Now, listen to the audio version of this post.
So, this happened. Don’t pretend it didn’t.
On the first day of women’s nationals, NBC brought us a protracted Bela gargle masquerading as a profile of how the Karolyi ranch has shaped the last nine months of American gymnastics, starring Laurie Hernandez, that picture of Kerri Strug, and some of a camel.
Let’s begin, shall we?
The voice of Kristen Bell greets us to tell us that it has been a year since her best friend, Lilly Kane, was murdered.
Probably at the ranch.
As Kristen explains, there’s a place that’s known all around the world simply as “Martha’s Secret Forest Murder Camp.” Or, I mean, “The Ranch.” Yeah, that’s it. That’s what everyone calls it. Nothing else.
It welcomes dreams, desires, dedication, and like not even that many torn ACLs anymore I swear.
Meanwhile, Bela is busy disposing of the body.
Unckie Bela is just sort of committing random and unnecessary acts of deforestation—if a tree falls in the forest, does it say, “YOU CAN DO IT”?—while sliding into your nightmares like…
BA-dum. BA-dum, BA-dum.
Apparently, Bela is the star of gymnastics, which is why it’s important to profile him for 98% this piece even though he has nothing to do with the current program or gymnasts and has basically been dead for 10 years. Don’t forget your history, guys. He’s important. “I coached Mary Lou, and Kim, and what-do-you-call-her, and the ugly one.” Thanks, Bela. OH THE MEMORIES.
Also, did Bela just try to name Carly in that list of his champion gymnasts?
Although to be fair, I couldn’t tell if he said “Carly” or “Grlrgly.” Each as likely as the other.
Martha is also here. WHO?
We catch up with Martha Claus as she emerges from her glorious forest palace, clutching a list of who has been naughty and who has been thin.
This is also our first introduction to Kristen Bell’s fabulous and self-consciously accurate pronunciation of Martha. She hits that t like a BOSS. That’s like how Dominique Moceanu pronounces it, except without the cauldron of roiling magma.
Martha is strutting along a dirt path to the gym like she just won the championship, and it’s a good thing too because it seems that the nine members of the worlds prep camp have dared to begin giggling, just like
production told them to they always do, and participating in exactly 30 seconds of aggressively scheduled spontaneous fun. CEASE THIS INSTANT.
WHOA NOW. GABBY DOUGLAS AND ALY RAISMAN WENT TO THE OLYMPICS?!?!?!
Apparently, Aly won a gold medal on floor, then Gabby won a gold medal “in all-around,” and that was the end of the Olympics. Great job, you two! #twopersonteams2024
That’s how they got their names etched on the USA Gymnastics Walk of Fame, which according to this shot, begins in 1996 and no earlier. Because that is when gymnastics started.
Putting an end to this lighthearted, mandatory giggling circle, Martha bubbles up from the center of the earth to announce, “Hope you had a bit of relax time, especially mentally.” Which is adorable. Oh Martha, you card.
So, did you guys know that Bela and Martha are great? Apparently they’re great. Because of greatness. Nadia. Mary Lou. Kerri.
(I often forget that in the wider world outside of gymnastics Kerri Strug is like THE ALL-TIME KAROLYI STAR PUPIL because of leg.)
“Since they took over the national program, the US has reached unprecedented heights.” No, since MARTHA took over the national program. Not they. Martha.
Meanwhile, Simone is given the job of telling us a weird story about how they’re all forced to walk through a hallway and say thank you to series of inanimate pictures like they’re lunatic women from an 1850s insane asylum.
“Thank you, child’s clown collage of Dominique Moceanu, coaches, national staff, goodbye.”
Like every American gymnast, Kristen Bell also does not know how to pronounce Glasgow.
Which means we’re off to worlds!
Simone informs us that she has to remember to try sometimes even though she’s Simone.
“Hopefully we’ll see what happens.” No, you definitely will see what happens. You just hope it’s good.
It’s getting so hard for Simone to go out of her way to make sure she sounds humble and continue pretending that she doesn’t know how good she is that she has started inventing brand new, mind-bending sphinx sentences about it.
“I just want to humble my four-for-four to help the Olympic making the team.”
OMG SIMONE WON WORLDS! HOPEFULLY WE’LL SEE WHAT HAPPENS.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Bela says, “Alright little girls, let’s go,” and we have no idea whether he’s talking to chickens or gymnasts. The presence of a feed bucket is not necessarily determinative.
You know he flings grain at Ragan Smith.
This is Bela’s opportunity to tell his own history of Bela’s Chocolate Factory, which HE BUILT WITH HIS OWN TWO HANDS PAUL BUNYAN, where all the most joyful things in the world are invented and where nothing bad has ever happened ever. He then begins singing, “Who can take a sunrise…sprinkle it with dew…cover it in chocolate and a miracle or two…”
It’s like journalism, you guys.
