Facing the Hole: Overthinking Fox Network’s “Hole in the Wall”Posted: 18 March 2009
Sunday evening I had the “distinct pleasure” of witnessing two back-to-back episodes of Fox Network’s Hole in the Wall, a game show of sorts where teams of awkwardly-clad contestants contort their bodies in order to slip through punched shapes in a moving wall. Successful contestants score points. Those who fail are pushed into a dunk tank. Something so mindless isn’t necessarily deserving of attention, but there’s just something strangely compelling about Hole in the Wall.
The basic ingredients of conventional television are all missing: there’s no formulaic comedy, no formulaic drama, just formula. Every episode contains such a high quotient of the same explanatory dialogue that one can only assume they plan on almost no repeat viewership. An elaborate framework is repeated in every episode, but said framework includes surprisingly little game show get-to-know-you dialogue, leaving room instead for improvised dance moves and silhouette graphics. Little room is left for episodes to be different from one another. The structure is so rigorously composed that no contingency is permitted. Contestants are given no more than a few seconds to introduce themselves, and are instead objectified through a graphic listing their physical stats and a mugshot-like video.
This may not be much different from other game shows, but what sets it apart is the oddly philosophical game they are playing. Hole in the Wall is a very unconventional show about convention: it dresses contestants up in the least flattering catsuits this side of Adam West in Batman and forces them through a series of strangely-proportioned shapes, all with a vague promise of money and prestige to encourage them. In the end, nobody fits the unrealistic expectations of the wall, but enough play is permitted that an odd contestant or group clears the obstacle. It’s an odd commentary on beauty and body image: a series of anthropomorphic-yet-abstract shapes through which imperfect and real bodies are forced to contort in order to achieve fame and fortune.
Unfortunate, then, that the show’s hosts are such bores. Brooke Burns, a model-turned-actress in the most derogatory sense, eternally clad in a little black dress, interacts with contestants so unnaturally that she seems a stiletto-heeled robot, and “TV Personality” Mark Thompson seems to annunciate no words but the show’s moment-of-truth catch phrase, “It’s time to face the hole.”
The show started to make a lot more sense once I learned that it was in fact a reworking of a Japanese program for the American market. Remarkably, after watching a few clips of the Japanese version of the show, it seems to me that Fox has over-rationalized the thing in translation. Often, in the Japanese version, the shapes are not only funny, but impossible to clear. There seems to be more interest — and more entertainment — in making fools of the contestants than in fulfilling their dreams of easy money. In America’s version, there’s no room to be goofy anymore, it’s all business. The producers have left no time for the type of wonky, human playfulness that makes the rare reality show (and, presumably, Japan’s original version) palatable.
Fox has taken a strangely funny concept and sucked all the life out of it, but they’ve ended up with something unintentionally meaningful, an essay on the absurdity of the human and especially American desire to fit in. Hole in the Wall airs Sundays at 7:00 PM/6:00 PM Central. Don’t watch it. In fact, avoid it like the plague.