Hellevator

: The Elevator Talk Show host Pete Holmes, left, and Taran Killam of Saturday Night Live sing the show's theme song; image from cwseed.com.

The Elevator Talk Show host Pete Holmes, left, and Taran Killam of Saturday Night Live sing the show's theme song; image from cwseed.com.

Halloween is coming up, and by the time you read this, you will know if the sages at the Game Show Network are offering a third season of the reality contest show that puts the horrible in horror. Hellevator places three or four people in a dismal freight elevator and lets them out onto various floors of spooky buildings to solve puzzles and feign fear. Each episode is structured around a true-crime horror story. Twin sisters and horror film auteurs Jen and Sylvia Soska host the show, providing historical context and yelling directions at the contestants through the PA system.

Hellevator's awfulness is a fault of execution, not of concept.  The idea to base episodes and puzzles around real stories of evil people (first season) and the seven deadly sins (second season) are inspired. A long and brilliant series of elevator scenes in scary movies (Rosemary's Baby, Dressed to Kill, The Shining, and the Japanese and American versions of Dark Water, Devil) offers an impressive storehouse of inspiration.  The show draws on the exhilarating spirit of Disney's Tower of Terror amusement ride, which traps passengers in a haunted hotel elevator, jolting upward, plummeting downward and the elevator doors opening to reveal spooky scenes.

I am not a fan of reality television, mostly because the performances are incredibly mannered, narrow and repetitive — not real at all. But, even if you love the genre, you’ll probably agree that the performances on Hellevator are abominably unconvincing.

If Hellevator's engagement with the historical material were a little deeper and the connection of the puzzles to the stories a little more clear, if the sex were dialed up a little and the fake terror of the contestants dialed back, it could be as excellent as any good reality contest show. One suspects that the Soska twins are a little dismayed that their vehicle has been dumbed down so deplorably and would welcome a chance to ratchet the intellectualism back up.

After streaming what was available of the show on YouTube, I decided I did not want to reward this production with my money, waste any more time watching it or any more space with this review. It is possible that some episodes are excellent and invalidate the above comments, but I don’t really care.

Switching channels, here is a review of an entirely different show that has no particular connection to the month of October. The Elevator Talk Show is neither reality show nor game show — never scary and too thin to be horrible. Shot at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal (an annual event and the biggest comedy festival in the world) and streamed on the CW’s website, cwseed.com, The Elevator Talk Show is an interview program that runs two or three minutes per episode. A comedian steps into the elevator, banters briefly with the host, and that's it.

The first season was shot in a passenger elevator in 2015 and hosted by Pete Holmes with his sidekick, Yves, on an upright bass. Holmes is a cheerful interviewer. He and his guests (e.g., Ellie Kemper, Wyatt Cenac and a puppet named Randy) frequently mention that they are in an elevator. Sometimes they make weak elevator jokes. In episode 115, Dana Gould discusses his irrational fear of getting stuck in an elevator. In episode 138, Fortune Feimster admits that she never holds the elevator door for others. And, in episode 140, Wil Anderson denies that he would be able to escape a stuck elevator. But, then, Holmes got a sitcom on HBO, the host spot for the second season passed to fellow comedian Nick Thune, and the elevator became more central to the show.

Thune's approach is aggressively derivative of Zach Galifianakis' web-based interview show Between Two Ferns.

Thune's approach is aggressively derivative of Zach Galifianakis' web-based interview show Between Two Ferns. Thune even puts a fern in the service elevator where the show is shot, directly behind the guest's chair, partly blocking the elevator door where the guests enter.

Like Galifianakis, Thune plays an awkward, sometimes aggressively ignorant interviewer. His favorite question, which he asks several guests, is, "When they say 'the guy is the limit,' what does that mean?" (The best answer comes from John Mulaney, who answers "Robert Downey, Jr.," because he fell so far and then rose again on the Iron Man film franchise.) Another favorite question: "Well, tell me about Gerard Butler." (As far as I know, none of the guests who get this question actually know the action star.)

The elevator itself is an additional source of awkwardness — the claustrophobia; the fern blocking the entrance of the guests, the doors opening and closing; and the presence of Mr. Richard, a uniformed elevator operator whom Thune refers to as his mentor, standing over the guest's left shoulder.

Sometimes, elevators become an explicit subject of the interview. Tom Green, most famous for his brief marriage to Drew Barrymore, notes that the elevator is moving and quotes Aerosmith without attribution. When Green refers to Mr. Richard as Thune's Ed McMahon (and does a Carson impression), Mr. Richard replies, "People believe that an elevator is held up by one rope, when, actually, it is held up by multiple steel cables." Green responds, "That's what she said."

On episode 212, Thune asks Beth Stelling how fast the fastest elevator goes. She guesses 30 mph. Thune corrects her (32 mph), and Mr. Richard corrects them both (40 mph). Bobby Slayton turns back to look at Mr. Richard and says to Thune, "By the way, you should have had a black guy. . . like Rochester from Jack Benny.. . . Tip this guy, will ya?"

Occasionally, Thune asks Mr. Richard to offer an elevator fact. Mr. Richard usually replies, "Twenty-six people die in an elevator once a year. Twenty-six people die in a car every five hours. You're much safer here than you are in a car." Ironic, given that Thune starred in a series of Honda ads a few years ago.

In episode 207, guest Cameron Esposito responds to Mr. Richard's fact with another: "Did you know that door-close buttons are generally disabled?" In episode 225 with guest Andy Kindler (who also appeared in the first season), Thune muses, "We are in an elevator. Am I passionate about elevators? Of course I am. Does Mr. Richard know a lot about elevators, as well? Of course he does. How long have you been in the business?" Mr. Richard replies, "I was born in an elevator." Kindler asks if Mr. Richard's line sounds like a Fleetwood Mac song, and Thune corrects him with one word. "Aerosmith."

Episode 231, "Elevator Facts," is a highlight reel of Mr. Richard's wisdom. Run together, it is clear that a producer spent 10 minutes looking up some data on the internet. Nick Thune, or whoever hosts the next season, please reach out to the good people at ELEVATOR WORLD. I'm sure they'd be happy to provide Mr. Richard with some really great material.

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