Judge Neil Dorsett pities the fool who didn't ask Mr. T to participate in Celebrity Mole: Hawaii!
"I'm not thinking that the game is absurd, I'm thinking that it's absurd that I'm playing the game."
In the summer of 2003, seven "stars" and one host gathered on the isle of Hawaii to follow up ABC's successful Mole show. This time there was an additional genre thrown into the mix: that of celebrity humiliation. Scouring the neighborhoods of Los Angeles, the producers came up with seven television, film, and model personalities to mash into a giant weirdo mix of Survivor, Double Dare, and Circus of the Stars. The seven contestants participate in a variety of oddball olympics in order to increase a general kitty, which only one of them can take home. In addition, as the show's title suggests, one player is being paid to be the Mole—a saboteur who interferes with the other players' games while pretending to assist.
The previous Mole entries had everyday folk as contestants. This time, the ante has been upped, so to speak, by attracting the following seven individuals: Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law), Stephen Baldwin (The Usual Suspects), Michael Boatman (Spin City), Victoria's Secret model Frederique Van Der Wal, Kathy Griffin (the annoying redhead from Suddenly Susan), Eric Von Detten (Hallmark's Dinotopia), and Kim Coles (Living Single). That list is repeated about fourteen thousand times throughout the show, so even those who went home emptyhanded got a hefty promotional dose in return. The show is hosted by sportscasting veteran Ahmad Rashad, who maintains a very straight face throughout the bizarre proceedings and seems to have a graceful good time putting the contestants through their paces.
And what exactly are those paces? The show contrives a selection of bizarre contests from the flat-out traditional (Von Detten and Boatman are asked to do a forty-foot cliff dive) to the embarrassing (a series of algebraic puzzles that leave most of the contestants puzzled indeed), the historical (clean the instrument panel of a biplane in the midst of aerial acrobatics) to the absurd (underwater charades linked to a gravedigging treasure hunt). The contestants are also asked each day to evaluate the other players and quizzed on the details of their theory regarding the identity of the mole. At the end of each show, a player is "executed," which is to say eliminated from the game, if he or she has the lowest score on the "Mole Quiz."
The show, as are most "reality" shows or other stunt vehicles on television, is laced with endless repetition in the form of pre- and post-commercial previews and recaps. Griffin's lame "I'm the headmistress!" joke plays no less than four times over the course of the six shows. This painful repetition, among many others, could have been eliminated by repackaging the show for home video rather than presenting it as-is from its original television airing. Sure, it's necessary—okay, not necessary, but excusable—when there's four to six minutes of commercials in between, but those viewing this or any show uninterrupted are only being bored by this endless reiteration.
This show, like any that groups a bunch of contestants over the course of multiple days, involves a lot of personality clash, which as usual is played up at every turn. The players' paranoia is tweaked additionally by the Mole factor, which is really the only deciding factor of the game. The players behave very much as one would expect. Bernsen leaps in and takes charge like a naval captain, Baldwin goofs around, Coles acts dainty and says "the jumping thing isn't really working for me" to a sheep, Boatman mugs and wimps out a good bit, Griffin is consistently obnoxious. This last player has a truly revealing moment during one of the dinners, where the remaining players are asked to imitate other players from the game, drawn by lot. Griffin demands that no one become offended if she "does" them, and then promptly loses her cool and goes red in the face when Von Detten, with whom she'd had a coalition throughout the game, reluctantly and gently imitates her. When called on it, she begins bitterly "Yeah, well…" and then singsongs in one of the most hateful voices you will ever hear, "I guess I gave myself an exemption!" Sounds like something that happens a lot in that lady's life. The remaining players, Van Der Wal and Von Detten are less familiar by personality and thus harder to figure. The show plays this up intentionally, as Von Detten receives a chance at an exemption from execution (the source of Griffin's "joke" above) that would cost the players $30,000 of their prize money.
