In the ongoing horror that is this global pandemic, a pure beacon of light shone down from the heavens onto my Netflix app in the form of several seasons of Supermarket Sweep, a 1990s game show that involves adult humans running around supermarkets like absolute maniacs.
Technically, the ’90s version of Supermarket Sweep is a reboot of a show that aired for two years on ABC in the 1960s. For those who aren’t familiar, the concept of both iterations is simple: Teams of two contestants, usually friends or spouses or siblings, use their knowledge of grocery products and pop culture to accumulate time used in a “Major Sweep,” where contestants race around the store, filling their shopping carts with the priciest items in the supermarket, like baby formula and massive wheels of imported cheese. The team that wins the “Major Sweep” gets a chance at the final round, a scavenger hunt of sorts that yields its winner a cash prize and eternal Supermarket Sweep glory.
After five years of Supermarket Sweep, the show was cancelled in 1995. In 2000, a reboot returned to the airwaves on the now-defunct network PAX for another two years, and then virtually disappeared from the pop culture conversation. On July 8, though, Netflix added several episodes of the show to its streaming line-up, and hopefully this television classic will finally get the respect it deserves.
Supermarket Sweep is delightfully deranged, especially 30 years removed from its Lifetime Channel debut. It’s pure ’90s nostalgia, with the hairstyles and ridiculous fashion to match. As a ’90s kid, I have found myself endlessly interested in which products from my childhood will make an appearance, whether in the food trivia rounds (doing well in these provides advantages for the coming sweeps, like additional time to dash around the store), or in the “Mini Sweep,” which involves running around to find a specific item mentioned by the host for even more advantages. The first episode I watched in Netflix’s new collection featured the (now discontinued) Kudos granola bars that my mom refused to buy because they were expensive and the store brand was “just as good.” Later, I watched two grown women dashing around the show’s set in search of the little boxes of Hi-C fruit punch that I downed by the dozen as a kid.
There’s also a real joy in watching the chaos of someone’s mom slamming six giant hams, wrapped in gleaming gold foil, into a grocery cart that’s already stuffed with diapers, oversized cans of coffee, and massive bottles of laundry detergent. There’s host David Ruprecht, whose awkward questions, unbridled positivity, and dorky sweaters are endlessly charming. And don’t forget announcer Johnny Gilbert, the Jeopardy! icon who narrates the action with a genuine gusto. And of course, there’s the timeless American pastime of critiquing the strategy of reality competition show contestants.
Maybe this show is so comforting because supermarkets right now are, for most of us, places of fear and anxiety. As most of us are trying to limit our trips to the grocery store as much as possible to avoid contracting COVID-19; the days of leisurely strolling down the aisles in the search of the perfect watermelon or freshest loaf of bread are over. Now, it’s impossible to relax as you browse through the beans on offer while thinking about every single surface being contaminated with a potentially deadly virus and feeling your glasses fog up for the 4,543th time while wearing a mask.
Currently, we’re all doing our own version of Supermarket Sweep, rushing through the store trying to find the essentials needed to cook at home and praying they’re not out of disinfecting wipes again. Only our reward is walking out without getting breathed on by some Karen who refuses to cover her damn face, not a $5,000 cash prize.
Because these times are truly fraught, it’s nigh impossible for many of us to concentrate on the complicated plotlines of prestige TV dramas and deeply intellectual films. Mainlining six episodes of Supermarket Sweep in a row is the perfect way to spend a mindless evening, distracting myself from the surge of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in my state, incompetent leadership at all levels of government, and the crushing existential dread of living in these times.
All of this is probably why, for the fourth time in the show’s history, ABC is looking to reboot Supermarket Sweep once again. In January, Deadline reported that the latest revival was set to begin filming in early 2020, with Saturday Night Live alum and comedian Leslie Jones as the host (presumably, that filming is on hold). And just this week, TMZ reported that former host David Ruprecht is being considered as the announcer for the reboot. Talk about a dream team.
It’s almost as if these television producers had some sort of psychic revelation and knew that we would need this kind of escapist wonderland in the midst of the biggest public health crisis of the century. For now, there’s what’s available to stream.