Bela then informs us that he always wanted to own a zoo. Well, that explains 2000.
He wants to have a place where the kids can come out and see the animals when he’s not shooting them in the face.
We meet all the animals of the ranch in sequence: peacocks, chickens, camels, Bela’s hands driving a tractor, bulls. Introducing us to his biggest bull of all, Bela says, “His name is Joe. He has the privilege to stay with the ladies. He he he.” Great. I’ll be off in a tub of poison now. No one wants to learn about the bulls and the cows from Bela Karolyi.
The gymnasts are here! Want to see Bela behead a deer? HOORAY!
“Hey Aly, we’re going to need you to run through the cabins like you’re starring in Twister 2: The Twister Is Martha. K THANKS.”
RUN, ALY, RUN!!!!!!!!!
And they lived happily ever after.
I swear half these girls don’t even go here. One was just a cardboard cutout.
At this point, a little mouse crawls out of a hole in the bottom of the beam and introduces herself as Mrs. Ragan Douglas. Ragan proceeds to fangirl out over Gabby for several months, an exact transcript of which follows: “I was like ahhh she’s like they’re like I’m like yeah cool [indecipherable cheeping] like they’re like yeah like yeah.”
Turns out, Ragan is coached by Kim Zmeskal, who grits her teeth like she just got second place in a beauty pageant to inform us that she has spent a geological age at the ranch in her lifetime. She adds, “If I don’t get out of here soon, I’m going to light myself on fire.”
It’s almost time for the American Cup! Martha leaves everyone with some sassy eyebrows of advice.
OH! Perfection. Now I see! That’s what I was missing!
You know that game you play in 5th grade where you add “in bed” to the end of fortune cookies because teeheeheehee? Gymnastics has the same game, but where you add “fat ass” to the end of everything Martha says. It’s always implied. Reach for more perfection, fat ass.
It’s harder than it looks. I know that now. Also, your lack of serial comma has not gone unnoticed, so please quit words immediately. Reach for more perfection.
At the American Cup, we meet a very confused Martha trying to explain to Maggie where she fits into the Olympic team.
This American Cup is Maggie Nichols’ moment.
“I don’t really feel like it’s my moment.”
UGH MAGGIE. THAT’S NOT THE NARRATIVE. KEEP UP. No one cares about the actual truth. WE WANT STORYLINES.
Maggie also proceeds to tells us that she grew up watching Jordyn Wieber at the American Cup.
So……………………you can go now.
And here’s Gabby Douglas, an old hag of 20, who is trying to do the UNTHINKABLE and not be a washed-up, freeze-dried, withered, rusty crone who isn’t even a teenager.
Gabby falls on her back full because she’s 20, so Martha calmly and understandingly vaporizes her in front of everyone as she explains to Sarah that Gabby is the jankety old caboose of training. Her advice: “BE AGGRESSIVE. B-E AGGRESSIVE. NECK PINCH. BE AGGRESSIVE. B-E AGGRESSIVE.”
It’s picture day! Also known as the NONE FOR MAGGIE NICHOLS portion of the show.
MAGGIE GET OUT.
Since they’re basically the only gymnastics family that doesn’t have its own reality show, this will have to suffice as our opportunity to meet MAYGIE’s parents, who are here in Newark to cheer on their MAYGIE.
Her mom explains that “she’s not going to parties or hanging out with friends…ever…never.” Adding, “She’s such a loser. Like, we all make fun of her in the cafeteria. Nobody likes her.”
It’s OK, Maggie. You can sit with us.
At the American Cup, we meet the watchful eyes of…Bela? Why are you even here? You don’t do anything!
But enough of that racket, it’s time to head to New Jersey to meet Laurie Hernandez, who does this weird thing where sometimes she isn’t training at the ranch. WHAATTTTT? A personal coach????? WHAT BE THAT?? HOW WILL SHE SURVIVE WITHOUT BELA’S CHICKEN EXPERTISE?????
As Kristen Bell explains, “semi-centralized, semi-centralized, semi-centralized, semi-centralized, semi-centralized. The Karolyis are geniuses because of the 80s.”
Didn’t you know that every success USA Gymnastics has ever achieved is due to the Karolyis? Wow. Learn something new every day. Gather ’round, children, and welcome to Fun with Rewriting History.
I love how Laurie’s time at her home gym is described as “these intervals” rather than “nearly all of the time” and how personal coaches are apparently just Martha’s proxies and assistants.
This is Maggie Haney’s Angelina Leg moment.
Alright, settle down.
