Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Mole: Things get a bit shirty

After yesterday's seven-post explosion, things are a bit slower today, in part because I'm focusing on a story I'm doing for Sunday about Bear McCreary and Michael Giacchino (composers for BSG and Lost, respectively). But I have a minute to breathe here and thought I'd offer a few words on why "The Mole" isn't working this season, just as soon as I scan my business card for clues...

There are reality franchises that need villains to work and there are ones that don't. "Survivor," I would argue, does, in that the most satisfying moments and seasons are often the ones where the obnoxious people get their comeuppance. (The flip side of that, of course, is that seasons where the bad guys win ultimately leave a bad taste in your mouth.) "The Amazing Race" really doesn't, though the show has had some memorable villains, depending on your definition of the term, like Colin or Boston Rob.

I'd put "The Mole" even more firmly into the latter category. If you like the concept -- one of the more intricate ones in the genre -- then the game itself should be enough for you to enjoy it, and if you don't like the concept, then no amount of nasty behavior will make up for that. The new season would likely be tanking in the ratings even with a cast full of swell people -- it's a failed reality show that hasn't been seen in its original incarnation in nearly seven years -- but for those of us who did turn up to watch it, the presence of loud, abrasive, "I didn't come here to make friends!" cliches like Nicole and Paul make the new season kind of intolerable.

It's one thing for me to be wondering if someone is performing badly in a challenge (say, Bobby lounging in the wheelbarrow last week) because they're actually the Mole, because they want people to think they're the Mole, or because they're just terrible. That's the point of the show, even if it can occasionally get annoying that everyone seems to be tanking to fool the other players, which leads to a microscopic prize total. But there's no strategic or dramatic upside to someone yelling at the rest of the team during dinner (Paul) or "jokingly" threatening to kill another contestant (Nicole); it's just the kind of lame interpersonal drama that every reality show producer decided they needed after "The Apprentice" season one was a hit -- and, for some unknown reason, Omarosa got the lion's share of the credit for that.

So even though the clothes-off-your-back challenge was kind of entertaining -- albeit not as much as the embarrassing costume challenge from season 2, and although one of the teams completely lucked into finding the right laundromat, which you could tell frustrated the producers and host -- I really don't want to spend time with those two anymore. I can't imagine ABC giving "The Mole" a third strike (fourth if you count the "celebrity" incarnation), so I imagine last night was the last time I'll be seeing it.

Anybody else watching at this point? Anybody else as fed up with the loudmouths as I am?


Anonymous said...

Happened to catch most of last night's episode -- as a first-time watcher of The Mole, but longtime watcher of reality competition shows, I was not too impressed.

One thing, though -- was is really so clear that the one team "lucked" into finding the laundromat? Wouldn't it be likely that the Mole would know where their clothes had been taken, and thus have the option to steer his/her team toward that location?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Given that the Mole's chief mission is to keep money out of the pot, why would the Mole help his/her team towards the only place in Santiago where Craig had a realistic shot of finding appropriate attire that fit in time?

Jon said...

I'm still watching, and I'm definitely tired of Paul and Nicole. I just don't understand why they were cast. If it's an attempt to "sex up" the new Mole, it failed miserable. Is it really possible that the producers misunderstood so completely why the show is appealing?

I like your distinction between enemy/enemy-less shows, and I think it's sometimes useful to think of The Mole as Survivor's twisted doppelganger: the Mole turns Survivor on its head by at once making explicit the role of "backstabbing" but by requiring that it be hidden. On Survivor, sabotage and backstabbing are organic consequences of the rules of the game; on the Mole, they ARE the rules of the game.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Is it really possible that the producers misunderstood so completely why the show is appealing?

That, or these were ABC's conditions to resurrect the show after all this time.

On Survivor, sabotage and backstabbing are organic consequences of the rules of the game; on the Mole, they ARE the rules of the game.

Technically, they're only the rules for the Mole him or herself. It's just that several players early on realized that pretending to be the Mole to throw other players off their game was the safest strategy, in much the same way that Richard Hatch's decision to forge an alliance in the first season of Survivor became the model for how everyone would play the game for all time.

As I recall, the season 1 Mole actually didn't do a whole lot of sabotage, because a few of the real players were doing her job for her. But it's possible to play the game on the up-and-up if you're observant (and lucky) enough.

Tosy And Cosh said...

I have never seen the Mole and never plan to, but boy howdy am I excited about that McCreary/Giacchino article!! assume you've seen the Alex Ross piece on Giacchino from the New Yorker a few years back.

Laura said...

I was a HUGE fan of the first season of The Mole (enough to buy it on DVD), but I honestly forgot to tune in this time around. Doesn't sound like I'm missing much.

