Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Tout le Mole

Remember how a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post detailing all the things that would conspire to make the relaunched, reformatted Australian version of The Mole a complete and utter catastrofail? And then how I was proven entirely correct when it was dumped in a late-night timeslot, like, almost exactly a week later? Well, as the season limps on, it seems I was perhaps being too generous with my critique. Believe it or not, The Mole keeps getting worse and worse, to the point where it's beginning to look a lot like another 'Tom Williams plus live eliminations!' season might have actually been preferable. I know. I KNOW.

Spoilers ahead, in every sense of the word - discussion of the season to date, discussion of the season result thanks to incompetence on the part of people who really should be smart enough to know better, discussion of the future of the show Seven replaced with this mess, minor discussion of upcoming Aussie reality shows on other channels - and all the faults are now so intertwined I'm not going to split them up this time. Also, swearing. And Soylent Green may or may not be people.

The most obvious issue is the pacing. It was one thing when the season premiere basically had a grand total of one-and-one-third challenges in it, but it really doesn't seem to have improved by enough. Take the most recent double episode, for example. Though each episode in the original 7:30 timeslot was extended by fifteen minutes to fit more commercials, the individual episodes are back to their usual one-hour pace in the 9:30 slot. So how was it that, with five full challenges, an elimination, fewer commercials, and a total of thirty minutes less airtime, the episodes still dragged on unbearably? I... literally do not even know how they managed to do it.

While this show may also be a casualty in the apparent desire for fatally sluggish television, I'm starting to think there may be another victim: The Amazing Race Australia. You see, the reason we have this show instead of that is because it was too expensive to produce a show on that scale for the ratings it was getting. But instead of, say, putting it in a decent timeslot and advertising it effectively, Channel Seven apparently decided to investigate the cost-effectiveness of making a stripped (nightly) version of the show to get more episodes for the same amount of money. Of course, if you're going to attempt it with a reasonable chance of failure, it makes more sense to potentially ruin a lower-budget show in your guinea pig scenario instead of forking out the extra money for another race and have it fail just as miserably, essentially destroying the potential of two shows (both the local race and the American one) in the process. My thought right now is that a third Amazing Race Australia is only going to happen if Seven fail to learn from their litany of errors here and strip the show regardless of what happened with The Mole: Soap Opera Edition. And that's not going to happen, especially since advertisers (most notably the Nova radio stations, who had tie-in competitions promoted through onscreen graphics) seem to be pulling out of The Mole left, right, and centre.

Of course, one of the things Seven could have done effectively even with the show as it is would be to prevent the results from being leaked. And they didn't. Sure, the Mole was never going to go undetected for the entire season - not least of all because they clearly chose Shaun, who had as much chance of going undetected as the rotting corpse of Marcel Marceau has of winning next year's Eurovision Song Contest - but managing your show's website to prevent spoilers is a basic thing, and yet you can tell that Nick is the winner. How? Each player has two headshots uploaded to the website, one normal one to show they are still competing and a shaded one (in the background, ready to be switched over as needed) to show their elimination... except Nick, who only has the normal one. Ergo, he is the last player standing -- and for the record, we already know he believes Shaun is the Mole, since he gave Shaun the two jokers he was forced to give away in order to remove them from the game (explaining it to us with this exact reasoning).

But you know what? I don't care that Nick is the winner. I don't care that Shaun is the Mole. I don't even care which of the other players joins them in the final three. Which, frankly, is absolutely fucking ridiculous. Counting the extra time added to the first seven 'hours' of the season, this show has already been on for longer than any of the other five previous seasons, and I still don't give a shit about any of the players. Why not? My only possible theory is the casting people were so obsessed with the Culture Clash bullshit that they forgot to check the people they cast (1) were actually enjoyable to watch and (2) had any awareness of how the game works. I mean, take out the people who have proven themselves to be insufferable assholes (all the men minus Hillal, plus Ally) and the people so dull you forget they even exist until they turn up in a clearly scripted confessional (Hillal, the woman who kinds of looked like Jan but wasn't nearly as fun, the blonde one, and Q-Bert), and you're already down to three, one of whom didn't last long enough to judge. And is anyone really that invested in Kerrie or Aisha to stick around, especially since they were two of the main people the editors were trying to get us to hate early on?

Shura, by the way, continues to be lovely - and confirmed the 'prominent, highly-respected Australian celebrity' he introduced a pixellated portrait of himself with was intended as mildly sarcastic, which earns him ten extra points for Hufflepuff (because you just know he is) - but dude is still not working in terms of hosting this show. I'm not sure how much of it is that he's uncomfortable in the role, which is unlikely given it isn't his first time as a game show host, and how much of it is that the scripting is so bad not even Grant Bowler could make it sound natural, but it's gotten to the point where I'm muting the show whenever he starts talking. And I really don't want to be forced to do that. But here we are.

You'll note that up above I used the term 'jokers' instead of 'freebies', and not just in protest at how stupid the latter sounds. In many ways, that little, seemingly insignificant change is the epitome of this revival's flaws. You see, the producers have been so inspired by the long-running Dutch version of The Mole that they've basically gone and copied the entire thing. Most of this season's challenges (pretty much all of the ones that might have had some promise if handled competently) have come from there, as has the concept of the jokers/freebies, the pointless addition of the team selecting a treasurer to look after prop banknotes representing the kitty, and the decision to give each player a journal to track their suspects. Pretty much if they'd copied any more, Seven might as well have hired the people at SBS to put subtitles on the Dutch episodes and aired them instead. But would they have needed to? You see, at the time the producers would have been planning this season, there were four seasons of the Dutch version uploaded to Youtube with English subtitles (this year's Dutch season has since joined them). Out of the nineteen challenges we've had so far, all but three are adapted forms of challenges from these four specific seasons. Coincidence? I doubt it, especially when the four seasons in question aren't chronological.