When Laurie isn’t hearing about how she’s going to have to start sucking less if she wants to be TEAM FINAL on bars, she’s pretending she goes to a real school.
Looks like someone’s not very far along on that essay.
“Julius Caesar was a Roman Pretty Cool Dude.” (The word you’re looking for is dictator.)
“He was stabbed like 10,000 times by Brutus in 44 BC.” (23, but pretty close, and by dozens of senators, but also pretty close.)
Reach for more perfection.
Back to the ranch! “At age 73, Bela Karolyi has moved on to a different kind of nurturing.” NURTURING? Yep, Bela the caregiver. So nurturing.
Bela is currently tending the garden, which provides “all the tomatoes and peppers for the kitchen.” (Literally the only thing they’re allowed to eat.)
And just like garden vegetables, gymnasts must also be packed in manure, surrounded by worms, and fed nothing but water. THEMATIC PARALLELS.
What follows is an indecipherable diatribe in the forgotten Carthaginian dialect of Bellish, of which I’ve only been able to decipher the words “we never had more power donkey ever before.”
Power Donkey is lovely on floor, you guys.
WAIT. Did you know that only five gymnasts can make the Olympic team? Because it’s five. FIVE. Only five. FIVE. Five five five five five.
Also, Maggie Nichols has a knee injury, so let’s be sure to talk about her like she’s dead. Well done, everyone.
“Italy.” Because no one knows how to say Jesolo. That’s why they always say, “I had a great time at [pause] Italy meet.”
It’s not called Trofeo Citta di Jesolo. It’s called Pause Italy Meet.
Now, it’s time to pack things into the vans and leave for Pac Rims.
Pull your life together, Simone.
Hey, I fixed your sign for you.
At Pac Rims, we learn that Laurie Hernandez has “a big new face” and that Ragan Smith has “viv and vigor.” No, sorry Tim, that’s the name of the TNT show I’m writing about 1950s female detectives who get underestimated. Viv and Vigor. It’s going to be charming.
As it turns out, Simone, Aly, Laurie, and Ragan dominate Pac Rims with that four-person team the US definitely sent there. Who are Dowell and Locklear? Probably nobody.
Oh good. Bela with a shotgun.
In a scored glamour montage. Because nothing says COOL like an easily excitable, scraggly haired old man with a gun.
This isn’t my literal nightmare. No immediate diarrhea here.
You know Bela wanted to be shooting ducks or elk or gymnasts or whatever, but NBC was like, “GAHHHHH. Skeet, please. Skeet.”
In the safety of the gym without Yosemite Bela just shooting at wherever, Simone is really nervous about getting in trouble for turning the music volume up above 40, and it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to her. We’re basically the same.
By contrast, Aly is totally smoking under the bleachers with the cool kids and peer pressuring Simone into turning it up to 41. REBEL BAD GIRL.
Also, your body size.
I physically don’t even understand.
And now, wistful music. It’s the last camp before the Olympics, Martha’s last full camp ever, and her last speech to the whole gang.
LET’S ALL RUN AND HUG MARTHA REALLY NATURALLY AND SPONTANEOUSLY LIKE WE TOTALLY ALWAYS DO WE LOVE HER.
Amelia don’t play that.
Martha gives them all a personalized neck pinch and tells them how
disappointed proud she is.
Of how much work they still have to do.
THEY’RE LIKE DAUGHTERS TO HER. SHE IS THEIR MOTHER. THERE ARE NO OTHER TYPES OF RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN WOMEN.
With that nonsense out of the way, Martha heads off to her other job, holding down the night shift at the diner.
“Hey hon, what can I get you? Apple pie and the usual?”
Martha and Bela’s insane conversation goes as follows.
Martha: I’m proud of what we have built, and it will be strong for generations to come no matter who is in charge.
Bela: AHHHHHHHHHHH. BELA SMASH. I’M THE BEST AND INVENTED EVERYTHING. NO ONE COULD MATCH MY GREATNESS.
It’s almost hard to believe Bela wasn’t an effective team coordinator in 2000.
But before the gymnasts leave, in more “this is normal and we do this always” news, all of the gymnasts gather around the fire to roast some marshmallows. The ranch is a fun summer camp of sister giggles, you guys. MARTHA LOVES S’MORES. THEY ALWAYS EAT THEM RIGHT BEFORE THE TEAM FINAL.
You know what they say: Martha Karolyi, she’s a marshmallow.
Hey Kristen, could you take us out with an oddly ominous sentiment featuring some seriously bizarre syntax?
“Nothing they all know is guaranteed. Anything they all know could happen.”
Oh sorry. That’s not the end. How could we we possibly end without the obligatory “lights turning off in an empty gym” moment. I mean, it is GYMNASTICS .
Now it’s over.