Muscles & Mayhem Season 1 Review – American Gladiators reveal all

Season 1

Episode Guide

Pilot Madness
Let the Games Begin
A Global Phenomenon
Sex, Drugs & Merchandise
The Final Legacy


American Gladiators aired from 1989 to 1996. Within that time, it became a number 1 hit on TV. As a Brit, the UK version of Gladiators was a mainstay for Saturday night TV, running from 1992 all the way through to 2000. As a kid growing up during that time, Gladiators was everywhere. The different athletes would visit schools. Merchandise would be on sale in stores, and the show became a pop culture phenomenon. But what was it really like as a Gladiator during that time?

Muscles & Mayhem shows exactly this. The five episode docu-series unveils the absolute mayhem that went into creating the show, with everything from steroids, injuries and a really poorly constructed tour sprinkled in around the tremendous highs and ultimate lows that the series underwent. It’s hard to understand just how big this was was, and perhaps could have been even bigger, had it not been for the mismanagement of The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

The five episodes begin with the inception and idea of the show way back in 1989, with the Gladiators themselves narrating their journey into the limelight. We also hear from executives and producers of the show, including Director Bob Levy who came in from season 2 and completely changed the series for the better.

As the episodes progress, there’s discussion on steroids and growth hormones, along with the changing audience demographic of the show, which became a hit with kids. Episode 4 then focuses on the Gladiators on tour, and really depicts the horrific treatment these guys had to deal with. It’s also another brilliant example of why you should always read a work contract before signing! This also brings up the merchandising and the downward spiral that the series ended up on.

The final episode depicts the eventual end of the show, briefly touching on what all the different Gladiators are up to now. Personally, it would have been nice to see a bit more of the international versions of the show – especially as the UK one ran for far longer and included some very iconic Gladiators too.

The documentary itself includes some animated re-enactments of different key scenes, including meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger and a particularly lively fight between two of the Gladiators outside, that ends in a Luis Suarez-esque bite!

There’s also a few interviews with memorable contestants, along with a look at the evolution of the series and the various games. However, the best part of this show comes from a damning look at Hollywood itself. Behind the glitz and glamour, the constant injuries, the cutthroat business and the way executives completely disregard their employees and act like they’re disposable and replaceable are all very eye-opening – and something many people will have become accustomed to in the working world, serving under awful employers.

Muscles & Mayhem does have a pretty balanced perspective and hearing from the Gladiators is certainly a welcome addition. Fans of the franchise are likely to get a lot out of this, while newcomers will undoubtedly be intrigued to watch an episode or two to see what all the fuss is about. The show isn’t perfect, and could have done with a few more episodes, but there’s certainly enough to whet the appetite and deliver a rip-roaring good time.

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  • Verdict - 7.5/10

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