'I Survived a Japanese Game Show'


With ABC's "I Survived a Japanese Game Show," we get the equivalent of a 45-second YouTube video stretched to an hour, week after painful week.

It's rather like a "Saturday Night Live" skit that should have stayed a skit and not wound up on the big screen ("It's Pat! — The Movie"). There's a reason that idiotic, humiliating games that transform people into human fertilizer are a staple of TV in Japan and not the U.S. In their game shows, the Japanese have elevated cruelty to an art form. The idea that we'd sit at our computer monitors and guffaw at the culturally befuddling absurdity that goes along with being a Japanese contestant is one thing, but to think it would cross over to American TV takes the joke a surrealistic step too far. We're left scrambling for our mouse and the left-click button, only to realize to our horror that we've again been full-on invaded by Japan.

That said, it really is funny to watch this show for about five minutes. It starts off with a game in which Americans are made to eat off of a plate attached to the head of a teammate running on a treadmill. Based loosely on a concept imported by executive producer Tim Crescenti from Denmark, the idea here involves whisking 10 unwitting Americans to Japan to compete before a live audience and a cloying, jeering Japanese host, Rome Kanda. It's a reality show-within-a-game show, with the winner taking home $250,000 and the glory of being made a laughingstock before the citizenry of two nations.

If this were consistently funny or remotely interesting, we could of course forgive the fact that "Japanese Game Show" bisects the Seventh Circle of Hell. But instead, it's just the same dopey, preening, hallucinatory vibe over and over. The zany challenges — people smashing eggs with their butt wearing a chicken suit or covering themselves in flour in myriad ways — pile up to the point where we're literally screaming for the visual assault to stop.

It's not just the game itself that proves so torturous but all of the ridiculous add-ons that go with it: the childlike cartoon visages of various animals, the sound effects that appear to have been lifted from a preschool's arsenal, the pep-rally hysteria of the audience and of course a host whose mission seems to be pushing the contestants to rehab. Rumor has it that a handful of states already are considering piping episodes of "Japanese Game Show" into the execution chamber as a novel method of sending those on death row to the Great Beyond, but officials fear it will be struck down as cruel and unusual punishment. Fortunately, those who aren't locked up can escape the lethal impact using a remote. For now. (partialdiff)