WASHINGTON, May 27, 2014 – The Fox TV network continues to pour out the new stuff to populate its summer schedule and, hopefully, snatch up extra summer viewers in the process. One of its latest efforts, the comedy game show RIOT, premiered last week with executive producer Steve Carell taking the top guest spot. This week’s new entry, premiering tonight, is Fox’s rather strange iteration of “The Bachelor,” which the network entitles “I Wanna Marry Harry.”
Harry, of course, is none other than the UK’s almost-heir to the throne, Prince Harry. Except not really. He’s played, in secret, by a lovable look-alike named Matthew. Prior to the series, Matt has taken a crash course in the princely arts, part of which we get to see in tonight’s episode.
Having commandeered an impressive looking English castle as Faux Harry’s digs, the producers have convinced a dozen American bachelorettes to travel to Merrie Olde Englande all-expenses paid to play the old “Bachelor” style dating game with England’s “most eligible bachelor.” But in truth, it’s only Matthew, who, according to the show, is really just your average bloke looking for love.
In the course of tonight’s show, the plot predictably sickens as those crazy American bachelorettes arrive, ready for fun and ready to compete for the hand of this seemingly genuine Prince Charming.
The young ladies are a typical, crassly American lot. They’re all beautiful to a fault. (What prince in his right mind would want to choose an actual frog princess unless she were an attractive French mademoiselle?) But most, in the end, are the usual golddiggers we’ve come to expect in these highly staged dating dramas.
So whether they aspire to be the first female Dr. Kildare or the first young woman in history to drink “Prince Harry” under the table, most of the contestants in this first episode ultimately prove to be catty, competitive, and loaded with the kind of false self-esteem American schools apparently are teaching young people nowadays.
This, of course, is the heart of the passionately contrived drama that propels such series upwards in the Nielsens. Until it doesn’t.
Bottom line: in this first episode, Matthew alone comes across as a sincerely nice guy while a dozen gorgeous young American women are vulgar and obnoxious enough to put the original Ugly American to shame.
This first episode is nicely edited and filmed—at least in the preliminary version we were able to view in advance. But the opening episode and the premise of the show itself made this reviewer decidedly uneasy.
In the first place, our mixed entourage of perfect 10 young American women, whether evil, ditzy, normal, nice, or some combination of all of them, are going to end up as the collective victims of a cruel hoax. The only suspense here—plugged mercilessly in the opening episode—is whether any of the designated victims will be canny enough to realize at some point that Matthew is an imposter and that all of them have been had.
In other words, once again, as in so many “reality” shows, the viewer gets to feel smug and superior as he or she watches twelve real or imagined numskulls get serially humiliated on national TV. “O tempora, O mores,” as Cicero once lamented. Is this what America has come to.
The whole charade seems particularly cruel, given the high level of social pretense all the players, including Matthew, must maintain. In history, a significant subset of British royalty has behaved about as badly as anyone in this life can when it comes to sexual mores.
But that said, at least they attempted to do it with surface class. This new series, however, plumbs the depths of America’s flyover-zone style depravity to the hilt, making fun of this varied crew of bachelorettes who are in the process of being had. It makes even the real Randy Andy come across like a saint, in retrospect.
However, at least Matthew gives us some hope. In this first episode, at least, he seems genuinely interested in finding a connection with at least one of the young American women, hoping against hope that once he makes his choice—and reveals the show’s ruse—his Chosen One will fall in love with him anyway. And that’s the one unique twist this clone of “The Bachelor” actually offers. Our “royal” bachelor is 100% as uncertain as the bachelorettes as to whether there will really be a happy ending to this show.
If the voyeur within you is strong, by all means tune in to tonight’s initial episode of “Marry Harry” at 9 p.m. EDT. But if you’re tiring of watching the latest fresh batch of “reality show” victims going down to humiliation and defeat, maybe it’s best to move to Netflix tonight, assuming you can get anything to download in real time.
As a lead-in to “Marry Harry,” Fox offers the second episode of its weird faux game show, RIOT. Hosted by hyperactive Australian comedian Rove McManus (never heard of ‘im), what this show actually offers is a bizarre flavor of improve comedy, placing its regular and guest cast members in a physically bizarre, slanted room scenario and letting them create a story line on the fly, all the while suffering slips, pratfalls, and other assorted indignities.
Last week’s first episode, which featured the show’s producer Steve Carell as part of the opening night ensemble, was actually pretty funny. The remaining episodes will likely vary in hilarity, depending on whomever this week’s guest star happens to be.
RIOT’s newest episode airs tonight on Fox channels in your area beginning at 8 p.m. EDT.
Both shows as well as other summer stock seems to be part of Fox’s 2014 “Stay-cation” theme, with the network hoping you’ll forego more exotic and expensive locales and choose to take this summer’s vacation at home, spending each evening downing a few brews and watching the network’s latest concoctions since you’re already paying for your cable package anyway.
In the end, the choice is yours. As far as tonight’s prime time viewing on Fox is concerned, travel at your own risk. We rate RIOT as largely good-natured, easy-to-laugh-at 21st century Plautine comedy. But we’re less sure of “I Wanna Marry Harry.” There’s just something undignified about the whole premise.
That said, at least for now, we’re still living in a free country, so channel surf tonight at will. And Happy Viewing!