TV review: ABC Family’s ‘Spell-Mageddon’ appears d-u-l-l

If ABC Family executives had known their new game show “Spell-Mageddon” would be premiering in the social media vacuum left by “Sharknado,” they might have considered throwing a few piranhas into the mix. As it is, the film and the series share little beyond titular portmanteau (blending two words to make one) and the attempt to blend two big ideas into an unexpected hybrid.

On the hourlong “Spell-Mageddon,” that looks like a group of contestants engaging in a spelling bee while running obstacle courses that are smaller, tamer versions of those on “Wipeout” and enduring the sort of wet ‘n’ messy interruptions that mark similar competitions on Nickelodeon. Only instead of getting slimed, they get slushied, like on “Glee.” So a lot of, um, creative crossover at work here.

What it doesn’t look like is very much fun, despite valiant attempts on the part of host Alfonso Ribeiro to both humanize the contestants and hype their physical discomfort while reminding everyone that 10 grand is at stake.

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The pilot begins with seven players in goggles and helmets racing down a slicked-up inflatable bouncy track; the first to press a button must then correctly spell words such as “explain” to advance. This race is not particularly interesting to watch, especially as it occurs six times until there are only two competitors (the loser in each does not advance to the next round) — though each successive race is made more difficult with additional obstacles, including a great swinging bar that knocks many people down.

It does, however, allow you to make your decision about yourself and “Spell-Mageddon” fairly quickly. If you find it entertaining to watch a group of overeager people grin their way through “fun” versions of torture — electric shock, ice-water baths, disorienting lights and noise and endless squirting of water, soap and slime in the face — while trying to maintain enough composure to spell increasingly difficult words correctly, then this is the show for you.

Many game shows turn on public displays of humiliation, and reality television, competitive and otherwise, has amped up our expectations of endurance-entertainment. Compared with “Fear Factor” or “Wipeout,” “Spell-Mageddon is very small beer, though it does have an added “intellectual” element; “Jeopardy” plus dunking booth could have been the initial pitch.

Unfortunately, as is often the case when trying to do two things at once, the show winds up doing neither well. The “distractions” are more annoying than compelling, and the spelling competition never gets beyond a fifth-grade level.


On the other hand, no one ever went broke underestimating the attraction of either the dunking booth or the spelling bee. Throw in a shark or two, and you’ve got a hit.




Where: ABC Family

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)