The Quarantine Stream: 'The Titan Games' is a Cheesy, Inspiring, and Downright Wholesome Reality Competition Show

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Series: The Titan Games

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson invites a bunch of amateur athletes to compete against one another (and against a few professionals) in physically demanding challenges that feel like Nickelodeon’s GUTS grew up and really got into Crossfit. The result is surprisingly warm and nice for a head-to-head competition show, with the whole series powered by Johnson’s onscreen positivity.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: One of the first casualties of the COVID-19 lockdown was public gyms, so no, don’t be embarrassed if you’ve put on a few pounds over the past few months due to lack of physical activity and a constant desire to stress-eat. However, if you want to be inspired to peel yourself off the couch and go for a jog, NBC’s The Titan Games presents physical fitness as not only achievable, but empowering beyond being able to lift really heavy things. You see, the real strength comes from – wait for it – the human spirit! And somehow, Johnson makes this ongoing idea palatable through sheer charisma.

In season 2 of The Titan Games (which is currently streaming on Hulu and features some major structural tweaks from the also very entertaining first season), amateur athletes from three regions of the United States compete against one another in grueling tests of strength, speed, and endurance for the chance to race up Mount Olympus, a perilous obstacle course. The mountain is initially guarded by a professional athlete, but if beaten, the challenger becomes the new “titan” and must defend their title. Eventually, one man and one woman from each region compete against one another in the finale, determining two overall winners.

While this is a show that’s all about some of the fittest people you have ever seen, there’s no denying that this is deep-fried television comfort food. Johnson is an ongoing presence, giving inspiring speeches and shouting encouragement to both competitors from the sidelines. Each competitor has an appropriate inspiring and/or emotional backstory, so you generally feel the need to root for all of them. And even when someone loses, the show focuses on how amazing they are anyway, with Johnson taking the losers aside for a pep talk and the winners often embracing the person they just demolished on national television while generic pop songs blast over the soundtrack. It’s utterly wholesome stuff, devoid of any anger and cynicism. The basic goodness inherent in every choice becomes addictive, overpowering the fact that it’s often so dang cheesy.

If there is any cynicism here, it comes from the fact that not everyone here is quite the amateur they are depicted as. At least two of the most impressive athletes have a long history of competing in the Crossfit Games, a fact that the show straight-up ignores in favor of lingering on their day jobs. It may not hinder your enjoyment of the series at all, but it’s certainly bemusing to watch the show depict these celebrated athletes as having come from nowhere, when that’s not the case at all.

As someone who both struggles with his weight but also has spent the past several years trying to make fitness an everyday part of my daily regimen, The Titan Games is just what I needed during lockdown. Its depiction of hard work is joyous (everyone is happy to work so hard!), its presentation of athleticism approachable and open-minded (the inclusion of a trans athlete is absolutely wonderful). The series suggests that you – yes, you – could be on this show if you want to put the work in. While that’s a pipe dream, it’s also a very nice dream. And in an age defined by its nightmares, I’ll take it.

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