EmptyAirdate: 10-11 p.m. Monday, June 2 (ABC).
Based on the proposition that reality shows never truly die but merely retool and return, “The Mole” is back on ABC, looking tanned and refreshed following the equivalent of a four-year hiatus during which it lost a creator (David G. Stanley, no longer partners with Scott A. Stone) and gained a new host in Jon Kelley.
The original edition of the show that launched in 2001 was hosted by Anderson Cooper, but now that he’s a big mucky-muck, he can’t very well be involved in game shows. But otherwise, it’s the same diabolical gambit that it’s always been, featuring a dozen players that include a lone saboteur looking to disrupt and impair everyone’s best efforts from the inside. But nobody knows whom that mole is except for Mr. or Ms. Mole. It’s actually one of the more intriguing concepts to be found in the world of manufactured unscripted mayhem, and so naturally it was borrowed from Belgium. Because even the original stuff isn’t really original.
In case you forgot the way the concept plays out, during 10 episodes a dozen players from various walks of life collectively compete for cash prizes performing the usual hyperkinetic challenges (grabbing for a bag of cash while fastened to a lifeline dangling over a waterfall, searching on a beach for items used by William Selkirk to survive his Chilean castaway island odyssey in 1704). The contestants are all living at the outset on a deserted beach in Chile, forming alliances and paranoid fixations as they scope out the impostor among them. And at least in the early going, it proves to be compelling fun.
The personalities thankfully begin to assert themselves early on, which is really all that separates an interesting “Mole” edition from a washout. This one looks to have the potential to be exceedingly nasty as the seeds are planted for a middle-class adult version of “Lord of the Flies,” with one or two bullies and even a fat guy. We’ve also got a 24-year-old model (Ali); a mega-intense 42-year-old high school history teacher and soccer coach (Mark); a 60-year-old widow from Montana (Liz); and the obligatory attorney, this one age 32 and a criminal litigator from Philadelphia (Clay). But early on, the primary focus falls to Nicole, a 32-year-old OB-GYN who very much believes she is all that. Stuff happens to her in the premiere that I’m not sure I am at liberty to divulge.
Of course, even the brainier reality shows -- of which “The Mole” surely is one -- still are essentially a collection of patched-together images built into a cohesive story line in the editing room. Ergo, the quality of any given excursion like this might be less the charisma of the participants than the skill of the production crew. So let it be said that the editors did a good job in the premiere of convincing me this was almost real -- aside, of course, from the notion that the island castaway was truly alone. It might have been the camera operator and sound technician recording things who gave it away.
Production: Stone & Co. Entertainment. Host: Jon Kelley. Executive producers: Scott A. Stone, Clay Newbill. Co-executive producers: Leslie Garvin, Rabih Gholam, Jeff Krask. Producers: Anna Moulaison-Massey, Sam Hixon, Alejandro Dirrecion. Coordinating producer: Troy Fetterolf. Supervising producers: David Finklestein, Tess Gamboa, Bill Hochhauser, Yun Lingner, Calvin Simmons. Director of photography: Mark Jungjohann; Director: Craig Spirko; Editors: David Finklestein, Brooks Larson, Kevin McGuinness; Music: David Michael Frank. Casting: Katy Wallin-Sandalis;