The first two seasons of The Mole came at a remarkable time for the reality TV genre. The series premiered in 2001 and came into being during that brief and delicate period when its mainstream unscripted competitors hadn’t figured out how to step into the roles we’re familiar with. Tasked with determining who among them was sabotaging group challenges, the show’s cast allowed themselves to be themselves — ragged and inept and embarrassingly serious and real. Eventually, the show transitioned to an all-celebrity format, lost what made it special, and disappeared, but fans remember both the allure of the show’s gameplay and the rawness of its players.
The Mole reboot retains much of what defined the original work. There’s an intriguing international location (Australia here, rather than the continental Europe of the original); a host with a tongue-in-cheek, easygoing presence and the ability to think quickly (MSNBC host Alex Wagner replaces Anderson Cooper); and the game itself, precision-crafted to inspire suspicion and discord. Each elimination follows a quiz; the person who knows the least about the mole’s identity is eliminated. It’s TV as a mousetrap, “Survivor,” if Agatha Christie had been the showrunner.
However, what’s missing can’t be the producers’ fault. It can be so difficult to find people willing to be on reality TV who aren’t a little too fluent in the language. The cast (to a youthful and strikingly conventional attractive, a departure from the old “mole” which cast personalities of all ages and looks) are keenly aware of what is expected of them. And even if the drama they create through gameplay draws our attention, it’s hard not to feel like something’s a little canned here.
Competitors are obviously encouraged to relate their life experiences to the game they are playing; This felt primarily like the influence of last season’s “Survivor,” which built rats around clashes between generations and between workers and employees. This means that the backstory and its tenuous connections to what’s going on on screen become the star. When one person on The Mole said her work as a computer analyst made her a strong critical thinker, I nodded when another said her psychology degree led her to “literally learn how people’s brains work.” ‘ and my patience was tried. I laughed at a third person who said, “As a focus group facilitator, I know how to ask the right questions.”
And that kind of toxic self-confidence runs through her time on the show. Throughout the first five episodes, the contenders seem afraid to momentarily not literally comment on who they think the saboteur is, blowing our own conclusions every single second into an extended paranoid commentary that leaves the audience little room to pull.
Sub-2001 Mole is still The Mole, a show whose ingenuity and rock-solid concept mean it holds a very special place in the hearts of its fans. And should there be future seasons, there’s plenty to grow; The Challenge design is solid and Wagner has what it takes to be a strong host. (Even though their interactions with the contestants seem a little heavily scripted, that rhymes with almost everything else the contestants do.) The producers also did an elegant job of hiding the ball; While something is clearly afoot, I emerged from the first five episodes really unsure of where to even begin to voice my suspicions. In the absence of players whose personalities give us something to grasp, the enjoyment of a well-structured game can be enough.
The first five episodes of The Mole premiere on Netflix on Friday, October 7th, episodes 6 through 8 follow on Friday, October 14th, and the final two episodes on Friday, October 21st.
https://variety.com/2022/tv/reviews/the-mole-netflix-review-1235389663/ ‘The Mole’ on Netflix Review: A Revival of Confident Reality