The Floor Is Lava might not be sophisticated, but it’s really well-calibrated dumb-fun entertainment of a type Netflix is starting to specialize in.
How you feel about The Floor is Lava (Netflix) will depend on if you remember the enduring playground game from back when you were a kid. Some of us never forgot those simple pleasures of clambering over bits of household furniture and shoving dorks out of the way to impress girls you like. Turning that timeless and wonderfully childish concept into a ten-episode reality TV show is a genius move when you think about it. If you’re one of those people – like me! – who instinctively judges any new environment you enter based on its suitability for a quick game, you’ll be right at home here. If you’re not, well… you’re no fun.
Hosted by Rutledge Wood, this on-screen version tasks teams of three with completing themed and rather extreme versions of the game, with a sloshing pool of Tango or some such standing in for the lava. The rules are simple enough: Contestants can use the entire room to their advantage; every player that gets across earns their team a point; the team with the most points wins. That’s some chef’s-kiss level of basic exciting gameshow design, and it’s spiced up with some needlessly outlandish and very American pomp and circumstance. It’s almost enough to take the whole thing seriously.
You shouldn’t, of course. The Floor Is Lava isn’t The Titan Games or any other genuine test of human athleticism, though being physically fit obviously helps a little. But it’s much more about wildly flopping yourself around as quickly as possible; if a team is tied on points at the end, the fastest time wins, and the exit steps are harder to reach the more time that elapses, so speed is incentivized over everything – even safety. The tricky obstacles are arranged in such a way that there’s a best approach to be found by discerning players, but there’s no fun in that. The enjoyment is in desperate, panicked people doing rash things in the hopes of making it through. And crucially those people seem to be in on the joke. They’re a likable bunch of mostly normal folks who are visibly having a good time. It’s contagious and evokes the spirit of the game pretty well.
Netflix’s reality-TV line-up is increasingly entertaining these days, with stuff like Love Is Blind whipping up a legitimate pop-cultural furor. The Floor Is Lava isn’t like that, but it might be the purest dumb-fun available on the platform.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.