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American Gladiators
Starring:: Hulk Hogan (host), Laila Ali (host), Gladiators: Crush, Fury, Hellga, Justice, Mayhem, Militia, Siren, Stealth, Titan, Toa, Venom, Wolf
Airs: Sundays at 9:00 p.m. on NBC

It’s a good thing that NBC decided to lead into the premiere of American Gladiators with an 80s edition of Deal or No Deal. Seeing the models in their “Material Girl” Madonna outfits got me in the right mood for the return of one of my favorite shows from my teenage years. But will the new versions of Nitro, Ice and Zap be able to hold a laser cannon to the old version?

There is one thing I miss so far that was key to the old show. In the 90s version, they actually made it seem like the show was a legitimate sporting event. They had play-by-play guys calling the action like it was Monday Night Football. They even had former NFL pro Larry Csonka as one of the commentators analyzing the contestants while they moved about the playing field. The new team of Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali, on the NBC version, are more like sideline reporters, which are normally the worst part of any sports broadcast. Laila Ali has proved to be a walking box of clichés, and maybe she should been better off being a Gladiator than asking them questions. And Hulk Hogan will never be confused with Peter Gammons. Also the announcer they during the events have is too busy thinking he’s Michael Buffer to really add anything to the show.

There are a few things like I so far. They’ve added a pool to the Joust event, which not only looks cooler than when contestant would fall onto cheesy gym mats, but doesn’t make you feel as bad when they get slammed on the side of the head. They also updated one of their events, which used to be a version of high-school wresting called “Conquer,” to be held on a painful looking plexiglass platform, which is suspended in mid-air. So not only do you have the danger of having to wrestle a 300-pound guy named Militia (one of my favorite names so far), but also there is the fear of landing on your noggin.

As for the Gladiators themselves, I have already picked out the breakout star of this show. His name is Wolf, and he is has thrown himself into his Gladiator “character” hardcore. First of all, he looks like Killer Bob from Twin Peaks, which gives him the vibe of a homeless drifter. Second, when the referee (who should switch to decaf) asks Wolf if he’s “REEEEEEEEEAAADDDY!!!” for the competition, he actually howls. Then when he beats the contestant, he walks up to them and snarls in a creepy and hopefully, saliva-free way. What’s really great about him is how much of a throwback he is to the old show and the WWF-like characters it had. They never claimed to be anything but Gladiators, even after the stage lights went down. Most of the WWE guys today go out of their way to tell you wrestling is fake, even writing books about it; Wolf and American Gladiators want to believe he’s got a pile of raw meet waiting for him in locker room when the show is over.

One thing has definitely changed from the 80s, and that’s the Women Gladiators. Taking a page from Vince McMahon, the ladies are more model than muscle. I kinda miss the big hair and the even bigger arms of the older show. But there is one woman who is definitely a wink to the old-school: Her name is Hellga (that’s right kids, TWO LL’s). Hellga looks like all the Russian athletes we were supposed to be afraid of if they didn’t boycott the 1984 Summer Olympics. They even gave her braids, like she was an innocent milkmaid until she got one of those shots they gave Drago in Rocky IV. Maybe I would like the Women’s division more if everyone in it looked like Hellga, but then again, there would be no show, because it would probably launch another Senate investigation into steroids.

The new version of American Gladiators is going to be on only for eight episodes, three of which are airing between tonight and tomorrow, which means by the time it grows on me, it will be over. So I think I might have to go back to the reruns on ESPN Classic, which caused the revival of the show in the first place. For me, seeing the old show reminds me of how much fun it was on a Saturday afternoon to sit down and watch mere mortals take on monsters. But if NBC wants to add Wolf and Hellga to Hereoes next season to take on The Cheerleader and Hiro, I wouldn’t complain.

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