If you were from the past, and I told you that I had invented a technology which would allow you to watch people do things long after the event, and far away from it, what would you want to watch?
Surely the same things people have always loved to watch: Acrobats! Jugglers! Dancers and daredevils! Spectacle!
For some reason, American television hasn't really gone this route. Circuses remain popular in this country as they have been throughout history... (Ken and I saw the Greatest Show on Earth last year, featuring the amazing Sylvia Zerbini and Crazy Wilson. I've had those pages bookmarked for a long time now, waiting for a blog post I could work them into.) Do television producers here think this stuff won't sell on TV? But it does in other countries! For that matter, it does fine in this country on the Spanish language channels. And what do you think professional wrestling is, really, besides wildly successful? And then there are stunt-based reality shows like Fear Factor. And, prosaic by comparison, all of the different talent shows, from Star Search to whatever this new Simon Cowell thing is to "Ice Skating with Celebrities" or whatever it's called.
But the country best known for pushing the limits of the ridiculous is Japan, and it is from Japan that the concept for the purest spectacle on American television comes:
Master of Champions. You've got to love it for the name alone.
The format is, weirdly enough, almost exactly like "Iron Chef." Three judges (including Oksana Baiul!) and inappropriate sports-caster commentary from confused hosts (one of whom is apparently married to the White Sox's Scott Podsednik.) Only there are more competitors, and the judges don't really get to choose the winners. They -- look, don't try to understand it. How the winner is chosen really doesn't matter. They're all champions.
The series premiere started with people doing donuts in their cars around a block of cheese. There was a cheese grater attached by a long arm to the top of their cars. They had to grate as much cheese as possible by driving around it.
Pure, delicious absurdity? You may think so, but to the drift car driving community it made perfect sense.
The next act pitted a contortionist who shoots arrows with her feet (and was blindfolded for this trial) against a group of acrobat/dancers with spring loaded stilts and fireworks. In that kind of competition, the it's the audience that wins.
The final segment was a competition between two unicyclists. These guys are apparently well known in the unicycling community. (People who think skateboarding or stunt biking is too easy, I guess.)
There's a photo gallery on the official site, if you want the flavor.
The winner was the contortionist, Princess Elayne. This was as it should be.
Okay, I understand that this kind of thing isn't exactly intellectually demanding. But there's no reason why it should be. Are parades intellectually demanding? Are fireworks? Does anyone dislike fireworks? (Other than America-hating communist terrorists, of course?) No!
This is what you call "innocent fun." And we need it. Watching this stuff makes us all kids again. Complete with sense of wonder and childlike glee. Helps us resist the temptation to take ourselves too seriously. Helps us relax and enjoy. What I'm saying is, the world is a better, happier place, and we are better, happier people because of this kind of show.
So all of you, if you can't run off and join the circus, at least do your part to keep this show on the air. You know you want to. It's your civic duty.
Thursday, June 29 at 8/7c on ABC. This week features a low-rider car jumping rope.