Back in 2001, before Anderson Cooper was the respected journalist he is now, I knew him best as “Anderson Cooper, host of The Mole.” That reality competition featured contestants working together to add money to a pot that only one of them will eventually win, the twist being that one of the contestants was a “mole” tasked with sabotaging the group’s money-making efforts. Cooper hosted the show for two seasons before being replaced by Ahmad Rashad, and the show ran a couple of years beyond that with celebrity contestants, including a hysterical Kathy Griffin.
ABC’s new series Whodunnit?, which premiered last night, has a different premise, but the idea is not entirely dissimilar from The Mole, with a little bit of Clue thrown in for good measure. The show features a group of “houseguests” who have a murderer among them, and they need to solve crimes each week, with the person furthest from the facts of the crime getting killed themselves.
If CBS’ seemingly hundreds of procedurals are proof of anything, it’s that a lot of people, myself included, love a good caper. Whodunnit?‘s concept is fun, and the premiere episode had its entertaining moments, though there are a few impediments to it living up to its potential. The show is the brainchild of Anthony Zuiker, the creator of the long-running hit CSI, though it has none of that show’s glossy production values. The style featured in Zuiker’s iconic show has set the bar so high for what crime shows can look like that in comparison the whole Whodunnit? production looks a little low-budget.
It’s also difficult to fully buy into the proceedings — the contestants seem to be taking everything seriously, but there are so many elements that are clearly staged that it’s hard to believe anyone is having an authentic experience. At the end of last night’s episode, for example, one contestant ran through the house literally on fire before hurling himself into the swimming pool, and the episode ended dramatically with his charred “corpse” floating in the water. When was he told he was “murdered”? How long was he in make-up for? Did the other contestants hear any of this happening? If the show is going to be appeal to amateur detectives, the producers had better anticipate their viewers will be asking these kinds of questions.
There’s also the issue of the host. While Anderson Cooper hosted The Mole with a wink and a smile (along with his signature charm and intelligence), Whodunnit? is presided over by Giles the butler (actor Gildart Jackson). Fun as a murder mystery is, everyone knows it’s a little silly — Jackson’s earnest approach is a little hard to take.
Still, despite these qualms, I’ll probably stick with it for a little while. Even if the show is no The Mole, I’ve gotta know who the killer is!
Did you watch Whodunnit? What did you think? And do you have fond memories of The Mole, or have I retroactively romanticized how fun that show was? Let me know!
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