Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Signs of maturity, or is "I Wanna Marry Harry" a boring "Joe Millionaire"?

A long ago (say 11 years), Fox aired a deviously clever reality TV parody named "Joe Millionaire." In this send-up of ABC's "The Bachelor," a group of female contestants thought they were competing for the affection of a millionaire, but in fact, he was a part-time construction worker (and part-time model, though that wasn't disclosed to viewers) with an annual income below the poverty line. The allure of the show - for viewers, that was - was to see how the women (whom the show presumably invited you to stereotype as gold-diggers) would act and react.

Now, maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I watched all of "Joe Millionaire" and enjoyed it immensely. (Judging from the ratings it garnered, I wasn't alone!) It's not so much that I wanted to see people being humiliated - well, perhaps in the beginning.... What kept me tuning in was the oddly effective combination of Evan Marriott (the "Joe Millionaire") and Paul Hogan, who played the "butler" of the mansion. Hogan had a dry, wicked sense of humor that revealed how aware he was of the ridiculousness of the show's premise. Marriott was actually quite charming when he was breaking the fourth wall or being tutored by Hogan on the finer points of hoity-toity manners. In the end, Marriott picked the one woman who seemed most genuine and decent (I say "seemed" because, as with most reality TV shows, editing can make a difference, at least on the margins).

Of course, no matter how successful, this kind of parody is hard to repeat, because once the first one airs, would-be contestants are or should be attuned to the possibility of a set-up. The inevitable "Joe Millionaire 2" had to be produced in Europe, where it was hoped that European women wouldn't have been aware of "Joe Millionaire." Similarly, Spike TV's successful "The Joe Schmo Show" (a parody of "Survivor" where the designated mark didn't know that the other "contestants" were all actors) spawned a sequel, but one that was a parody of the dating reality TV genre, not the competitive survival genre.

Considering that 11 years have passed since "Joe Millionaire," it's understandable that someone would've dusted off the parody format and tweaked it to fit the world today. Hence, "I Wanna Marry Harry," in which a bunch of American women are led to believe that they are competing for the affections of Prince Harry. To be fair, no one has actually referred to Matthew Hicks as "Prince Harry"; he just happens to look like Prince Harry, and the assistants call him "Sir."

With nothing else on last night, I thought I would give "I Wanna Marry Harry" a try. This was about halfway into the episode, and the Harry-lookalike hadn't met the contestants yet. What had happened in the first half hour?

Still, the scene had some promise. Hicks was dressed in formal clothing with a facemask, and waiting in the courtyard of a grand English mansion. It certainly looked royal.

And you know what? It was kind of dull. Maybe I was expecting too much cattiness or pomposity, or something. But some of the women were level-headed enough to doubt that it could be Prince Harry. None of them (at least, the ones that I saw) reduced themselves to the level of pathos seen in "The Bachelor."

Or maybe I've grown up a bit. After 15 minutes, I got bored and turned the TV off.

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