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Spike TV's 'MXC': Mirth in mayhem

Jonathan Storm
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Meet Anaconda Nicole Smith. She squeezes old men dry and then sucks the life out of them.

Smith's facing off against Hillary Rodman, the Capital Cankler, so named because it's hard to tell where her calves end and her ankles begin.

Neither does very well in the reality-show challenge on next week's episode of Spike TV's "MXC," which may be the most absurdly hilarious show on television, but Rodman's loss is especially painful.

"It's no secret she was planning on running all the way," comments play-by-play man Kenny Blankenship, "but of course, she had no chance of winning."

Executive producer Paul Abeyta says Hillary Rodham Clinton has told him how much she and Bill love the show, which returns for its fifth season Friday at midnight EST on the cable channel aimed at men. So it's hard to imagine any upset over a little good-natured ribbing, and Anna Nicole Smith is sure to be distracted by all her other problems.

But I'm steering completely away from Friday's opener, whose two-team format pits the Religious Right vs. Gay Rights, or, as Blankenship characterizes it, the Adam and Eves against the Adam and Steves.

"We don't go over the line," Abeyta says in a telephone interview.

That depends on whose line you're talking about. "We've not had one complaining letter, and we really do attack everyone, except Asians."

That would be because the Asians attack themselves constantly. All the video on "MXC" (a shortening of Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, and if you see a junior-high scatological double entendre in there, you're starting to get it) comes from a Japanese reality show that was a big hit in the late `80s.

The main point of the show, which, in its original form was called "Takeshi's Castle," seems to be that contestants are smashed into watery pits or knocked silly by bizarre "monsters," and maybe the last loony one standing gets to come back and do it again next week.

Moderated by a couple of guys in goony, pseudo-traditional Japanese ornamental dress, it has a regular cast of facilitators, including a man in golden epaulets who does the ready, set, go, and an interviewer who wears a pith helmet.

It is wholly incomprehensible to American eyes, and it would be even if Abeyta and his gang of voice actors from the L.A. comedy improv group the Groundlings actually translated the dialogue.

But every word they say is made up, as are all the names of all the characters. Epaulet-man is Capt. Tenneal, Mr. Pith is Guy LeDouche, and they are supported -- ha, ha, ha, ho, ho, ho -- by such minor functionaries as Chief Auto Parts.

The Chief, in a cheesy Indian drag outfit reminiscent of Howdy Doody's Princess Summerfall Winterspring, presides over a stop on the course of the Rotating Surfboard of Death, one of the many cuckoo challenges regularly seen on "MXC." Some others: Yank My Dinghy, Sinkers and Floaters, and, cruelest of them all: Log Drop.

Contestants, frequently waiflike women, fall through the cracks on a mechanized version of a lumberjack log-rolling course, smashing heads, knees, and every other body part before splatting into the water, all of about a foot deep, below.

"Obviously, the liability laws must be very, very different in Japan," Abeyta says. "You know, people were hurt. There were many, many injuries. There were paramedics on site at all times. It was brutal."

Probably not coincidentally, Takeshi Kitano, who created and starred in the show (he's the one in the blue kimono), has gone on to become a successful movie actor and director, "the Clint Eastwood of Japan," Abeyta says. His 1997 movie "Hana-bi" ("Fireworks"), a symphony of violence, earned the Golden Lion award at the prestigious Venice Film Festival.

Next week, on "MXC," a woman slides down a steep incline into the ubiquitous pit of mud and looks as if she has broken her neck.

There's a tenet in the philosophy of humor that says, basically, that mayhem is funny if it doesn't happen to you. The people and their actions on "MXC" are so alien that every fall, every splay and crack on the head is a howl, especially when accompanied by such announcer comments as:

"Here's Nan Coulter. She's so far to the right that she loses her fair and balance and falls into the dark waters of obscurity."

"Kids love the imagery and impact, like a violent video game come to life," Abeyta says. "The kids don't understand our jokes. The parents do. In a very twisted way, it's suitable family programming."

It's also huge at colleges, where the budding geniuses have devised all sorts of drinking games.

"I guess we're responsible for a lot of deviant behavior," Abeyta says.

Mothers and fathers, rise up against this further example of the demise of the culture. But be careful not to watch the show. You'll be laughing too hard to be effective.

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