More To Love, the FOX reality dating show featuring 20 plus-size women competing for the love of a plus-size bachelor, premieres tonight and critics can't decide whether it's progressive or exploitative, or even whether the contestants are pretty or pathetic.
More To Love, which premieres tonight at 9 p.m./8 Central, was created by Mike Fleiss, the producer behind many of the most popular dating reality shows including The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, The Cougar, and Who Wants To Marry A Multimillionaire. The new show doesn't deviate much from his usual formula, except that this time all the contestants are between 180 and 280 pounds and bachelor Luke Conley, a 330-pound, 26-year-old real estate investor, gives each of the women a diamond promise ring (symbolizing his vow to get to know them) at the beginning of the show that they must return when they're eliminated.
As we've already mentioned there are pros and cons to More To Love. Some critics say it's the most authentic of the Bachelor-type shows because the contestants are actually there to find love (the reasoning being, heavier women obviously can't find love under normal circumstances, and they're too unattractive to be trying to launch a reality TV career). This, of course, leads to tears, which makes the women more relatable to some reviewers, while others find them too pathetic to watch. One critic even complains that many of the women seem ashamed and don't love their bodies, which isn't so shocking considering that people they've never met are writing headlines today with puns about their weight and considering whether they are too fat for love. Below, we check out (but certainly don't weigh) what the critics are saying about More To Love:
That the series has been made at all testifies to the fact that most dating shows — most TV shows — feature people who fit the latest definition of hotness. We may praise the inner person, but we are nevertheless continually encouraged (and perhaps wired) to worship the conventionally attractive surface. Not that these people aren't pretty. They may be larger than most, but they are young and shiny and dressed to the nines. (And there is nothing homogeneous about them; they come in a variety of shapes and styles.) Conley, who also wears his bulk well, seems like a nice guy, but he is also a bit of a kid in a candy store, finagling kisses right and left. And though he claims to have "no type," it probably isn't fair to say that looks won't matter at all to him. That is just how humans are.
Obviously, the ingredients are here for another of TV's nasty ridicule shows, and those of a mind to hoot and holler at the contestants will do so no matter how much alleged dignity the producers pump into the proceedings. But there's also plenty of grist here for those who are genuinely sensitive to the plentiful problems of the porker, whether one is intimately acquainted with the syndrome or just observes it from relatively afar.
...Perhaps partly because the producers are determined not to let More to Love turn into a jeer fest, the show almost chokes on its own sensitivity and refinement. One woman does take an impromptu leap into a swimming pool, and a few others come across as engagingly playful and bouncy. But for the most part, a tasteful torpor prevails.
For his part, Conley parcels out cliches at such a rate you begin to suspect he's watched nothing but reality shows for 10 years or so. "I'm just an average guy . . . ready to meet the girl of my dreams," he says sportingly, at least twice. At the farewell ceremony — five women have to depart at the end of the premiere — Conley tells the competitors: "You all look beautiful tonight. . . . I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart." He's so sappily bland and eager to appeal that he could make a pretty good game-show host himself. When he declares that he's "the luckiest man alive" because he's been "given the opportunity of a lifetime," you don't have to be a cynic or party pooper to feel like shouting, "Will you please shut up, you big, fat ham?!?"
As the direct-to-camera confessionals begin, though, the waterworks freely open, with the women shedding plenty of tears as they discuss their dating histories and, in some instances, despair at the prospect of ever meeting anyone. One girl talks about how she's "never had a second date." Another wonders why guys "love the skinny bitches" — you know, the ones that populate every other dating show. Because the women appear more vulnerable, the program feels more emotional, even if there isn't a single original note otherwise, from the mansion setting to the protracted elimination ceremony. Frankly, the only conspicuous difference is that they squeezed fewer would-be Mrs. Conleys into each limo. Nevertheless, these women aren't looking for steady gigs on MTV, and they cry at the drop of a hat. That somehow makes them more real, however contrived the situation might be.
