The old institutions slouch and rot and tip towards collapse; the culture turns inward, agoraphobic and sleepless and helplessly in thrall to rancid idle fantasies of violence or narcotic visions of capitulation and release; the people in charge loot and lie and then go blank and soft before the images of themselves they watch on television. Things become unmanageable, and then threaten in credible ways to become somehow worse. This is undeniable enough, but it is not the entire story. There is also American Ninja Warrior, and while it would be a lot to ask any television show to save a culture, some shows are plainly more cut out for that job than others.
While the show itself—the sweetest, goofiest, best and most awe-inspiring sports-adjacent thing on television—won’t be back for another month and a half, we are currently deep into the one of the show’s handful of spinoffs, the head-up Ninja Vs. Ninja competition. It’s about what it sounds like, with prominent figures from the broader Ninja-verse racing each other side-by-side through variously sadistic obstacle courses. It’s fine for those in Ninja withdrawal and anyone else who enjoys watching wiry oddballs run up walls and do psychedelic pull-ups. But aficionados and lovers of overage in general will especially enjoy the energy that the Ninja broadcast team of Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila bring to the proceedings. Here is a little less than a minute and a half of the two absolutely losing their shit.
This is nothing new for the pair, although it is a useful introduction for newbies and a sustaining reminder of the jet-engine goofery that the two reliably bring to the proceedings. Iseman is, as ever but somehow more so with each year, profoundly rectangular and delightfully and beefily keyed-up; Gbaja-Biamila, as ever, holds down his color commentator duties from a place located roughly a quarter-mile outside his body.
If you’re familiar with their work or if you’re not, it’s a delight to watch their styles complement each other here. Iseman pivots from side to side and front and back; Gbaja-Biamila leaps and pumps and generally wilds the fuck out. Gbaja-Biamila, who played in the NFL for parts of four seasons, will be running the course himself in the celebrity edition of the show and even if he trained exclusively through announcing episodes of American Ninja Warrior he’d probably be the best-conditioned person in the field. Fixing the mess we’ve made of everything is, of course, far too much to ask of a television show. But if you think of it as an audition, Iseman and Gbaja-Biamila really did do pretty well with these 84 seconds.