Thursday, June 26, 2008
The backchannels of cable have often hosted excerpts from those crazy Japanese game shows, where contestants dress in silly costumes and tackle equally silly obstacles courses. There's some physical skill involved, but most of the programs seem to revel in simply having people fall into various muddy holes so we can laugh at them.
The longest-running is MXC (Most Extreme Challenge) on Spike, which is a hybrid show, taking the footage from a Japanese show, and dubbing in new snarky dialogue for the hosts and the contestants. Occasionally, the bon mots are hilarious -- the writers build gags out of having made-up opposing groups, such as Porn Stars vs. White House Staff -- and the structure of the 30-minute show makes it easy to fast-forward to the juicy middle parts.
Thirty minutes. Oh, if only Wipeout, one of ABC's two Japanese-game-show rip-offs, was so succinct. One hour proved deadly, especially when the two hosts -- John Anderson and John Henson -- delivered their not-very-funny jokes with all the enthusiasm of budget-vinyl-flooring salesmen. Dudes, just saying “big balls” isn't inherently funny; if you can't manage wit, at least strive for delivery.
I fast-forwarded through the first batch of contestants, and spent some time with the next qualifying round. Things picked up slightly when the contestants were made dizzy, and then had to navigate a floating course.
But the much-amped final round was a giant misfire. The obstacle course looked like a left-over amusement park ride, and was so tricked out with flashing lights, water features and pyro that you couldn't follow the action. Wipeout needs to take some Big Clues from MXC, which shrinks the competing portion into tasty little nuggets. Who wants to watch this bloated hour of repeated falls and get-back-ups and fall-agains?
As if we can't get enough of folks fallin' on their ass, ABC is following Wipeout with the reality show-game show mashup, I Survived a Japanese Game Show. Ten Americans get flown to Tokyo, and discover -- in the fakest surprise ever -- that they're competing in a Japanese game show called Majide. And per reality-show set-up, they're installed in a group home with tiny beds, a remote-controlled toilet (prompting one doofus to exclaim how much more advanced the Japanese are) and divided up into teams. I'm not sure the teams will stay intact over the series but for now it's the Yellow Penguins vs. the Green Monkeys.
And our requisite reality-show contestant from Western PA is in the house! Ben from Punxsutawney, who is also the oldest player. And I'm not sure why this wasn't mentioned on the show, but it does explain why he turned up wearing a rather incongruous top hat: Ben is Punxsutawney Phil's handler.
The Majide set looked tiny and somewhat phony, but I guess it's for real -- though the tiny studio audience of young Japanese overreacted to everything with the exaggerated enthusiasm of out-of-work actors. And, I do love that a good chunk of the show in Japanese, with subtitles. Unthinkable years ago that primetime network shows would come with subtitles, so there's been some progress among coach potatoes.
The contests -- eating food from hat, landing in a vat of flour, miming a bug-splat while dressed as a fly -- are somewhat strained, but Survived is miles better than Wipeout. Despite the window-dressing of Majide, Survived's DNA is reality show. There is proven entertainment, however low-rent, in obnoxious people living together; pitting team against team, complete with rewards and punishments; and having individual success -- the ultimate winner gets $250,000 -- also depend on team play.
I may never watch Wipeout again, but I'll be back for Survived, if only to see that mouthy Staten Island chick go down hard in a tub of wet rice.