Endemol—the Dutch production company responsible for crucial advances in the arenas of family-friendly raunch (Fear Factor), impenitent voyeurism (Big Brother), and garish piffle (Deal or No Deal)—has discovered a delightful new barrel to scrape the bottom of. Each episode of dating show Gay, Straight or Taken? (Lifetime, Mondays at 10 and 10:30 p.m. ET) sets up an earnest woman for a three-on-one assignation. If she picks the "straight" guy, she and her choice slab of beef will enjoy their second date in some exotic locale. Thus, in the first installment, a prolifically dimpled woman named Jenner prances into the frame, aglow with the hope that she'll discover "an all-around great guy with no baggage." But she instead has walked, on her wedges, into a dating show animated by a spirit of breezy dementia worthy of Chuck Barris himself. One of the guys is unavailable, and if Jenner picks him, then he and his girlfriend will win the vacation; one of the guys, not happening to swing her way, is doubly unavailable, and if Jenner picks him, then he and his boyfriend will jet away, leaving her alone, unlucky in love, and feeling a touch humiliated, maybe, if anyone's still capable of that emotion.
"I work in real estate," Jenner says, "and I'm also working on my dating life," allowing us to admire the dreariness of that second phrase—to ponder the drudgery of the mating market and, having pondered it, feel either less lonely or more smug. The three suitors are Luciano, Mike, and Chris. The first works as a bartender, while the others say they're employed, respectively, as "a painter, by trade, and also a club promoter" and "a trainer, among other things, freelance," both of which sound less like jobs than bad alibis. Taking a cue from the producers, I will make no further effort to distinguish among the three of them. They're sleek and gelled, strong of chin and hard of ab, hot and harmless. Not only can you picture them appearing together in an ad for boxer briefs, your imagining of such a tableau is the very point.
Jenner and her smooth-chested companions cavort about the grounds of what variously looks like a midrange resort and a pretty nice office park. She evaluates their heterosexuality and availability by, say, straining to detect a standoffish quality in a massage, or wondering at the implications of one dude's seeming discomfort at being lightly molested by a male salsa instructor. Also, she rifles through their cars. Jenner regularly addresses the camera to update us on her thinking as we play along at home: "… I would have to say that Chris is the gay one, just because of the shorts and the opera, so that would make Mike the straight and available one." As pure nonsense goes, Gay, Straight or Taken? is briskly paced, invitingly shot, and painfully contemporary—a Love Connection for the conspiracy-minded.
The show shares its paranoid edge with MTV Exposed (MTV, weekdays at 6 p.m. ET), which squished onto the schedule last month. Here, one member of a very particular demographic (horrible young adults between 18 and 25) goes on a "date" with two others. The two do not realize that everything they say is being fed through a "voice stress analyzer"—that is, a lie-detecting novelty device. The one is wearing an earpiece and getting updates from a pal waiting nearby in a surveillance truck disguised, of course, as a pest-control van. Falsehoods retailed on recent episodes include "I'm about to lay some tracks down with Dr. Dre," and "Never farted in my life," while the editors also had some predictable fun with moments of candor: "Yes, once. It was me and another guy and a girl," and "I'd rather it not be hairy, but I really don't care." But, as none of the MTV teens seems to care whether they're being lied to, the show's really about microminiskirts, provocative T-shirts, the latest trends in prurience, and learning to exist in a world where, no, humiliation does not any longer exist.
Personal to contestants: Use a rubber.