Sidebar: I can't wait to read your McCreary/Giacchino article. The latter just edged out Danny Elfman as my favorite composer, but both do absolutely tremendous work for their respective shows.

Anonymous said...

I am HUGELY disappointed in this new incarnation of The Mole. I LOVED the first two seasons. Adored them (and not just because of the awesome host). I loved that they had to work as a team and for the most part got along other than a little bit of bickering which you'd get if you were forced to hang out with the same person for days on end with no break. But in the first two seasons it was minor and not a major tenet of the season, making it VERY enjoyable.

I am sad with this season. For all my excitement when it was announced the show was coming back, it has waned considerably now that they have typecast the show with obnoxious people who live only to cause drama rather than be a team for a common goal.

I'll keep watching, in the hopes that the two obnoxious people get booted soon. If one of them sticks around to the finals and/or is the Mole I'll be REALLY angry.

Witzke A said...

I loved the first Mole and even watched the celebrity version (though it was not as good). I was so pumped for this season when I saw flashes of the ad during LOST. But I too have been disappointed with the show.

I feel like the producers, or as you said before ABC execs, do not understand the show. I always enjoyed trying to figure out the mystery along with the players on the show, but I have not been into it this time. I have no real idea who the players are yet and I blame that on how the show is being edited. There is so much attention being paid to Paul and his arguments that there is no time to understand the players. I cant play along if I have no information to use. Personally, I almost forgot that Clay was even on the show. And Mark seems real interesting but we barely get to see him.

I'll keep watching and hope it gets better as less contestants remain. But I think that this may be one of those reality concepts that is only good once.

Nicole said...

I only watched the Celebrity Mole prior to this, and it was just fun to watch Corbin Bernsen and Stephen Baldwin act like oversized boys throughout the show. They were "enemies" but you knew they weren't serious about it so you could see that they were enjoying the game. The fake attitude by these no name contestants is just sad and distracts from the actual point of the game. I also hate that the "bitch" on the show has my name.

In any case, I don't think either she or Paul are the Mole, as that exposes too much of their behaviour to scrutiny. I think it's someone who has stayed under the radar.. like Clay.

Pirate Alice said...

I was so excited to hear the Mole was coming back but as others have stated, I hate the bickering of Paul, and Nicole. And the guy who needed to be pushed in the wheel barrow, WTF?! What is UP with that guy? I recorded last night's show, but have yet to watch. And I'm really just so bored with it, I'm not sure I want to watch it. I feel like they've ruined my show.

Doug said...

I still think The Mole is the best reality show "concept" in the history of television.
I agree with you about the casting this season. This is a game that should be all about strategy and gameplay. However, the people's obnoxious behavior is taking away from that for the viewer.
Also, has anyone noticed that the quizzes have gotten much easier? They are basically asking the same question over and over again. In the first 2 seasons, the quizzes were 20 questions and were quite intricate. The viewer didn't even see the entire quiz.

Maybe this was all part of their attempt to "dumb" it down to make it easier to follow.

I will still be watching until the end, and I hope that FOX Reality Channel picks this up for another season, but that would be a miracle.

Anonymous said...

Not only am I tired of all the people, I'm tired of the beyond redundant talking heads saying "That was very Mole behavior." Why do they not trust the audience to look out for what is and is not Mole-ish? I don't have a problem watching the players hash it out in their little alliance groups, but do we need five talking heads after every single thing a player screws up telling us that they might be the Mole?

What made the first two seasons good were the challenges. So far, the challenges here are meh at best. The clothes challenge seemed to be mostly an excuse to put the women in bras and underwear and to embarrass Craig. Lovely. They need challenges like the one with Tiny Bubbles, or the get out of your rooms challenge. I may quit watching this if they don't cancel it. After all, it's on at the same time as the search for the next Elle Woods!

Anonymous said...

I think the show jumped the shark with the celebrity incarnations. Last night's challenge was amusing, but I agree that the cast is not very likeable this year. Speaking of composers, I used to love the score they would play during the quiz, and was shocked to see that had even changed that!

Anonymous said...

I wonder, though, how much of the problem is that the show has been over-romanticized in its missing years. I remember how I used to look at The Amazing Race the same way, but there have been seasons where the show seemed to be more about the obnoxious jerk every team was stuck with (insert flashback to Tara nagging will all the way to the finish line) than the race.

One other defense I'd make for The Mole's casting director -- from what I've read casting reality TV is a reap crapshoot and sometimes people turn out to behave very differently around a casting director than among the cast. (IIRC, a Magical Elves producer commented in an interview that they totally didn't cast Project Runway's third season expecting all the drama that occurred.) Still, if someone who seems personable and intelligent before filming turns out to be the "not here to make friends" type, they don't have to give so much screen time.