Of Vanderbilts and Viagra

"The Mole," Episode 4: Coop's got mom problems; Charlie's got girl trouble!

Published January 31, 2001 4:05PM (EST)

We're still in Spain.

But after four episodes, we feel as if we're finally getting the cast members of "The Mole" straight.

There's Jennifer, the tough jock; Charlie, the older guy; Henry, the handsome black guy; Jim, the guy with the bad goatee; Kate, the zaftig older woman ...

Uh, how many is that?

OK, wait, there's also Kathryn, the mousy woman, and then maybe another youngish guy -- or was that Jim?

Well, that's close to seven, and that's how many players are left. And if we don't actually have them straight, we dofeel as if we kind of know them, after three long hours of acquaintance, simply because at this point we don't like any of them.

Charlie, the obligatory reality-TV crusty older guy, doesn't have as exceptional a personality as Rudy from "Survivor"; he's not that smart, either. Jennifer's competent, it seems, but kind of an emotional basket case.

Henry's no one special; same with the guy whose name we can't remember. Kate's kind of irritating. So's Kathryn. And Jim, who was a lawyer but is now a helicopter pilot, has a mantra -- "It's a game! Every man for himself!" -- like some low-rent Richard Hatch.

At the beginning of this episode, the fourth, Kate is heard saying, "I guess I'm getting on people's nerves."

We agree with that.

Someone else says, "The game is getting intense. Everything about it is intense."

We agree with that, too. Except for the "intense" part.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

We've been doing a little homework on unintrepid host Anderson "Mumbles" Cooper. Cooper has been an anchor on an ultra-late-night ABC show called "World News Now."

We've been wondering how anyone who manages to swallow every other syllable he speaks has made a career in TV news, a profession in which an ability to be comprehended has in the past been a major desideratum.

It turns out Coop is the son of Gloria Vanderbilt. She's about a fourth-generation descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the robber baron who, when he died near the start of the 20th century, could have been the richest man in the world.

Sixty years ago or so, Gloria Vanderbilt was the subject of an unpleasant custody battle between her mom and her aunt and became famous as a "poor little rich girl."

Later she became famous for spending all her money and then purveying a line of instantly kitschy blue jeans.

The latest development in Coop's life is that it looks like Mom has money problems again! She has $5 million in tax debts, and has moved into Coop's two-bedroom New York apartment.

Now it's all making sense -- no wonder he's in Spain!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Tonight's episode begins with another classic "Mole" game.

The challenge in describing a classic "Mole" game is to stretch the patience of neither the reader nor the writer.

So we will say only that it's sort of a fake commando raid through the streets of an oddly deserted Spanish town. The contestants are outfitted in laser-tag outfits and told to look out for laser snipers.

The show tries to create menace by showing dramatic shots of ... stray cats!

The players have to rescue chubby Kate from an empty church. There are myriad complications, including a particularly Byzantine one that encourages Kate to somehow betray her fellows in exchange for immunity from execution this episode.

(The point of the show, remember, is to guess who the mole is. At the end of each show the contestants take a test about the mole. Whoever scores worst on the test is executed.)

(No, not really, silly! More's the pity!)

One more thing: All the players are given odd helmets that have miniature video cameras suspended in front of them. This affords ABC the ability to display close-up, fisheye-lens footage of the players as they run through the streets of the town. Since none of the players is that attractive to begin with, it's unfortunate that ABC takes as much advantage of this technological marvel as it does.

The show's one dramatic coup this episode is that as the players are ineluctably offed by the snipers, the reception of the cameras buzzes, snaps, gets fuzzy and turns red before flickering off. We're pretty sure ABC, reality be damned, created the death effects in the editing room, but heck -- what's a network supposed to do with a flop of a show like this?

There are two key miscalculations in this contest.

The first is that this band of clumsy players is no competition for a hired pair of efficient snipers. (The same thing happened a couple of episodes back in the cornfield maze. There, too, the two guys hired by the show to track down the runners made quick work of them.)

Also, again, it's prohibitively complicated. Poor Kate can't really figure out what her strategy should be to screw over the other players.

The best thing about it is that, at the end, Jennifer and Charlie get into a nasty shouting match.

Neither comes out of it looking good.

Jennifer protests, "I hustled! You didn't get very far," she says pointedly to Charlie.

Charlie ripostes, "You sometimes are an absolute asshole." (The show bleeps "asshole.")

Jennifer goes nuclear in an instant: "Oh, take some Viagra and shut up."

That's hurtful!

"I don't need any Viagra, dear," Charlie snaps back. "You know," he continues, restating his thesis, "sometimes you're an ignorant broad, but other times you're an absolute complete asshole."

"There was pick-on-Kate week and now you pick on me," she responds. Jennifer's saying Charlie's got female trouble.

"You're self-destructing," Charlie says. "Good night, little girl."

Then we cut to interview footage with Jennifer: "Dear Charlie, just for the record, I'm not a dumb broad, all right? Because I'll be the first one clapping when you take a little exit from this game."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The next test is even more complicated, and even more tedious. The group goes to the University of Seville and breaks up into two groups.

The first one has to figure out a set of brainteasers -- you know, you have the 5-gallon jug and the 3-gallon jug, and how do you get a jug with exactly 4 gallons of water in it?

(You'd think that, since the same puzzle was part of a very, very exciting dramatic sequence in "Die Hard With a Vengeance," the fabulous Bruce Willis movie, the contestants would ace it, but they blow it big time.)

Puzzles like this are a staple in Mensa entrance exams. The only club this crew is getting into is Densa.

They do the tests under the watchful eye of someone who is described as a Seville professor, but who seems capable only of uttering the word "Sí."

Anyway, they are then taken to another part of the university. Jim has to find his way back to stop the other team from doing the same puzzles.

This produces confusion.

More confusion: Back at the hotel, there's a portentously set-up sequence in which the members one by one are left alone in a show production room. They're filmed secretly to see whether anyone sneaks a peek into a production book.

One, Kathryn, takes a look at it.

But what's the point? That she's not the mole, because the mole wouldn't need to look into the production book? Or maybe she is the mole, and the whole thing was laboriously staged?

Finally, but not soon enough, it's time to throw another contestant off the show.

It's Henry!

No one seems to miss him.

No one even says goodbye.

We get a long, slo-mo recap of Henry's greatest moments on the show.

"I have to say I felt like taking my own life during some of his stories," says Steven, caustically.

We know that feeling!

-- Bill Wyman

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By Salon Staff

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