Growing up in Canada in the 90s, we had the excellent Video & Arcade Top 10, which brought gaming into the mainstream through the magic of televised game shows. But as the decade waned and we grew up, our tastes refined. We found ourselves looking for less chaotic, Saturday morning sugar rush-fueled discussions of our pastime. Of course, we had Victor Lucas’s Electric Playground. But we also had two shows that gave a beloved fixture of 90s Canadian kids’ TV a chance to show off his hosting chops for a slightly older crowd: The Anti-Gravity Room and Gamerz.
The Anti-Gravity Room premiered in 1995 on YTV (Youth Television), Canada’s number one source of televisual nostalgia for millennials. The show was the brainchild of Nick Scoullar, who’d previously hosted a public access show called TALKCOMICS in New York in the early 90s. The series was picked up in a joint deal by YTV and the American Fremantle Corporation and the Sci-Fi Channel, and morphed into The Anti-Gravity Room, which covered not just comics, but music, movies, and video games.
In addition to Scoullar, the show featured a number of other hosts including Shashi Bhatia and, most prominently, Phil Guerrero. Americans likely have no idea who Guerrero is, so I’ll try to explain: he was the coolest motherfucker in the world. Guerrero was a “PJ” (program jockey) on YTV’s after-school block called The Zone in the early 90s, in which he shared hosting duties with a talking, bubblegum-coated robot named Snit and fellow handsome human Paul McGuire. PJ Phil was the embodiment of 90s cool, with his pulled-back hair, piercings, and dressed-down button-ups.
The Anti-Gravity Room let Guerrero take on a role akin to a friend’s cool older brother, recommending the viewer comics and games they might not have heard of. In one episode, Guerrero covered the Nintendo Power Pod, an installation at the now-defunct Canadian theme park Ontario Place, which will forever live in my memory as the site where I first played Super Mario 64. In the same episode, he plays a demo of Sonic Xtreme, which a staff member assures him will be a hot item for the holidays.
After a run of a few years, The Anti-Gravity Room was cancelled in 1997. But YTV wasn’t ready to give up on the now-booming video game market. The network launched a show called Gamerz, again recruiting Guerrero. He was paired up with Susan Quinn, who devotees of late-night cancelled cartoons might know as the voice of Kimmy from Undergrads. The show had a much more Y2K aesthetic, with a CGI intro sequence and updated wardrobe — Guerrero sported more all-black looks, while Quinn was arrayed in colorful vinyl and neon wigs.
Gamerz was wild. The show was peppered with little skits in-between the informative segments. I remember one in which Guerrero was too ill to host as a result of partying too hard the night prior, in which he sang of how “Phil Guerrero was brave despite effects of the rave.” I didn’t know what a rave was yet, but it was just another piece of evidence in him being one of the coolest people I’d ever seen in my life.
Shows like The Anti-Gravity Room and Gamerz grew up alongside us, bringing games into context with other pop cultural objects of fascination. They took games seriously but also poked fun at them in ways that felt like little in-jokes. They predated juggernauts like G4tv, and while they didn’t stick around long, they had a big impact on those who remember them. Fun fact: when designer Taylor Hicklen created the art for my podcast The K-Hole, one of my main visual references was The Anti-Gravity Room‘s logo.