All of this could have gone tacky in the wrong hands, and to Fleiss and his experienced gang's credit, it doesn't. Instead, More is half-reality-hookup show, half-Oprahesque tearfest. Only a true sociopath wouldn't empathize with women who say that they've never been in love, never had a second date and have all but given up expecting anything from men. This is a show with at least 25% more tears, 50% more hugging and 100% more long, flowing hair than any other, and it's moving.
The 20 women competing for a chance to marry him include a nanny, a motivational speaker and a rocket scientist. All are overweight, but none are Ruby-esque. Many are gorgeous. Many view Luke as their last chance at romance. Sure, a few offer signs of bravado. Kristian gestures to her posterior. "My junk in my trunk - I've got a lot of it and I love it." More typical is Christina, who wipes tears in her on-camera introduction, saying, "I need to see love is possible." It's a painful confession that is repeated all too often throughout the premiere. Despite their personalities, their education and accomplishments, many of these women have never been on a date. They're so desperate they've signed up for a franchise famous for putting women in a harem and then evicting them on commercial television.
Honestly, the only controversy here is the controversy of ripping oneself off. Why haven't the legal beagles from Disney issued a cease-and-desist order? This show isn't like The Bachelor. This show is The Bachelor. (Its producer is Mike Fleiss, who also does The Bachelor/Bachelorette.) But here's the kicker: It's better than The Bachelor. There's an added dimension of reality and of simple, relatable human emotion. In a way, this is The Bachelor for the rest of us. The downside is that the rejection element on The Bachelor is ho-hum. Those babes will get instant dates when they leave the cellophane-wrapped mansion. On More to Love, it's a little cruel. These babes might not.
To give everybody involved the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the new dating reality show More to Love was designed in part to help humanize plus-size women. Mission unaccomplished... [Conley] says he likes large women, with curves, meat on their bones and all that. The problem comes when we meet the women and discover that many of them do not. Contestant after contestant confesses, in the introductory moment, that they don't like being big. They not only don't like being big, they hate that they have tried to be thin and failed. Gradually, it becomes unavoidable to conclude that for many of the participants here, signing up for this show and this kind of national exposure was motivated by a not-very-thinly-disguised sense of desperation... But their collective unhappiness and frustration remains a bad thing for the viewer because there's no pleasure in watching any show where the leading emotion is sadness.
But just when you're expecting a dignified show about big women who aren't ashamed of it, the show whiplashes you into something totally different. One at a time the women confess, most tearfully, that their size has hampered, if not totally derailed their lovelives. Some say they have never been on a date, or in a relationship, most say they are passed over for their svelte girlfriends. Even more than while watching The Bachelor, the stench of desperation wafts right through the screen. These women are utterly convinced that a reality show is their last, best hope for finding a relationship. Obviously it's not that serious. Big folks get married all the time, and the slender women on The Bachelorcan be just as despondent. But here, being overweight is shown as the ultimate hurdle to romance.
Still, depending on your perspective on the matter, More to Love represents progress. Unlike The Biggest Loser, Dance Your Ass Off and Ruby, More to Love is a show about overweight people that doesn't relentlessly focus on their efforts to lose the weight. On the one hand, it's nice to see television shows that don't use fat people as the butt of jokes, or offer to put them on television so long as they're efforting to "normalize" themselves through extreme diet and exercise. But at the same time, television is becoming representative of the larger, totally confusing debate about body weight... Depending on which of these shows you watch, obesity is either the public health issue of our lifetime, or a totally valid lifestyle choice.
Fox's new reality show More to Love might as well be called The Fatchelor: It's an excruciatingly typical dating competition with the single twist that both the catch of the day and the women competing for his attention are all larger than average. With weight as the show's central focus, the editing plays to as many fat stereotypes as possible: In the first episode, which airs Tuesday night, we get women weeping about their dateless pasts, one unironic use of the phrase "big-boned," a debate on the merits of Spanx and, of course, umpteen conversations about food — one of which includes the fatchelor flirtatiously declaring, "I like anything thick and juicy." (And cheesy, apparently.) The show's marketing and promotion campaigns claim a message of empowerment, but for the larger romantics among us, More to Love does little to dispel the myth that fat people's lives are built around dessert and desperation.
Earlier: More To Love: The Pros & Cons