By Josh Oakley
There’s only one clip I can find on YouTube for the program that Exit is based on, appropriately and redundantly titled “Weird Japanese Reality Show”. The video shows the same challenge featured first in the premiere of this American adaptation, wherein contestants have to jump from a moving floor onto small platforms. The more time they waste attempting to solve mind-numbingly simple puzzles, the more the platforms retreat, until the losing team falls into a bottomless pit.
The clip only shows the beginning (the jumping from floor to platform) of the event, but it more than exemplifies the issues that ail Exit. The original functions under the tropes of Japanese game shows that have been mocked endlessly over the years: shouting, large and colorful text crowding the screen, a beautifully absurd lack of coherence. Most likely, the show that inspired Exit gains most of its entertainment value from its color and thrills, neither of which made a transition to American screens.
As seems mandatory ever since Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, the main set is a dimly lit rotunda, where host Curt Doussett introduces the audience to a set of contestants that have clearly been rejected from every other reality show littered about the summer schedule. The least obnoxious contestants lose in the first challenge leaving the audience with three teams, each shriller than the last. If the concept, production, or trivia questions were remotely intriguing lesser competitors wouldn’t matter as much, but nothing here works much at all. And at the center, Doussett seems to be playing a dad who isn’t mad at the contestants, he’s just disappointed, and if he raises his voice well then maybe next time you should somehow know what was discovered in 1930 (if anyone guessed the answer to this, you are lying; the clue was literally "Discovered in 1930").
It’s difficult to tell what tone the show is attempting to maintain throughout the hour. It clearly lacks the lunacy of the original program, no matter how much the dance crew bros scream or how purple the one girl’s hair is. There are obvious trappings of horror films, from a collapsing roof to the aforementioned chasm. But the show is never scary and it doesn’t seem to be attempting that kind of atmosphere. Instead, Exit is happy to ride down the middle, hoping the various challenges increase tension that is hardly supplied by questions that are either embarrassingly easy or impossibly hard. More than that, various contestants are clearly told to scream at random intervals, not out of fear or joy, but contractual obligation.
Exit obviously isn’t attempting to become a modern classic in the vein of The Office or Homeland. It may get a second season to be thrown aside next summer (as Urkel’s Dark Dungeon inexplicably was) but this isn’t looking to be a watercooler show in any real way. I bring up the comparison though, to go back to the idea of adaptation. In losing the insanity of Japanese game shows, Exit follows Wipeout and Hole in the Wall in failing to understand that excitement for these programs didn’t stem from concept, but instead the production of the show. The Office and Homeland were able to apply American themes, and just as importantly, aesthetics to their US versions and establish themselves as something unique. If Exit does the same thing, it unfortunately trades mania for the dour settings and bland pacing of the worst of American horror movie making. Obviously adaptations should attempt to gain their own identity, but in the case of a show that will be forgotten tomorrow such as Exit, why not port over the actual reasons that people watched the original? Sometimes there’s no reason to change a good thing, especially if you’re trading a scream for a yawn.
- The dance crew boys were wickedly obnoxious, but I think I wanted to kill purple-haired girl most of all by the end. The talking heads were of no help, for anyone really. I understand these segments are scripted, but there’s no need to make it so glaringly obvious.
- At one point Doussett tells two contestants to watch their heads in that stern voice with just the slightest undercurrent of caring because you know your daddy loves you and would do anything for you, right? No matter what he said earlier about you being stupid.
- One of the things dad will do for you is change the rules of the game, as Doussett does with the last challenge, in a move so blatant you almost have to give credit to the show for not giving enough shits to edit the rules in post to make the outcome correct.
- One more note on the talking heads, because they bugged me (whereas everything else just bored): Why did they speak in the present tense? It’s fairly obvious they aren’t in the middle of the challenge as they speak, and literally every other game/reality show knows this.