'Floor is Lava' on Netflix is an absurd summer obstacle course. And more are coming.

Depending on the size of your house, maybe don’t try this at home.
The floor may not be actual lava, but it doesn't look pleasant.
The floor may not be actual lava, but it doesn't look pleasant. Adam Rose / Netflix
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By Ani Bundel

Before there was reality television, there were game shows. The genre dates back to the era of radio, when early quiz shows like “Information Please” featured panelists trying to answer questions submitted by listeners. But while shows like “Jeopardy” seemingly never waiver in popularity, others have had to fight for attention in an era where “Love Island” and “The Bachelor” dominate. With question-based game shows at risk of cheating scandals, some networks have returned to more old-school obstacle competitions. Netflix’s latest show takes this trend to a ridiculous extreme in “Floor Is Lava.”

With question-based game shows at risk of cheating scandals, some networks have returned to more old school obstacle competitions.

Parents of children and pets alike will almost certainly be familiar with the concept at hand. It’s the old game of “don’t touch the floor” that kids of every generation use as an excuse to leap around the house and climb on the furniture. Pet owners may also be familiar, especially if one’s furry friend has sensitive paws. (I was once acquainted with a dog who disliked the feel of hardwood floors so much, she lived an entire floor-is-lava lifestyle.)

On the one hand, the concept is so simple, it’s slightly amazing it wasn’t mined for content by desperate reality producers years ago. On the other, the concept is so simple, it’s slightly amazing anyone would watch such an absurd series. Either way, it’s an attention-getting premise, and that’s all Netflix really needs heading into summer.

Physical-challenge game shows are nothing new, though they do not extend so far back as radio. The earliest versions date back to the 1970s and 1980s with “Battle of the Network Stars” and “American Gladiators,” not to mention the Nickelodeon staple “Double Dare.” The slightly more serious “American Ninja Challenge" or the ongoing “American Ninja Warrior” series that’s aired on NBC since 2009, are both based on Japan's “Sasuke.” Lucasfilm also produced “Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge,” which moved from Disney+ to YouTube at the last minute.

But as TV diversifies and the competition for eyeballs gets fiercer, the need for gimmicks has gotten more obvious, whether it be ABC’s hilarious “Downfall” of conveyor belt prizes or “Ellen’s Game of Games” mazes. Netflix, which still aims to be an everything channel, would need to make a splash, as it were, in debuting an obstacle course game show of its own. Apparently that splash is lava.

I regret to inform you that, despite claims by the press release that the contestants would be competing on a course that was “flooded with lava … yes, really,” the floor is not actually lava in “Floor Is Lava.” Instead, the floor is bubbling water, dyed red and, one assumes, of some vaguely warm temperature. (Though probably nothing that might cause legal departments to break a sweat.) It is also deep enough in places for contestants to dramatically swim around in it. It’s not “The Hunger Games” by any stretch, but it may be the limit of Netflix’s insurance policy.

In a nod to the childhood origins of the game, the different levels are all rooms in a house. Every room the teams must cross together are festooned with themed props created by a candy-colored workshop. Also, to help the adults playing a child’s game feel at home, some of the furniture is oversized (though never the piece you need).

By making sure those at home understand the thought process behind the rooms, viewers can feel superior to the contestants struggling on TV.

Hosted by Rutledge Wood, best known for the barely watched American version of “Top Gear,” the series notably walks the audience through the various obstacle course routes at the top of each episode, clearly highlighting the necessary teamwork the designers had in mind to conquer the level. By making sure those at home understand the thought process behind the rooms, viewers can feel superior to the contestants struggling on TV.

“Floor Is Lava” may be the biggest-budget bonkers concept this summer, but it’s far from the only one. Because the coronavirus decimated filming for the last three months, channels are grasping for summer programming to fill the schedule. This means 2020 is about to be a banner year for game show madness, both prerecorded and imported. Fox has adults playing “Ultimate Tag,” and ABC is maximizing miniature golf again in “Holey Moley.” (Notably, the production has made changes to the format since last summer’s debut of the series, with more time given over to the actual putting.) The CW, meanwhile, is bringing over British game shows, including BAFTA-nominated “Taskmaster” and “horror whodunnit competition," as Deadline put it, “Killer Camp.”

“Floor Is Lava” at least has excellent name recognition, and all 10 episodes are already available. If you’re looking for a summer distraction, it doesn’t get much more mindlessly distracting than this. But depending on the size of your house, maybe don’t try it at home.