The Daily Stream: American Gladiators Is A Glorious Display Of Big Muscles, Big Hair, And Bigger Body Slams

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: American Gladiators (1989-1996)

Where You Can Watch It: PlutoTV

The Pitch: The original run of "American Gladiators" featured four local heroes (two men and two women) who compete in a variety of games to test their strength, speed, and agility while attempting to overcome the rigorous gaming battlefield. These contenders are not only competing against one another, but they are also forced to compete against the beefy and beautiful Gladiators like Laser, Zap, Hawk, Turbo, Gemini, Lace, Ice, Nitro, Viper, Diamond, Diesel, Blaze, Sabre, and the hunkcicle supreme, Malibu. The contenders would face off with the Gladiators in games that require them to do everything from climb rock walls, avoid being shot with a tennis ball launcher, battle atop a platform without falling to doom, avoid being tackled running from one end to the other, winning death-defying games of tug-of-war, racing while in giant inflatable balls, and surviving the obstacle course known as The Eliminator. Winners leave with a cash prize and the chance to return to be named the ultimate American Gladiator.

Why it's essential viewing

You know how whenever an athlete gets busted for taking steroids some hack comedian will rip off a decades-old bit from comedian Daniel Tosh about how we should have a separate sporting league filled with roided-up monsters defying the laws of humanity? That's basically "American Gladiators" in a nutshell. Amateur athletes from all across the country would try their hand against the spandex and sequined clad Gladiators, competing on a stage devoid of the visible safety features of something like "American Ninja Warrior." The show was a cultural phenomenon, spawning a ridiculous amount of merchandising (I proudly own a plastic Halloween mask of one of the Gladiators), action figures, multiple video games, a candy bar, trading cards, and frequently popped up in other shows like "Beavis and Butt-Head" in cameo appearances.

As a lifelong fan of professional wrestling, "American Gladiators" is another prominent example of the early craze of sports entertainment, and it wasn't difficult to get viewers to sign up to watch, as the professional wrestler Big E puts it, "big meaty men slappin' meat." The games were a perfect array of heightened sports glory, where audiences were meant to cheer for the average Joes attempting to defeat the odds, but had personal favorite Gladiators they'd secretly hope could knock them out of the game. A personal favorite in the Colangelo household is Nitro, played by Japanese former defensive lineman Danny Lee Clark of the Los Angeles Rams, who would throw his entire body into a tackle and send someone flying, even if he had already defeated them in the event.

The last vestige of the American Dream

The star-spangled spectacle of "American Gladiators" is easy to mock through a 2022 lens, as the Venice Beach muscles, overtanned flesh, open displays of aggression, and so, so many mullets have all been declared passé, but "American Gladiators" defines that final bubble of blissful ignorance when achieving the American Dream felt tangible. The Gladiators were meant to personify the peak of American existence and to defeat them was to prove that ordinary people were capable of achieving the impossible. The painful realities of the world were washed away in favor of watching robust superhumans try to take down the everyman, and it's hard not to feel your heart skip a beat whenever a contender successfully survives "Assault" and hits the target of safety from behind a Gladiator's head. Other shows have tried to capture the same magic over the years, including a revival of the series hosted by Hulk Hogan, which is unfortunately partially responsible for putting Gina Carano into public consciousness. But the sweet success of the original run of "American Gladiators" is impossible to replicate.

The show was also one of the first times where female athletes were given as much acclaim and screen time as their male co-stars, providing a marriage between their beauty and brawn. This is something that even the world of professional wrestling has struggled to accomplish, frequently requiring their talent to choose between strength and sexuality. "American Gladiators" was the great equalizer. Everyone was strong, everyone was glamorous, and everyone, regardless of gender, could wear the s*** out of a crop top. "American Gladiators" serves as a time capsule of an era long forgotten, and a world where this specific brand of physical contact can no longer exist.

American Gladiators lives on

In the last few years, there's been an increased interest in the legacy of "American Gladiators" with ESPN announcing a "30 for 30" documentary on the series, Deron McBee reprised his role as Malibu on an episode of "Tosh.0," as well as the rumors of a movie or reboot of the series from both WWE and Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg kicking around. As much as I'd love to say I'd welcome new "American Gladiators" content in my life, I know that isn't true. If I can't look at a frame of TV and smell Aqua Net, I don't want it.

The show was recently added to a channel on PlutoTV that specializes in physical challenge shows like "Most Extreme Challenge" and "Unbeatable Banzuke," but "American Gladiators" dominates the late-night block, making the perfect evening watch before bedtime. Physical challenge competition game shows are all the rage right now, but as cool as it is to see a contestant jump a dirt bike through a ring of fire on "America's Got Talent: Extreme," there's still something so inexplicably awesome about watching gigantic humans just pummel each other in the name of power and pageantry.