There are several issues here: Firstly, recycling challenges and expecting people not to realise. Aside from being condescending and insulting to the audience, in this instance it's fair to assume that if they were able to find the subtitled seasons others also were. (Indeed, I did. Two years ago, back when only two seasons had been done.) This is the same reason I'm frustrated with Channel Nine's apparent decision to use a twist for this year's Big Brother that was already oldhat internationally TEN YEARS AGO. Secondly, recycling challenges and making them worse. If you're going to go to the effort of claiming credit for someone else's idea, at least make sure you're doing it properly. Among the other blunders, adding pointless binary decision after pointless binary decision - the shortcut envelopes in the opening challenge, the champagne tower in the sandbag challenge, having to choose one Scattergories category from each of two pairs instead of picking any two from the full list, the offer to wager a set amount of money on an increased prize in a quiz challenge and so on - to recycled challenges to make them seem more inventive just makes you look like idiots who don't understand the potential of this show. Thirdly, recycling challenges that didn't work the first time. There was absolutely no reason to recycle the opening hiking challenge, or to adapt the challenge that became Keys to Comfort, or the kite treasure hunt, especially since all of them were made worse when adapted. Next, recycling challenges that worked the first time, but completely ignoring what made them work. Even with the slow pace, why on EARTH would you save a challenge that's all about exposing the group's burgeoning alliances and their fear of being the first player eliminated (Path to Temptation, the game in the State Library with the boxes) until the tenth challenge of the season, when two players have already been booted? For that matter, why would you take a challenge designed to exploit the group getting to the point where they are narrowing down their Mole suspect (Chain Gang) and put it before the first elimination? As another example, I know I pointed out the season starting with three Walk Over There challenges in the first critique, but since then we've found ourselves having to endure what were essentially five quiz challenges in a row, with the pixellated images, aerobatic tricks, location distances, a 'how many fingers am I holding up?' game, and a giant spot the difference puzzle. Because you know what makes television seem fast-paced? Q and A.

And then the two original challenges we've seen so far (the third of the challenges not taken from the subtitled Dutch seasons was taken from another Dutch season) have been among the worst challenges to have ever existed on The Mole. And I should know. The first was basically another Walk Over There challenge with players rolling a ball down portable gutters for an hour, except half of them aren't doing anything at all, except they can break the minimal rules as much as they want as long as someone calls them out on it. Believe it or not, that was basically the entire challenge. Still, at least it offered the opportunity for subtle sabotage. The second, on the other hand, had no such hook. It was literally 'ride a zipline and hit pinatas with prizes on them', with the only additional rules being blatant stopgap measures to stop players from smashing everything on the way down - only the first pinata broken by a player counted, and individual prizes awarded were given to the player on the randomly-selected baseball bat used. It was even more terrible than I'm making it sound.

It's not as if we can't come up with decent ideas in this country - the infamous PYRO timebomb challenge in season two of this show was original, as was Big Brother's 'ignore the obvious' challenge, and even fucking Australian Survivor is responsible for the American version's glut of 'obstacle course with puzzle at the end' challenges - so to see show after show after show resort to recycling things from overseas simply because of sheer laziness and inability to even want to try anything new is, frankly, offensive and ridiculous. There's absolutely no reason Australia can't be a world leader in terms of quality. If you hire the right people, yes, you might still get an occasional failure like the gutter challenge, but you'll also stand a much better chance of having a high-quality product that can help recoup the costs of making the thing when sold to other countries. Do a show properly, you get Masterchef. Do a show poorly, you get The Mole. Shouldn't be too hard to realise, should it?


  1. Which dutch season did the Aerobatic tricks game, out of curiosity? I recognized it as a variant of one of the games in the first British season (The difference being that part credit was available in this one, while in the British one X correct answers out of Y were required, and the people in the plane had to communicate with the people on the ground rather than identifying their own stunt)

    1. Gah, second. Of course second, one of the clues to the Mole's identity was present.

    2. It's from the fifth Dutch season, which is one of the subtitled ones. (Out of all the challenges so far, the only ones not to come from a subtitled season are the tram game - which was from Dutch season 6 - the gutters, and the zipline pinatas. And maybe the high-wire if you're being generous, but since a highwire challenge was used in one of the subtitled Dutch seasons I'm not.)

  2. I watched this show due in part to nostalgia for the British show which had already led me onto the Dutch show which I so fondly admire. I had heard that this new Australian series was in the works and I was excited for more Mole action. I have been disappointed but this is partly filling my gap before more Dutch mole-ing in 2014 and before my Dutch becomes good enough to watch the unsubtitled series. I just laugh every time I have to sit through an unoriginal challenge in this series. Trams? Hah!

    1. Still, the reaction to trams by some of the contestants as if they were an exciting form of transportation was kinda hilarious (But that might just be because I've been living in the Blackpool region my entire life)

      But, yeah. Frustrating viewing knowing how well The Mole can work generally and how well this form of The Mole (i.e. Dutch) can work in the specific, but I'll still take it over no mole.