Floor Is Lava Is The Right Dumb Show For The Right Awful Time

Plus: Da 5 Bloods, Search Party, and What’s Making Us Happy

by Linda Holmes
Welcome! It was the week when the one major film still counting on theaters opening in July gave up. It was the week when the Dixie Chicks changed their name. And it was the week when both Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell left roles in animation voicing Black characters. Let’s get to it. 

Opening Argument: Floor Is Lava Is The Right Dumb Show For The Right Awful Time

The game people play where they hop between pieces of furniture to cross a room is called “The Floor Is Lava.” But the Netflix game show based on this same principle is just called Floor Is Lava, like it’s a newspaper headline from the day we all woke up and found that everywhere we looked, floor was lava.

Floor Is Lava is from the Wipeout school of dopey television: silly, accompanied by overwrought narration from game, just-corny-enough host Rutledge Wood. It features people who gamely mug for the camera when a teammate attempts to jump from a couch to a table and falls into the pool of bubbling orange fluid in which the course is built. (It feels silly to even explain it, but each episode features three teams of three people who, one team at a time, try to cross the course in the shortest time with the fewest losses to the lava. So, for instance, if your team gets all three people across, you’d beat both a team that gets only two across and a team that got all three across, but more slowly.)

At times in the last few months, anything frivolous has felt hopelessly out of tune to me. Anything happy has felt embarrassing, anything optimistic has felt gruesome. But it’s almost like Floor Is Lava is so aggressively disconnected from anything related to reality — and so completely without any point of view at all — that finally, it’s the down time I can occasionally give myself permission to enjoy. It has come to me via a fascinating collection of people chattering on Twitter about it, including poet Saeed Jones and culture commentator Jay Smooth. 

It seems to ring a few internal bells: For some people, it provokes nostalgia, whether for this game specifically or for other similar simple pursuits — for me, it would be something like Super Sally, the game my sister and I invented where she was a superhero and we played out various disaster-averting scenarios while running from place to place in our fictional town along paths we raked in our front yard’s copious fall leaves. (She was the superhero because she was older; I don’t think I ever questioned this.) For others, this actually reminds them of the kinds of things their kids need right now — something you can do inside, with only one kid, that’s physical but relatively manageable. And for still others, it’s in the tradition of a million silly game shows where people get harmlessly bonked and knocked over, all of which you get to relive in slow motion. 

And for me, I think seeing anybody succeed at anything, even if it’s merely jumping from a chair to a desk, feels like a victory of my very own. 

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We Recommend:

The Assistant is a quiet drama written and directed by Kitty Green. It follows a day in the life of a young woman working for an abusive, unseen film executive. It stars Julia Garner, who carries nearly the entire film on her shoulders, and it’s exceptional. Available for streaming rental.

The documentary Every Little Step is about the casting of the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. It features a lot of young performers undergoing a tough audition process, and it also has a lot of background about the show itself. Available on Amazon Prime.

The documentary Horror Noire is about Black creators and horror films, and it’s currently available for free.

What We Did This Week:

Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors star in Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods.
For our Wednesday show, we were able to share my interview with Giancarlo Esposito from Bullseye

And for our Friday show, Stephen was joined by the marvelous Aisha Harris and Soraya McDonald to talk about Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods

I wrote about Jon Stewart’s new film Irresistible, which is not good. 

Glen wrote about the new season of Search Party, which he will tell you is good.

Stephen held down the fort over on New Music Friday at NPR Music.

What’s Making Us Happy

Every week on the show, we talk about some other things out in the world that have been giving us joy lately. Here they are:
What do you think of today’s email? We’d love to hear your thoughts, questions and feedback: pchh@npr.org
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