(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Series: Supermarket Sweep
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: Supermarket Sweep is a game show from the world of RoboCop that somehow escaped into our reality, where contestants show off their knowledge of food brands, solve puzzles involving those food brands, and then run through a fake supermarket to spend as much money as possible, focusing on brands brands brands! It’s a nightmare and I can’t stop watching it. Help.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: Living in isolation in the age of COVID-19 has give me an opportunity to challenge myself and dig into art I have been putting off. Did you know I started reading War and Peace a few weeks ago? It’s true! I say this because I need you to not judge me too harshly for watching episodes of Supermarket Sweep from the early ’90s on Netflix, a TV series that feels like less of a fun romp and more like another tragic side effect of American consumerism. But goodness, it’s hard to watch just one episode. You’ll let Netflix auto-play one episode after another, hopelessly addicted to this nonsense. I can’t wait until I run out of episodes in the special “collection” currently streaming. Then I will be free.
Supermarket Sweep was not a new series in the ’90s – it was a revival of a short-lived show from the mid-1960s. But this version, which ran from 1990 through 1995 and again from 2000 through 2003, is the one that dominates a certain corner of my brain. You see, Supermarket Sweep seemed to be always on when I was a kid. It was something my grandmother would put on to distract the grandkids while she made meals. It was something my little sister would watch obsessively. To my young brain, Supermarket Sweep was on the same level as Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Of course, time has been kind to Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune continues to be totally adequate game show junkfood. Supermarket Sweep on the other hand? Woof.
Look, I can talk crap about this show all day long, but it doesn’t change the fact that I can’t stop watching it. That’s a “me” problem. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, host David Ruprecht (wearing some truly awful ties) puts three teams (showcasing the worst ’90s fashions imaginable) through a series of trivia rounds where they answer questions based on their knowledge of brands. Answering correctly gets them more time in the “sweep,” where they dash through a fake supermarket and attempt to fill their baskets with as many goods as possible. Whoever makes the most expensive grocery run can compete in one final scavenger hunt to win a measly $5,000.
And yet, there’s something undeniably addicting, even fascinating, about Supermarket Sweep. It’s a window into how much familiar (and unfamiliar) items cost 30 years ago. It’s an eyeball-burning example of just how awful ’90s clothing truly was. It’s low-rent enough that minor mistakes and errors are left in and glossed over because doing a second take or editing around an awkward moment was clearly too much effort. It’s the exact opposite of the slick game shows produced today. It’s like walking into the past via a time machine powered by Crest toothpaste and Prego spaghetti sauce. It’s captivating in its own bizarre way.
While no dates have been set yet (most likely due to the pandemic), a new version of Supermarket Sweep is set to debut at some point with Leslie Jones hosting. I expect it will utilize a similar structure, but add a thick coat of modern polish to everything. And it won’t be nearly as interesting as the older junk you can stream on Netflix right now.
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