I don't mean to just rag on Griffin, but I have always found the girlish school of comedy that involves, essentially, saying "I hate you, just kidding!" and then flashing a big smile and expecting everyone to laugh, quite repulsive. Since this vicious "kidding on the square" (as Al Franken put it) constitutes the entirety of Griffin's schtick, it's very hard to be sympathetic toward her in any way. Her presence in this show, as with any other in which she appears, is tiresome and annoying and makes me want to change the channel, only I can't, because it's a DVD. By contrast, I rather rooted for the almost neurotically enthusiastic Corbin Bernsen (in Griffin's words, "Super Veiny Hockey Dad"), Frederique Van Der Wal (who was really quite game throughout the proceedings despite being so thickly accented as to be nearly incomprehensible), and Von Detten, because he aced the math business while the older performers were left scratching their heads. Michael Boatman also contributed a good bit to the proceedings. Coles is out in the first round—call that a spoiler if you want, but if she was who you were looking for here, forget it—and has little opportunity to do much other than embarrass herself by proclaiming herself "mole-licious" at the head of the show, which you get to see six times. The whole thing, frankly, has the flavor of one of those shows that's conceived largely as an excuse to do some traveling. But hey, who can blame TV producers for cooking up a trip to Hawaii on business money? It's a venerable tradition!
Speaking of tradition, one thing that's been noted about Celebrity Mole is that it breaks with a long-running one: the celebrities are competing not for charity as one would see in those older celebrity goof-offs like Battle of the Network Stars or TV cast episodes of Family Feud. Instead, they're in it for themselves. At first it sounds incredibly self-serving, and it is, but then you realize that the losing players are actually going home empty-handed, save for a bag of consolation prizes (and the free trip to Hawaii). If they were in it for charity, they wouldn't really have a stake. So this factor I think is excusable, although it does make one think that perhaps simply continuing The Mole in its original form, providing ordinary people with a chance at thousands, would have been enough. Apparently, the ratings disagree, because ABC followed up this series early in the year with Celebrity Mole: Yucatan, for which Baldwin and Bernsen returned amid a new pack of television faces. This disc release is presumably something of a promotional item to attract viewers to the new show; if this is the case, I would have expected to see a price lower than $29.98.
The sound and video on Celebrity Mole: Hawaii are both quite good. With two forty-odd minute shows per disc, this is really no surprise, even given the additional demands that 60 field-per-second video-generated material puts on the bitrate. The picture is consistently strong, sharp, and clear, with very little ghosting or white burn. The sound is presented in a very spontaneous-feeling Dolby Surround, which of course consists of a mostly monaural live audio track overlain with music that fills the rest of the speakers. This is what one would expect of a "reality" show. The third and final disc in the three-disc set contains bonus material in the form of bloopers, extended game scenes, and theories that the contestants had during the game. Most of this stuff is just further repetition of the series content. The three discs come in an unusual double-sized keep case with one disc on the left-hand wing, and two on the other side, mounted in an over-under fashion. I didn't really care much for this case, but it's better than those Warner board-and-clear-plastic jobs that always have a broken spindle by the time you get the disc home.
So is this all worth the time? I would say not. Certainly not the money. While Celebrity Mole: Hawaii is well-produced and conceived beautifully to present a show on a minimal budget (even if the pot ran all the way up to $250,000, surely the show could have cost no more than a million or two altogether), it achieves, at best, the entertainment level of harmless background noise. While the games are occasionally interesting, the rest of the thing just has the feel of a high-powered, hard-rocking aquarium and a scanty travelogue of Hawaii. Save your money for the National Geographic specials. This sort of thing may work perfectly well as television filler and even attract some viewers, but as a home video presentation, this is a waste.
Celebrity Mole: Hawaii is found guilty of scraping the very edge of television entertainment with its simple premise, contrived games, and insulting repetition. On the other hand, it's hard to see how any real harm has been done here (apart from a certain enabling factor regarding the use of the winnings, which you can look up if you want to). Court says thirty days with time served, and suspends the sentence with a warning to ABC and Eagle Vision to take a closer look in the future at what needs to be archived from television and what doesn't. I don't want to see you people in here again.
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