Tuesday, June 24, 2008

ABC Turns Japanese! Some real-time reactions to the new summer game shows

So I'm watching the premiere of "Wipeout" on ABC right now, the first in their new duo of Japanese-inspired game shows. "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" is on directly afterwards. I'm a little drunk, which should help with this kind of thing. But right now, it's not. That's unfortunate! This show's a buzzkill.

These shows are supposed to be like the wacky Japanese TV shows that Americans seem to think are the norm on Japanese TV. You know, the kind that the Simpsons parodied in the episode "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo", when they appeared on the fictional "The Happy Smile Super Challenge Family Wish Show".

Some thoughts so far:

They've got the basic format right. "Wipeout" is basically like "Takeshi's Castle" or any number of its contemporaries, although stripped down even further if you can believe it. It's not overdone - they haven't intentionally cheesed it up. If anything, it's much too sedate! There's no personality.

Another problem: the contestants are too out of shape. Most of them are obviously giving up about midway through the qualifying course. They're just throwing themselves in the water and/or mud. I know we're a country of fatties, but come on. There have to be 10 or 12 people left who can actually make it all the way through an obstacle course!

The hosts are not even really there. Talk about low budget! I haven't seen a green screen this obvious since Howard Cosell hosted Wide World of Sports. I know they're producing these shows here because they're cheap, but jeeze! In Japan, the hosts are part of the show. It's like a big party. And the shows are still cheap! Spend a few bucks on some airplane tickets, ABC. For Christ's sake.

The qualifying course is much too difficult. Most of the obstacles seem basically impossible. Did anyone test this? On real Japanese shows, the obstacles are hard but not ridiculous like this. Nobody's even making it past the first obstacle (heck, some are not making it *to* the first obstacle!). To compensate, the producers have allowed the contestants to simply continue when they get knocked off an obstacle. In Japan, they'd just be out.

The biggest sin so far is that the show is just not funny. Japanese "obstacle course" shows (I dunno what else to call them) are ridiculous and hilarious, on purpose. Otherwise, why watch? I feel like ABC's done what Food Network did to Iron Chef here - they've taken an intentionally funny show with a serious competition behind it and turned it into a serious competition with a few jokes sprinkled here and there. They've missed the point. And the jokes are falling flat. It's really coming off kinda like "American Gladiators". That's not a good thing.

Maybe ABC thinks the Japanese brand of intentionally cheesy comedy just doesn't work here... but then why put on a show inspired by it? Ya see? Somebody at ABC's gotta ask the tough questions! The whole point of these shows is to laugh at the contestants, and cheer every once in a while when somebody actually makes it through.

I hate to say it, but so far "Most Xtreme Elimination Challenge" on Spike TV is actually truer to the spirit of the original than "Wipeout" is. And that show was dubbed with a completely new script! Dear God, I've just complimented Spike TV.

Now "I Survived..." - it's in HD! Awesome! But there's something weird about the audio, which is like it was recorded with tin cans instead of microphones. Ugh, this is annoying!

The show is apparently actually shot in Japan. I don't think that automatically makes it anymore authentic, but at least they couldn't avoid the culture if they wanted to.

They're using the conceit of a reality show to trick the contestants into playing. I think that's pretty clever, at least at this point. We'll see what they do with it.

The production values are much higher than "Wipeout". Clearly, this is the tentpole; "Wipeout" was just filler. God, Tokyo looks great in HD! I need to get back there this year...

It's hilarious hearing these morons talking about how they're in "Times Square, but instead of English, everything's in like, hieroglyphics!" Hey, jerk, how about everything's in JAPANESE. You know, the language they speak in the country you're in? It's not hard; it's just the name of the country with an "ese" at the end. I'm embarrassed to be an American.

Alright, I'm getting annoyed. Everybody's like this. Are there any non-idiots living in America anymore? At least one guy admits that "Tokyo is way far more advanced than the United States of America." He's wrong in one way, but right in another!

Somebody just called this fat slob of a Japanese woman serving as their housekeeper "cute". I'm pretty sure nobody in Japan would call her that. (Ok, that was mean. True, though.)

They're pretending to show these dumbasses the "set" of a "Japanese game show". (The show itself seems to imply that it's real, as in a show on the air in Japan. It's not, as far as I know.) Really, though, they're the contestants! Ha. This could be good or bad.

The "host" of the game show introduces himself as "Romu Kanda" but his name is spelled "Romu Kandu" on screen. Funny story - my wife met him in our old neighborhood in New York. He's an actor, not a game show host. That's his real name (Kanda, not Kandu). Here's his IMDB page. At least they seem to have gotten the lack of air conditioning right! He's sweating, as are some of the contestants. Yeah, it's really Japan!

It's disappointing, though, that this is obviously not a real game show. That just makes "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" a plain old reality TV show, not based on reality at all.

The first task has one contestant eating mochi balls off another contestant's head while they run on a treadmill (ABC keeps spelling it "mocchi", as if it's Italian). It's actually pretty funny, and the real Japanese crowd seems to like it. It's something that could be on a real Japanese game show.

It's ridiculous how seriously some of the contestants are taking this! The American contestants are acting like they're on "Survivor", they're not even having fun. That makes it less fun to watch than it should be. They need to relax.

The winners get a helicopter tour of Tokyo. Whee! There's not much to see of Tokyo from the air - the skyline is not one of the city's strong points. You do get a sense of how big the city is, though, and they play up that angle. The losers get to run rickshaws through Tokyo - as if that's a common sight in the most advanced city in the world. Hey, news flash, ABC: Tokyo and Beijing are in two totally different countries. (They actually try to convince via voiceovers that rickshaws are a "popular mode of transportation" in something called "old Tokyo", wherever that is.) The Japanese riders seem completely amused to be in what is obviously a totally novel form of transportation for them.

The basic structure of this show is (disappointingly) standard American reality. There's a challenge and the winner gets a reward while the loser gets a crap job and both teams nominate somebody to leave. Then there's another challenge to determine who goes home. Yawn. This has *nothing* to do with Japanese game shows. It's just an average American reality show set in Tokyo.

The "elimination" challenge is lifted straight from David Letterman - the contestants run down a track, jump on a trampoline and stick a colored dot on a target on a wall. Tell me if my snoring wakes you up.

I'm pretty disappointed with this show, although I don't know what I was expecting. I thought it'd be more like an actual American attempt at a Japanese game show, though, not a crummy reality show using a game show for its challenges. How many of these reality shows do we really need? They all have exactly the same format - there's nothing new here. Even the challenges were hit and miss - the first was kind of goofy, the second was something we've seen a million times on American TV already.

I predict both of these shows will be gone before the summer's out, and everybody's going to say Americans aren't ready for Japanese TV. That's not true - both Food Network and Spike TV have proved that Americans are ready for Japanese TV, as long as it's in English and as long as it's funny. What America's not ready for is a poor American imitation of Japanese TV - especially as part of a below-average standard American reality show - and that's the lesson that ABC should take from this.

I probably won't watch "Wipeout" again. I might watch "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" if only because I'm nostalgic for Tokyo, though I'm not planning on being able to catch it more than 2 or 3 more times before it's canceled.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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