Last night Fox premiered summer reality show I Wanna Marry Harry, in which twelve American women are flown to a castle in the UK to vie for the attention of a Prince Harry lookalike. The show could also be called OMG, Cringe.
The ladies — who average around 23 years old — are not complete dumdums. They're just open-minded, and interested in meeting a (mysterious) single man. The producers take truly elaborate measures to trick them into thinking that they're going to be dating Prince Harry. There's a castle, fancy cars, servants, a majordomo, and when they first get a glimpse of Matt, the fake prince, it's from a distance, after he's disembarked from a helicopter.
It should be noted that Matt does not explain why he is pretending to be Prince Harry. At no point does someone explain that he will get a hundred thousand dollars if he successfully tricks the women, or anything. But he is taught proper table manners, fencing, polo and a bunch of details about Harry, so that he may properly impersonate the royal. You can't help but wonder why? What's the motivation? (He claims he could meet "the one," but how can an audience expect to take that seriously?)
The first evening consists of a boozy masked ball: Matt is disguised; the women get tipsy. He does not lie to them when they pepper him with questions, asking his name, profession, background; he just deflects: "You can call me whatever you want" or "We'll have to save that for another time." After a while, the women ceremoniously remove their masks, so does he. In the cosmo-soaked darkness, many are convinced he's actually Prince Harry. Using masks, nighttime and vodka to blur reality: Genius move on the part of the producers? Or really unfair business practice? Either way, Ryan Seacrest makes money!
Even though the contestants are sometimes loud, often ditzy, and mostly clueless, it's an awful feeling to watch them being pranked. Yes, they put themselves in this position, but seeing their eager optimism as fodder for mockery is a bummer. Of course, reality TV has roots in pointing and laughing at enthusiastic women, from Joe Millionaire to The Bachelor and the "real" "housewives." And this isn't the most manipulative, disturbing "trick" ending reality show I've ever seen: That distinction belongs to There's Something About Miriam, the British program in which six men dated the star, who revealed she was a pre-op trans woman as the finale's "ta-da." As with that show, I Wanna Marry Harry relies on the idea that eventually, those participating will be emotionally crushed. (Although, as Alyssa Rosenberg writes for The Washington Post, the oddest part of the show is the tacit agreement that Prince Harry would actually be a catch.)
Anyway, in a preview of future episodes, everyone is in tears, including poor old broke not-royal Matt. I am somehow looking forward to it in spite of being disgusted with myself, everyone involved, and America as a whole.
In closing, here are my ideas for I Wanna Marry Harry spinoff shows:
I Wanna Fiddle With Tom Hiddle
I Wanna Share a Chicken Tender With Michael Fassbender
I Wanna Watch a Law Drama With Barack Obama
And I thank Evie Stone, who suggests I Wanna Play Catch With Benedict Cumberbatch.
A rejected idea: I Wanna Bone Joey Fatone.