I’ve always had a soft spot for sports shows where non-professional athletes get to test their prowess against outlandishly designed courses. It probably started way back in the 80s with TV shows such as The Krypton Factor, which admittedly had a fairly bog standard assault course for its contestants to overcome, but progressed with shows such as American Gladiators and its UK counterpart (known simply as Gladiators), then onto more humourous shows such as Total Wipeout and the incredibly tough Ninja Warrior. Incidentally, if you’ve never seen the original Japanese version of Ninja Warrior, known in its homeland as Sasuke, I’d urge you to seek it out and watch the entirety of the earliest season you can find. The cast of returning contestants, some of whom take the contest far more seriously than others, becomes incredibly endearing – and the drama inherent in their attempts to beat an ever more challenging course (as its difficulty is ramped up and they age over the years) becomes incredibly gripping, even moving. You’ll laugh, you may even shed the odd tear or two – and it’s one of the finest shows I’ve ever seen. Netflix have introduced some excellent shows of this nature, including the brilliant Ultimate Beastmaster (which seems to also have its own regional spin offs).
At the much more light-hearted end of the scale is Netflix’s Floor is Lava, which takes the classic kids game – in which players simply imagine that their floor is deadly to the touch and compete to stay off it for as long as possible – and puts it into an elaborately designed setting, full of obstacles, secret routes, traps and the eponymous lava itself. It’s the kind of show that should be stupid, throwaway entertainment for a few minutes here and there, but it’s so well-produced, shot and edited that it actually becomes a lot more involving than you’d ever expect it to be.
With episodes taking place in different themed rooms, filled with crazy, oversized props, it has a cartoony and fun air that remains in place throughout. It’s funny to see the teams taking it so seriously in some cases – though many do have their tongues firmly in their cheeks – but it also has a neat tension and an often hilarious way of dealing with those contestants who fall into the seemingly CGI-enhanced ‘lava’ (they basically disappear from view as if they’ve genuinely died – it’s simultaneously dramatic and hilarious; a total masterstroke).
You can forgive the teams a bit for taking it seriously though, because each show’s winning team gets a $10,000 prize; not bad for mucking around in a slippery obstacle course full of fake danger.
It’s hardly a test of genuine physical prowess (though there are some fairly dramatic moments that end up being pretty jaw dropping!), but it is nothing less than entertaining for the entirety of the series. The different rooms are brilliantly designed and populated, and there’s a great sense of wanting most of the teams (aside from a few who are pretty annoying!) to succeed in their attempt to cross the course. It’s well worth checking out – I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more, though a second season hasn’t yet been greenlit by Netflix. Fingers crossed we do get some more episodes of faux lava-based action
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