Saturday nights are all about falling over. Just look at your average British town centre and you’ll see people all over the ground, stranded where they fell. And Saturday night TV is no different.
But since the sad loss of Total Wipeout in 2012, the people of our televisions have been too upright. There just haven’t been the obstacle courses around to trip them up. That’s all changed though, with the BBC’s The Getaway Car taking on ITV’s Ninja Warrior UK in the family-friendly 7pm-ish timeslot.
But are either of them a worthy successor to the great of the genre?
Falling over is integral to the joy of the Saturday night obstacle course. And Total Wipeout lived up to its name; the whole show was built on the premise of an awful lot of people stacking it in great style.
And this is where The Getaway Car falls down – because its contestants don’t. They’re in a car for the entirety of the show, and it’s pretty hard to fall over when you’re sitting down and strapped in. Sure, they crash into things a lot, but the joy just isn’t the same.
In Ninja Warrior, meanwhile, people fall off things all the time. The whole show is designed to make people fall off things. But somehow it’s not as ridiculous and acrobatic as Total Wipeout was – possibly because there’s a definite lack of big red balls.
Sure, Total Wipeout followed the same formula each week – people fall off a series of challenges until there aren’t any people left to fall off things – but there was variety in that formula. Different things hit them at different points in the show. They fell from varying heights. Sometimes they got spun round before they fell over. You could never guess what would happen next! Except that it would be that someone would fall over.
The Getaway Car makes a valiant effort to recreate this, using a suspiciously similar formula. People drive into different things, at different speeds, in different vehicles. There’s a sense of progression, of challenge, of a fight to the death. Except without any actual death, because this is the BBC pre-watershed.
Over on ITV, Ninja Warrior lets the obstacle course-ing side down. Because all that happens is that 40 people do the same course one after another. For an hour. Where’s our narrative, Ninja Warrior? How can we get invested in these people’s stories? How do you expect us to care when they fall down?
The contestants were the secret to Total Wipeout. Sure, most of them were deluded fools, but somehow the show made us care about them. A combination of dreadful nicknames and mocking interviews made you believe you were watching normal people overcoming adversity. An adversity that they’d signed themselves up for.
The Getaway Car, meanwhile, was clearly conceived by a diabolical genius. Because each car carries two contestants, who more often than not are married to each other. That’s right. It’s a show that’s out to destroy marriages, by having one partner screaming relentlessly as the other tries to navigate a course in a very old Volkswagen Golf.
And then Ninja Warrior disappoints again, for it’s full of people who take the whole thing too seriously. They train, and they have people “spotting” them on the course, and they seemingly have no self-awareness. And you only see them for about 15 seconds, so it’s impossible to care about them in the slightest, even when Rochelle Humes really tries to make you.
When asked about Total Wipeout, everyone always remembers Richard Hammond. But Amanda Byram was the real star of the show. She stood at the edge of the challenges and was cruel to people’s faces. And yet no one punched her. Only Simon Amstell could have done it better.
Meanwhile The Getaway Car has Dermot O’Leary, a presenter so good that he can hold the show on his own. No need for a course-side interviewer here. Dermot can do it all. He’s been holding together the disaster that is The X Factor for years, after all.
Over at Ninja Warrior, meanwhile, they need three presenters. Mostly because none of them are up to the job on their own. Ben Shepherd tries hard to anchor the thing, Rochelle Humes is nice to people and pulls some faces, and all Chris Kamara does is laugh loudly when people fall down. I mean, it’s understandable because people falling over is really funny, but you do end up watching on mute.
Total Wipeout was famously (if anything about Total Wipeout can be described as being famous) filmed in Argentina. It was bright, and sunny, and a nice little holiday for people. It was almost worth flying for hours to fall off the very first hurdle.
For The Getaway Car, the BBC have inexplicably decided to head to South Africa. It seems very nice from what’s on screen, if a bit unnecessary. Still, it all adds a bit of Saturday night glamour, doesn’t it?
So it’s all the more reason to feel sorry for the poor contestants on Ninja Warrior. Because they get to go to a studio in Manchester. I mean, Manchester’s all well and good, but it’s not quite the same holiday feeling, is it?
So, do either of them deserve Total Wipeout’s crown?
No. No they don’t. Especially not Ninja Warrior, a show which has managed to take the best element of Total Wipeout (the falling off things) and strip it of almost all joy. The Getaway Car puts up a valiant effort, with its marriage-destruction and Dermot O’Leary, but everyone is just too upright.
And it’s a bit too hard to shake the feeling that it’s all just a way of doing something with the Stig while Top Gear works out what on earth it’s doing. Maybe he can break his silence and have a chat with his former colleague Hammond about a Total Wipeout revival. It’s the least he can do, really.
Anyway, this whole discussion’s moot. We all know none of them can hold a candle to Gladiators…