Most of the foundations that America was built on need to be drastically changed if not outright abolished, but there is one pillar that remains vital as ever: Reality competition TV shows in which people comically launch themselves onto styrofoam objects for our amusement. There is nothing more American than the sight of a middle-aged suburban father leaping six feet on to a fake rock, shattering his rib cage while a bwoinggggg-oing-oing-oing sound effect plays in the background. It’s a core tenant that most of us were raised on. Before I could even walk, I dreamed of the Aggro Crag. In these dark, uncertain times, in which most of America is either hunkered down inside or taking to the streets to protest injustice, Netflix realized we needed to return to our principal values and watch complete strangers severely injure themselves whilst competing for an arbitrary amount of money and maybe a trophy the production staff found at Michael’s arts and crafts. The streamer delivered Floor Is Lava, one of the stupidest things you will ever see in your life. I devoured all ten episodes like sweet candy and it momentarily erased my anxiety, like hot magma consuming the shrubbery caught in its path.
“Floor Is Lava sounds like the name of a game I used to play back when I was basically a literal baby” you might be thinking and dear genius reader, I’m happy to report you’re correct. That’s it. That’s the game. Netflix built several rooms filled with over-large everyday items and contestants must reach the other side of the room without touching the “lava.” In this case, the “lava” is a swimming pool lit with red light. Occasionally, someone in the back will hit a button and the “lava” will bubble up, spraying contestants in the face. It’s never not funny. Whoever hits that button currently has my dream job.
But the thing that I must stress with every fiber of my being is that Floor Is Lava pretends the lava is real. When someone falls into the lava they just slowly sink beneath the surface like goddamn Arnold Schwarzenegger in T2 and aren’t heard from again because in the world of Floor Is Lava they are dead and you watched them die on Netflix next to unwatched episodes of Anne with an E. It’s a glorious pantomime and everyone’s playing along. Inside the first ten minutes of the premiere episode, a contestant launches herself into the lava and her teammate screams like she’s Frodo watching Gandalf plunge to the depths of Khazad-Dum.
Floor Is Lava hits four key quadrants that make it both a perfect Netflix show and a perfect physical reality show with strong 1995 Nickelodeon vibes:
You absolutely do not need to pay attention: The amount of energy Floor Is Lava asks you to invest in it is less than zero. Yes, each contestant gets an intro, but the details of these people’s lives are mere victuals for the lava pit. Netflix makes shows to be half-watched in the background of your day, and Floor Is Lava marks the pinnacle of the art form
- It’s vaguely dystopian: One of my favorite TV trends in recent years is the rise in reality shows that could be playing in the background of a Paul Verhoeven satire about how far humanity has fallen into ghoulish excess. The Masked Singer is the most notable example. Dishmantled would give it a run for its money if it was on anything but Quibi. Floor Is Lava is the type of show that proves we’re like three, maybe even two presidential terms away from saying “fuck it” and just doing the Hunger Games.
- It’s very stupid: Again, this show is based on the playground game “The Floor Is Lava”.
- But it’s also very self-aware about its own stupidity: Floor Is Lava basks in its own tomfoolery, and in that way it’s mindlessness becomes a form of genius. This is a show that knows what it is and strives to be nothing more.
Since COVID first shut down Hollywood and forced most major cities into lockdown, I’ve tried and failed to start about one dozen TV binges. It took a few weeks to realize that there’s just too much external stimuli to fit another emotional trigger in my head without adding anxiety along with it. Then came Floor Is Lava, the show in which people bunny hop between chiffoniers to avoid pool water we are told will dissolve their flesh. Plenty of room for that bad boy in an anxious brain.