TV Review

'Hurl!': Gag Reflux

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's wild! It's wacky! It's quite possibly one more sign of the decline of Western civilization!

It's "Hurl!," a new TV game show that oozes under the lowest bar ever set by reality television. It also emerges as the inglorious new standard-setter in the how-low-can-they-go derby. Oh, yes, this is award-worthy retch-edness.

"Hurl!," which debuted last night on the G4 cable channel, is the first half-hour series that combines physical rigor with eating disorders and gastric distress. Contestants consume massive quantities of sure-to-bloat foods -- chicken pot pie, franks 'n' beans, New England clam chowder -- then engage in such activities as riding an amusement park Tilt-A-Whirl. The "winner" is the contestant who doesn't lose his lunch. Or to be technical about it, who holds out the longest before he releases the hounds. Call it a pas de spew.

"Hurl!," in other words, is for people who found "Fear Factor" much too nuanced and intellectually complex.

In one preview episode, five young L.A. dudes delved into mountains of mac-and-cheese in a timed, um, elimination contest. The surviving contestants were then tossed and turned for four minutes in small circular cages. As the cameras zoomed in on their sweaty, increasingly green faces, the lads emerged from the cages to engage in another elimination-eating contest. This one involved eating -- and eating was only part of their involvement -- pumpkin pie with whipped cream. That kept up until the inevitable, cookie-blowing finale, complete with play-by-play commentary.

If nothing else -- and there isn't much else -- close observers will note how "Hurl!" renders moot the social satire of "Idiocracy," a 2006 cult comedy by "King of the Hill" creator Mike Judge. "Idiocracy" imagined a future society run by really stupid people. Among the most popular amusements of this future America is a sadistic game show that involved the repeated blunt-force abuse of male contestants' manhood.

"Hurl!" simply moves the debasement a few inches north.

To be sure, "Hurl!" steps on its own money shots. The contestants' volcanic moments, the very raison d'etre of the show, are primly obscured by animated buckets.

Oh, c'mon, G4 network. Animated buckets? You think we can't handle it? What have you got to hide? . . . On second thought, don't answer that.

Nevertheless, viewers get the idea of what's going on. Which is itself enough to make you you-know-what.

No word yet on whether "Hurl!" will inspire imitators, but if this works, look out. There are still a few other involuntary bodily functions left to be explored. The mind would reel, but it isn't about the mind, is it?

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