Wednesday night saw the debut of two new “reality” television shows, Lost on NBC and The Amazing Race on CBS. Along with last season’s The Mole on ABC, each of these shows involves groups of people competing with each other during travel around the world. How the winner is determined, the number of people involved, and various other details are different in each game.
The Mole has by far and away the most compelling host: Anderson Cooper (son of Gloria Vanderbilt and former ABC News correspondent) has the perfect demeanor for this genre: a perfect mixture of deadpan delivery, humour and “yes this is a stupid game, but I will take it seriously.” Phil Keoghan is the host of The Amazing Race and although he tries to approximate Cooper’s style, he pales in comparison and comes off like a lightweight punky kid. Lost is essentially unhosted: an unseen announcer provides colour commentary, but there’s not facilitator present as in the other two programs.
In terms of pure entertainment (and is there any other reason to watch shows like this?), my favourite is The Amazing Race: it’s well paced, occasionally thrilling, and has a good shtick in having each team of two a different variation: mother/daughter, husband/wife, gay partners, separated couple, frat brothers, etc. That it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Enemy of the State, The Rock) production is obvious: it’s shot like an action/adventure series, with well-match music and spectacular locations.
The Mole, while occasionally silly, is the most intriguing show of the three. It takes a more cerebral approach to “the game,” with more intellectual challenges than physical, and its plot is based around the need for contestants to identify who among them is a plant — the “mole” — secretly working against them all. The result is an interesting cauldron of insecurity and paranoia.
Lost is an odd show: most of tonight’s episode was shot in a dry desert on Mongolia. There was nothing much to look at other than gentle Mongolian nomads riding their motorcycles. In a sense, however, it’s the most “honest” of the bunch: it’s shot more like a documentary than a rock video, and the challenge — to get from Mongolia to the Statue of Liberty — seems actually challenging. The casting in Lost is spotty: there are a couple of interesting pairings, but there are an equal number of bratty urbanites that grow tiring after a couple of bratty tirades.
Lost airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Atlantic Time on NBC, The Amazing Race airs Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. Atlantic Time on CBS (with a repeat of the first episode airing this Sunday, Sept. 9 after 60 Minutes) and The Mole returns to ABC later this fall, airing on Fridays at 9:00 p.m. Atlantic Time starting Sept. 21.
None of these shows will improve your life or teach you much, but they are a good way to lose yourself in TV for, well, I guess it’s three hours a week now.