By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
By Sarah Bennett
By LP Hastings
By Jena Ardell
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
By Joel Beers
Spike TV's Most Extreme Elimination Challenge hurls itself at you in half-hour blasts of insanity-plus-language-barrier-plus-cheap-shots: so pants-wettingly crude and heart-stoppingly quick that it's hard to believe this thing has gone on four seasons. And that if the production Gods keep smiling, Most Extremewill be bringing you the adventures of game-starter Captain Tenneal and fey field correspondent Guy Le Douche (hosts Kenny Blankenship and Vic Romano) all damn spring long. A fifth season.
"Llllllet's go!" as Tenneal might say. If only re-editing what begins as a genuine—if out-of-sync—Japanese game show were that easy.
"People don't realize how tough it is to do. It's real tough," says Larry Strawther, an executive producer who is based in Seal Beach. The tight turnaround hurts, when episodes get green-lit on no notice—but the cast and crew know their subject. It's been nearly six years since Strawther's friend Paul Abeyta pitched him the idea for the show. It's based on a thorough re-editing of their super-top-secret stockpile of episodes from the wacko Japanese hit Takeshi's Castle.
"It was cheap—the footage was already there. We had friends we could get to do the dubbing," says Strawther as he leads a taping in Burbank. America's Funniest Home Videos producer Vin DeBona had already tried to adapt the show for American TV but his Storm the Castle had failed. Strawther and Abeyta decided to keep the nutso imagery of the Japanese show—and redub it with odd, often crudely hilarious humor. "Basically it was Iron Chef [meets] What's Up Tiger Lily?" Strawther says. But it worked—sans a top-secret potato salad recipe: Most Extreme remains a fan favorite, one of Spike TV's few launch shows still on the air.
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The faux teams on today's episode are "The White House vs. The World," and the voice talent is in top form. Chris Darga, who voices Kenny Blankenship as well as others, is performing as mock-Dem type "Howie Deen" and launches take after take of the oft-parodied "Hyyyyaaaah!" It's been done to death, but Darga's take is particularly inspired and we keep trying not to laugh.
The cast chips in with dialogue tweaks, duly noted by a script assistant working the prompt off a laptop. Across the room, sound mixer Patrick Grandclaudon rolls back the audio for another take with a sniper's precision. One of the writers pokes in with a character idea, while Abeyta has someone pull the sound effects guy in to ask for some static to lead into a fake newscast. Things move at a breakneck clip, perhaps because everyone I meet seems devoted to wreaking havoc.
"We all love the show, and we love the characters," Abeyta tells me during the break for lunch; today it's a potluck. "Spike has given us a lot of creative freedom; maybe not always as much as we'd like, but you've got to go along with the program. Mickey could literally work 12 hours a day seven days a week if she wanted to." He's indicating Mickey Ramos, whose job it is to delve through the hours of Takeshi's Castle and find material for upcoming shows.
"I was a fan of the show when I got the job and started here," Ramos says. "I kinda forced my way onto the show because I dug it so much." She shows me her stack of Beta tapes of Takeshi, along with a Beta playback deck and a huge wall chart of every original show. It lists what's been used, and what they prefer not to use because it doesn't have much funny. "Vic and Kenny as they are now didn't even start until episode 56," Ramos says. Now, their infectious silliness is what keeps her going
"It's a fun process, finding something and going, 'Oh, I know that's going to be great, like, four shows down the road!' she says, beaming. "I just found a shot of Guy naked where they have a heart over his junk!"
New episodes of MXC air Thursday nights at 12:30 am on Spike TV through February and beyond—if they get greenlit for more. The MXC Volume 2 DVD gets released April 17.