FLOOR IS LAVA: SEASON 1 (2020) – ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE ENTERTAINMENT
I have a feeling everyone at some point has played a game of “The Floor Is Lava”, a simple game of skill where you would try to get around a room without touching the floor. Normally the players are either five-year-old children experiencing a sugar high or drunken adults, which is basically the same thing. It’s a simple little game that some executive looked at and went “There’s a show in this” and then they just stole a lot of stuff from Wipeout, but forgot the personality that goes with it.
With 10 episodes running at half an hour each, the format of every episode of Floor is Lava is almost identical. A couple of teams of contestants (Sometimes teams of three, sometimes teams of two, consistency is for suckers) engage in an elaborate obstacle course made out of various pieces of furniture that’re surrounded by gallons upon gallons of orange liquid that’s meant to represent lava. For every member of the team that makes it to the end, they score a point. If two teams tie with their scores, the fastest team to the end wins the grand prize $10,000 and a lava lamp that they are passing off as a trophy.
That’s it, that’s the entire show. Sure the obstacle course changes each episode with the setups alternating between a basement, a bedroom, a planetarium, a kitchen and a study but really once you’ve made it through one episode you quickly notice that there is no real deviation between them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, hell that describes almost all game shows with a bunch of new contestants every week but what helps is a wide variety of variables and a good host and guess what two things this show doesn’t have?
OK maybe it’s a tiny bit mean to say the host isn’t good. Rutledge Wood is actually a fairly serviceable host, in that he is able to explain the rules of the game in a clear manner and he seems to genuinely enjoy his job. What makes him no more than serviceable is that his job mainly consists of making jokes over the footage of the contestants and he’s not actually that funny.
His hosting shows no real sense of timing or any good wordplay. The jokes made are either “Oh, they fell in LAVA” or “Oh, they almost made that jump… but then they fell into LAVA” or “DID I MAKE A LAVA JOKE YET BECAUSE THE WORD LAVA IS FUNNY RIGHT?”. He only really appears on camera at the end to hand over the lava lamp and acknowledge that most people are going to be bingeing this like we binge everything. Other than that, he adds nothing to the show.
The editing of the show also doesn’t lend itself to the inherent comedy of this concept. Every single jump, no matter how unimpressive, will get at least three different camera angles edited one after the other. Every fall into lava? They have five angles on that and you will watch them in slow motion. Oh and if someone does something that someone else did in an earlier episode? Well, that’s when we have to stop, play back an unimpressive action we saw two episodes earlier, then cut back to the episode we’ve already been watching.
They almost try to play this concept with some semblance of realism, showing everything as it happens in real time which means that if some players get nervous and stand still for about 30 seconds, we’re watching every second. A ruthless editor could cut a solid ten minutes from every episode and actually improve the show by giving it a sense of timing and tension. As it is, after a 30-minute episode I feel a little bored and like I’ve been sitting there for a lot longer than I have.
There are a few things about this show that are genuinely cute. I love when the contestants play along with the silliness of the content, things like yelling “I will avenge you!” when their families fall into the lava or just overly dramatic reactions that get a chuckle out of the audience. It’s also hard to deny that the set design is genuinely impressive, I don’t know how you construct this kind of obstacle course with a large pool full of lava underneath it and have the course be completable but it’s very impressive.
What ends up killing this show is that it’s hard to imagine much variation. Once you’ve seen the course you can see about four or five ways to finish it but that’s it, and the sets are so big that they can’t realistically make a new one every episode meaning you basically know the ways that people will inevitably fail within a few minutes of seeing the course. I’m all for laughing at people when they pretend to drown in lava, but when there’s no surprise to how they’re going to end up there it’s less funny.
…also, no one in this series had the thought to descend under the lava while doing a thumbs up. This is literally the only chance in life to make that perfect reference to T2 and no one took it. I am very disappointed.