciated the sheer competition of the show, and the fact that most of the events were easily replicated in my own basement. What could be more fun than simulating Joust by standing on two chairs and bopping your brother with a plastic baseball bat until he falls down?

Now, as an adult that still acts like a kid, I watch the old episodes on ESPN Classic for those same reasons . . . and for the mullets. Just seeing those aggressive mullets is entertaining enough. Some of those haircuts would make a Canadian hockey player blush.

So when I sat down with a bowl of popcorn last week to take in the premier of the new “American Gladiators,” I was expecting untamed mullets, a lot of Spandex, and new and improved games. Unfortunately, it was mostly disappointing.
First, where did they get those gladiators, Misfit Island?

Wolf just does not work for me. He more resembles the beast from the movie “Beauty and the Beast” than an actual wolf. Also, his fake howl is annoying, to say the least. Fury and Helga just plain scare me, and Titan looks like a Ken doll. It is a little hard to take them seriously, especially when none of them have mullets. You can give me the old gladiators like Lace, Zap, or Nitro any day.

However, in case one of you current gladiators are reading this, I think you are great. Please don’t come beat me up.

A second thing that bothers me about the new show is all of the trash-talking. The old “American Gladiators” show was about competition and sportsmanship. The gladiators never took verbal shots at the contestants. Even if Laser had just beat the bloody pulp out of a contestant during the Gauntlet, he would pick the guy up and shake his hand. Now, the gladiators frequently showboat after a win.

As bad as the trash-talking is from the gladiators, the interviews with the contestants are even worse. They same things are said over and over again. We don’t need to hear 20 times how disappointed you were after missing a tryout for the show 15 years ago. There needs to be more action and less talking.

Apparently, the writers’ strike is affecting the hosts of the show, too. In one episode last week, Hulk told one of the contestants he “had more moves than a bowl of Jell-o.” I love ya’ Hulk, but you need better writers than that. Oh, and I didn’t realize you had so many brothers and sisters.

The thing that bothers me the most about the show are the new games, however. Earthquake has no originality. Two people pushing each other on a moving platform is not exciting. Plus, I have yet to see a contender win that event.

Hit and Run is slightly more exciting, but still leaves something to be desired. The game seems too easy, but it is fun to watch when somebody does get hit by one of those 100-pound balls.

If there is one positive, it is that they did bring back those classic games. Assault is new and improved, Joust is a classic game, and Wall is always exciting.

The Eliminator is also bigger and better. It is more challenging than the old one, and Travelator at the end makes for some great finishes.

But the new show has a long way to go before it is as good as the original. My suggestion is to require that everyone involved have a mullet. That way, if the competition is lacking, at least we can reminisce and laugh about the good ol’ days.