It's not that there's anything exactly wrong with Average Joe, Adam Returns, NBC's latest iteration of the wildly popular Monday night reality show. The original versions of the show had a glamorous woman theoretically picking out her one true love from an assemblage of pudgy, pockmarked suitors. It so happens that in both shows these women happened to choose a handsome ringer trucked in at the eleventh hour. This latest version brings back one of the failed suitors from the first show to select from a group of females, the theory being: If women can't commit to an average guy, the network will do it for them.
Maybe it's just that as a self-confessed obsessive fan of the original shows, I pinned too much hope on the sequel. Adam Mesh, the average bachelor in this version, is so much more real than the bachelorettes in the first two go-rounds. He's every single, funny uncle at every bar mitzvah you ever went to. He's witty and genuinely principled. He should have been able to carry the series, which ends this week, merely on the strength of his goofy asides and his unmanly awareness that there are such things as good and bad first kisses and that sweet lippy soft ones are better. But the real problem with Adam Returns isn't Adam. It's the females, who are not average in the way that word meant "unattractive bald men" in the original. They are average, in that they are bland, boring, and wholly ordinary.
There is, for one thing, an odd National Geographic vibe to the new show, mostly in the resemblance between the cooped-up female contestants and their cousins, the orangutans; both devote relentless hours to fighting and grooming each other. I consider myself a fairly typical woman, but I haven't sat around with groups of females, picking at each other's hair the way these women do, since summer camp. It's incredibly disconcerting: Is all this homoerotic self-grooming a function of the fact that confining single women in a seraglio isn't so much amusing as distressing; or does it represent some complex Darwinian battle for psychological dominance? The latter theory would explain, perhaps, the huge blowup last week when one contestant accused another of having "Frito Nails" (i.e., long, curling, squared-off corn-chip-style trashy-gal nails). Why is it that only the women on reality shows compulsively announce, "I am not here to make friends"?
Because the show has been telescoped into so few episodes, as compared to the monthslong originals, there is no way to feel any connection or kinship with any of these girls. Adam hasn't even spent private time with some of the women he eliminates, so he is perennially saying goodbye to contestants you may only have glimpsed once as she had her hair teased by the others. You end up spending the first 20 minutes of each episode trying hopelessly to find a way to differentiate them all. (Pretty Blondes versus Pretty Brunettes? Mary Annes versus Gingers?) Unlike the Average Joes in the first two series— who rapidly self-sorted into "Fat Guys" versus "Skinny Guys," or "Lunatic Beer Drinkers" versus "Panicked Intellectuals" (and these Venn diagrams overlapped nearly perfectly)—these girls conform to no clear types. Partly this is because the producers of Adam Returns weren't quite brave enough to install "Plain Janes" in their show; instead, they just picked very pretty, skinny girls for Adam to choose from. Not swimsuit models perhaps: Most of these women have real jobs and—as you might intuit from the constant grooming—bad hair mornings. But each of these women is a very solid 8, at the least, which makes this show the functional equivalent of selecting from one of the drunken bridesmaids at your average Mount Holyoke alumni wedding.
One notable exception to the above observation is the presence of the stunningly neurotic Jennifer Lifshitz, a rabbi's daughter from Buffalo Grove, Ill. Jennifer spent a good deal of her airtime on Adam Returns either joking about the fact that she was not classically attractive or locking herself into bathrooms to weep about it, with neither strategy paying off in the end, as she was eliminated last week without ever having had a private date with Adam. Unsurprisingly, Jennifer responded to her eviction with weeping, which borders on an Olympic event by the time the credits are rolling.
Because the series practically ends before it begins and because virtually every private date involves Adam being "sensitive" (compliment outfit, discuss importance of family, proffer sample of a good first kiss, rinse in hot tub, repeat), the show is indescribably dull. Perhaps things will heat up in next week's two-hour finale—which promises in previews to showcase a "Hellish Dinner at the Old Portnoy Place"—complete with Adam's mom weeping that she is "losing a son." Maybe the big surprise twist will feature Adam's sister French-braiding Mrs. Mesh's hair.
If this is reality, bring back the fat guys with the beer cans.