“Fuelled up and powered on by Subway!”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 by

NBC enjoyed – well – something like four hours of power this Sunday, courtesy of two TV revivals which have been doing fantastic business. And I’ve been watching both.

First up was the “Grand Finale” of the new American Gladiators, a show which originally hit the mat back in the mid 1990s. Now hosted by Hulk “Awesome, brother!” Hogan and Laila “Good answer!” Ali, the comeback has proven such a success, it’s prompted Sky One to revitalise the British brand. As a fairweather fan of that version and with vague memories of catching the US series during ITV nighttimes, I was interested to get back in touch with the show.

What can I say? It’s stupidly entertaining. There isn’t enough variation in the games, but as a spectacle it’s always satisfying. Granted, the limited vocabulary of all concerned is mildly depressing, contenders and presenters cycling through limited variations of the same bits of trash-talk: “Bring it on”, “I’m going to bring it”, “I’ve got your back”, “Awesome”, “I’ve got game”, “I’m going for it”, “[insert name here]-mania!” and, bizarrely, “This is my house”. Plus, there’s the odd smattering of self-improv doctrine, culminating in one finalist explaining, “It’s an awesome visualisation and I’m going to make it come to fruition!” Oh, and lots of dedications to God or departed parents, and much guff about being a role model and inspiring the poor …

But that’s all part of the fun, right? American Gladiators is a big, silly, enthusiastic firework display. It’s got game, alright, and I’ll be there with my over-sized inflatable hand when season two pops up. Plus, their Wolf is much better than our one ever was.

Shameless in squeezing promotional spots into every corner of the show (replays sponsored by Subway and Toyota, contestants glugging power drinks with the label turned to camera), the final came to a slight pause for the commentator to note the stars of the new Knight Rider were in the audience. Their show followed next …

Dunno why I decided to catch this other revival, as I was hardly a devotee of the ’80s original. And yet, when that theme tune kicked in, I grinned … until it morphed into a nasty, aimless spot of guitar wankery. This is Glen A Larson to the next level. Our new Rider (named Mike Traceur) is introduced having enjoyed a ménage à trois with a couple of “hotties”, he’s got a geeky vaguely ethnic sidekick, and is later matched with a fairly straight re-imagining of Bonnie/April. The FBI get a look in courtesy of a nubile lesbian agent – also introduced awakening from a one-night stand – and Devon’s counterpart has the most ridiculous hair of the year.

Worse still, the new KITT – a Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500KR, apparently – is just plain ugly. It’s a big fat car, the camera all too often perving over its cobra badge, and it sports the rubbish attribute of being able to change shape! Perhaps it could opt for the form of a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am?

There’s a weird subtext running through this pilot about parental relationships, with all the young cast seemingly estranged from their moms and pops. Not sure what it all meant, but it afforded David Hasselhoff a cameo late in the day, as Mike’s missing-in-action dad. It was nice to see him.

Throughout, you can feel the programme-makers straining to think of how they can develop upon elements from the original series. This really made me chuckle at the end as, the gang all assembled, Mike got ready to reverse KITT onto the road from the inners of the Knight Industry truck … except that as he emerges, it’s revealed said vehicle is now a big old plane. Yeah! Bigger and better!

Bet they drop that innovation quick-smart when the inevitable series follows.


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