The broadcast-industry project of turning Idiocracy into a documentary continued apace last night, as ABC debuted two very different twists on the concept of dressing up people in funny costumes and making them fall into crap. And both, in their own ways, were examples of how American TV takes a perfectly good stupid concept and then can’t leave it well enough alone.
The first, and more successful, was Wipeout, a kind of extreme obstacle-course competition. The hosts were ESPN anchor John Anderson and John Henson, former host of E!’s Talk Soup, on which, were he still hosting, he would probably be making fun of the poor schmuck who had to host Wipeout. It’s low-concept and simple: contestants race through a series of courses and challenges where they get comically pummeled and dumped into mud by contraptions with names like the Topple Towers, the Sucker Punch, and the Big Balls. If you found Survivor too intellectually challenging and decided to strip it down to just the immunity challenges—but with none of those highbrow jigsaw puzzles—this is what you’d get.
All of which would have been good enough stupid fun if ABC had stepped aside and let the mud-splashes and face-plants roll. Instead, Wipeout lets the hosts yammer on, making corny America’s Funniest Home Videos-style jokes (“Jen told us she was on the market–and she’s already getting hit on,” when one competitor gets punched by an automated boxing glove), as if not confident that the show was entertaining enough on its own. Even the contestants seemed to be trying too hard, screaming and making wisecracks for the camera, as if coaxed by the producers or, more likely, their agents. Make a good impression here, and you could just land that Head On commercial!
Meanwhile, I Survived a Japanese Game Show took a simple enough concept—importing Americans to compete on a bizarre game show in Tokyo—and turned it into a boring, American-style reality show, complete with confessional segments and backstage scenes. Memo to ABC: no one watches a show called I Survived a Japanese Game Show because they care about the inner lives of the contestants.