Infantile, Imbecilic and Awesome

Media Reviews for Media People: ABC's 'Wipeout,' 'Japanese Game Show'

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NEW YORK ( -- Anybody who watched the Lakers revert into flinch-and-whimper mode during the NBA finals this month was treated to roughly 7,200 plugs for "Wipeout" and "I Survived a Japanese Game Show." ABC crammed the promos down our throats during the pre- and post-game shows, during fast breaks, during timeouts necessitated by Pau Gasol's need for a hug, etc. After the umpteenth clip, I couldn't help but think that ABC regards me and my fellow hoops diehards as slow-blinkers who consider limbs-splayed carnage the epitome of modern culture.
'Wipeout' Credit: ABC/Adam Larkey

They're right, of course. Just as I enjoy watching professional jocks perform great feats of athleticism, I enjoy watching people get bopped in the plums and bounced off walls in the name of entertainment. In fact, I think we should celebrate the best of such efforts the way we do the best films, records and TV shows. Hence my proposal for a "Groiny Awards" prime-time extravaganza, which would honor meritorious achievement in the fields of unintentional pain infliction, concussion sustenance and disfigurement by Frisbee. Like you wouldn't watch.

Diggin' it
So hell yeah, I dug "Wipeout," which pits a dozen semi-athletic Johnny and Janey Lunchpails against a mud- and water-drenched obstacle course. The contestants, chosen less for their comeliness than for their ability to absorb a pounding, subject themselves to massive abuse at the hands of the "topple towers," "sucker punch" and "big balls" activity stations. They go down -- hard -- with great and bounteous frequency.

As they do, commentators John Anderson (ESPN) and John Henson (E!'s "Talk Soup") mock them mercilessly. The show goes so far as to break out replays and telestrators to mine contestants' misfortune for humor. It is infantile, it is imbecilic, and it is awesome.

That tone -- well, that and the slo-mo shots of noggins acquainting themselves with fixed objects -- is what distinguishes "Wipeout" from the summer reality pack. Though most of these shows mold familiar characters out of the raw personas they're given (the fading sorority alumnus, the crap-talkin' musclehead, the shouty shrew), they have at their core some respect or empathy for the contestants. Not "Wipeout." The show may trot out a turbo-babe sideline reporter in skinny jeans to blunt the contestants' humiliation from time to time, but her commentary upon witnessing some tubbo eat mud veers toward "Oh my! That never gets old!"

Helped by Henson
Henson's presence adds a lot. A good chunk of his banter feels scripted ("What does 'daft' mean?" "I don't know, I failed British in high school"), but "Wipeout" hasn't entirely snuffed out his agreeable wise-assery. He likens one robust contestant to Natalie from The Facts of Life and slaps another with the nickname "Jazz Hands." Okay, that doesn't read too funny, but it works.

I can see only one potential problem with "Wipeout" going forward. Unless the show's creators work around the clock to devise newer and crueler obstacles for the contestants to conquer, the gimmick will get old pretty quick. Toward the end of the first hour, in fact, I found myself rooting for somebody to navigate the course without incident. Meanwhile, I call on ABC to open the "Wipeout" course to hyper-elite members of the media, who will write really nice things about the show in exchange for liberal play-time access to the course. I -- er, we -- can be bought just that easily. I'll sign any liability waiver you put in front of me. Make this happen.

'Game Show' disappoints
I'll pass on a similar "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" junket, though. While its underlying concept makes me giggle -- force a bunch of American halftards to endure competitions such as "Conveyor Restaurant" and "Big Bugs Splat on Windshield" on the lunatic Japanese game show "Majide" -- ABC torpedoes it by falling back on the standard reality-show conventions.

The show divides the 10 contestants into two teams and forces them to live together in close quarters, then highlights the inevitable you-think-you're-all-that-but-you're-totally-not finger-wagging. It also has the contestants air their thoughts directly to the cameras, resulting in many a moment that makes one despair for the state of our educational system. Upon arriving in downtown Tokyo, Southern tattoo guy observes, "Instead of English, you see hieroglyphics." Yup.

Twenty minutes in, I was both bored and depressed. Interestingly, ABC may have had higher hopes for "Japanese Game Show" than "Wipeout," given that only the former is shot in HD.

Lack of marketing distinction
"Japanese Game Show" and "Wipeout" may land on opposite sides of the entertain-Larry spectrum, but marketers haven't yet made such nuanced distinctions between the two. On Tuesday night, both shows featured the same ads from Home Depot (for its Behr paint), Duracell (Firefighters need cartons of batteries? What?), "Wall-E," Visa Business, Verizon Wireless, Dove and Bayer. "Wipeout" gets some love from Kia, Subway and "Hancock"; "Japanese Game Show" counters with Jeep, Quiznos and "Journey to the Center of the Earth." Neither show dabbles in product integration, though there are plenty of opportunities for it in the "Japanese Game Show" contestant house.

In the wake of the strong day-after buzz for "Wipeout" on sports blogs and elsewhere, however, I'd expect an injection of testosterone into next week's commercial mix. Translated: Gird your olfactory lobe for the feral musk that is Axe Body Spray.

Rethink your promos, ABC
I kept the TV tuned to ABC after watching "Wipeout" and "Japanese Game Show," mostly because the combination of humidity and inertia prompted the formation of a glue-like bond between my ass and the chair upon which I was perched. I'm glad this happened, as ABC inexplicably chose to follow up its two-hour falling-and-failing block with a subtle, intelligent "Primetime" look at Amish teens and the rite of Rumspringa. During the ad breaks, ABC touted "Hopkins," a hospital documentary-series by the same folks who brought us the excellent "Boston 24/7" and "NYPD 24/7."

Were it not for my unplanned adhesion to the love seat, I wouldn't have known either "Hopkins" or "Primetime" existed. ABC might want to consider this the next time it overloads its NBA coverage with hype for supposed "guy shows."
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