2023, TV

Muscles & Mayhem: An Unauthorized Story of American Gladiators (2023)

This is a miniseries about American Gladiators, a show I definitely watched as a child. There is apparently at least one other documentary out or on its way, but this is the one we found.

This is the story of most of the early cast of American Gladiators and some of the production crew for the show, especially early days. They clearly didn’t get everyone to participate – not all the original gladiators participated at it seems like some people on the production side are now dead – but they did get enough people who matter.

I remember some of the names but didn’t remember the faces too well. There are a few events I really remembered, but it’s clear to me that I didn’t see the first season at all, and I only watched the show sporadically. (For example, I have no memory of any of their specials.) I assume I aged out at some point.

The show does a good job of telling the human story, both in how the show seems to have been basically created as a lark, and of the early stars. It ends up being a classic case of the people who control the IP thinking the concept is more important than the talent. I don’t know which side were right in this case – I don’t know if I cared enough about the talent as a child – but I know whose side I’m on now. The film doesn’t necessarily give us enough context to truly figure out if it was the sheer number of relatively faceless gladiators that caused the decline in ratings, or something else.

The animation is sporadic and often not very good. I guess it’s there to change things up a bit for when they didn’t have archival footage but it isn’t a great addition.

Like nearly all Netflix miniseries, it’s a little longer than it has to be. There is a little bit of repetition if you watch each episode back-to-back. However, it’s briskly-paced (especially in comparison to your average Netflix miniseries) and it’s relatively free of the padding that plagues most of these.

It was nice to learn more this show and get some interesting stories. I had forgotten about this show but looking back it really does feel like it was more trailblazing than it seemed. I was entertained.


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