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Why Frogger, Peacock’s reality TV version of the 1980s video game, is a massive disappointment

Why Frogger, Peacock’s reality TV version of the 1980s video game, is a massive disappointment

Frogger is a simple video game: move an 8-bit illustrated frog left or right, up or down, to navigate horizontally moving obstacles: a roadway, with race cars and trucks, a river with floating logs, turtles, and alligators. The vehicles move at different speeds; the floating objects move at different speeds and sometimes sink and reappear; and they’re all spaced randomly, making navigation particularly challenging. The goal is to get your frog safely into a cubby hole at the top of the screen.

It’s a lot of fun, often quite challenging (I just played it online and couldn’t even make it through the first round), and seems perfect for adapting into a reality TV competition.

Yet Peacock and Eureka Productions, in adapting Konami’s classic arcade and Atari game, have somehow decided that Frogger offered nothing of value except a name and some objects. So they just made Netflix’s Floor is Lava instead, and have decided to call it Frogger. I do not understand this choice.

Frogger (Peacock, Thursdays) isn’t bad. This isn’t the disastrous reboot of Wipeout, in part because its sets are impressive and challenging to navigate, and we actually see the contestants attempt them. But it’s an even bigger disappointment because of how much opportunity there is here, and how it is all wasted.

Frogger is “the greatest video game of the eighties,” at least according to host Damon Wayans Jr.’s opening narration. And the opening sequence, using graphics from the 1980s game, seems to suggest the show knows what it is and where it came from.

So why exactly did they decide to ignore the exact thing that makes it great? Frogger is a game entirely about finding a gap in moving obstacles, and trying to move forward. There is none of that in the one episode that Peacock offered to TV critics.

The entire competition takes place over water. Frogger does not. The set has pirate ships and pyramids to climb. Frogger does not. Obstacles move in circles or just stand still. Frogger’s do not. Contestants take meandering paths through stationary obstacles, and in one round, end on the same platform where they began. Frogger does not. What kind of nonsense is this? I realize there have been many versions of Frogger, including ones that are different than the 1980s arcade version, but the TV show uses the 8-bit game as its sole reference point, and in no way suggests it’s adapting some other version.

How do you make Frogger into a competition and not have people trying to dodge (fake, padded) cars, ride on top of moving (fake, padded) turtles, and jump into tiny (padded) holes? There are some elements of the game present in the studio environment, such as alligators that move. But their mouths don’t even open! And they just go back and forth, not one direction.

That’s too bad, because actually playing Frogger safely in real life would be a dream—especially since that wouldn’t involve the possible injury or death that could result from attempting to play Frogger while jaywalking, not that I have ever done that.

Why do the contestants not get to safely attempt a version of the game? Maybe it’s physically or logistically impossible to create a real-life version, with moving objects going in one direction and yet also appearing at random. But if it’s impossible to make, why even make Frogger into a competition?

Frogger’s best idea is to give each contestant three lives, just like the video game, to navigate the course. That concludes my discussion of Frogger’s creativity in game design.

Because it’s basically shot and edited like Holey Moley, however, Frogger is a watchable TV show. The contestants are enthusiastic, for which they should all be awarded the $10,000 prize, because had I shown up to play Frogger, I would have just said, “What the fuck is this? Get out of here with this nonsense.”

Each episode has three rounds, which are introduced in fun 8-bit graphics that resemble the game and have names such as Ribbit River, Frog Skull Island, and Frogs in Space. Two players face off, and have three lives to get as far as possible on the course, though they’re not timed. Like Floor is Lava, contestants have different paths they can take, though this set appears much bigger. The courses may actually be a little too challenging, because the action can be rather slow, as contestants pause and wait and take too long to, say, get knocked off something by water cannons.

Considering the need to keep a TV show varied, I don’t mind themed rounds that diverge from the game. What I mind is that none of those even remotely resemble Frogger, besides the 8-bit graphic introduction. While the photo below suggests a future episode with multiple rows of (presumably moving) cars, don’t give me an entire episode of Frogger without that—and without contestants going from pavement to water to safety—and pretend that it’s Frogger.

Frogger host Damon Wayans Jr. on the set of "Rush Hour"
Frogger host Damon Wayans Jr. on the set of “Rush Hour” (Photo by Stuart Bryce/Peacock)

The winners of each of the three rounds go on to the Boss Round, with the winner receiving $10,000 and a golden fanny pack that wants to be a clever nod to the 1980s. The final three contestants each have five minutes and only one life to retrieve as many of the five baby frog stuffed animals from around the course as they can. Meanwhile, an animated boss frog, which is actually a toad and appears on an LED wall, watches and sometimes makes sounds that resemble farts. You know, just like the Atari game.

At this point, it’s just embarrassing to watch shows try to recreate Rob Riggle and Joe Tessitore’s chemistry and commentary from Holey Moley, and while Damon Wayans Jr. and Kyle Brandt’s attempt isn’t as bad as the crime against comedy that Wipeout committed by casting Nicole Byer and then having her read pathetic jokes off a teleprompter, it’s instantly forgettable.

That’s probably Frogger’s fate, too—which is too bad, because with another name, this would be a serviceable show. But Frogger had one job, and it was game over before it even began.

Frogger

As an adaptation, Frogger gets an F. As yet another Wipeout or Floor is Lava, a C+

What works for me:

  • The set design
  • The opening sequence, which for a second made me think that everyone knew what they were doing, even though they clearly did not

What could be better:

  • Actually adapting the video game into a competition instead of just using its name

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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