The television beat has its special pleasures. The gig offers opportunities to engage with every popular fantasy and mass delusion that this amazing country has to offer, to deduct the cable bill at tax time, and to get on the mailing list of Fox publicity. The chintziness of a typical Fox promo package—the Kitchen Nightmares-branded cooking timer may ring, or rather fail to ring, a bell for my colleagues—is intentional; no journalist receiving one of these "gifts" risks violating the strictest ethics policy. The kitsch instead exists as a psychic perk for a student of popular culture. What is the meaning of an extra-large Prison Break sweatshirt? It is a mascot for the tackiness of show business, a disposable objet d'art about trash. It is also totally fine for polishing silver.
Further, the swag can give you a good read on a show before you've even popped it in the DVD player. Such was the case with More To Love (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET), a dating show on which, according to the press release, "20 beautiful, full-figured, voluptuous, eligible women" vie for the hand of one "husky hunk." The release also introduced me to my "own More to Love teddy bear" and a bottle of what was called "sparkling cider."
The teddy bear has been stitched together from the sixth-finest polyester mainland China has to offer. I would be offended to win it at a ring-toss booth at a county fair. Slimy to the touch, the bear accurately foreshadowed the visual texture of More To Love. The show, in its slavish adherence to the visual clichés of prime-time dating shows, exhibits an abundance of synthetic greasiness. There are palm trees, purple drapes, red roses, red roses, a California mansion integrating some elements of the Spanish Colonial Revival style with some from the Northwest Valley porn-set post-Bauhaus thing …
The "sparkling cider" was an 8.4 ounce bottle of carbonated apple juice. The custom label made reference to "sparkling summer romance" but not to a calorie count. Despite the absence of artificial sweeteners, the drink nonetheless cloyed the palate, and the show accomplishes much the same. In this corner, weighing in at an even three bills is Luke, a 26-year-old real estate investor hoping to meet a special young lady he can really connect with. Fox introduces each prospective connectee by flashing her vital statistics on screen. Thus, my favorite, glam-punk Bonnie, gets identified as a makeup artist from Portland, Ore., 25 years old and 215 pounds.
Her competitors step from their limousines presenting figures and self-images running the gamut from awkwardly ample to happily zaftig. The sassy ones boasted of the junk their trunks harbored. Others blubbered through their intros, putting their insecurities up front for all to exploit. "I've never actually been on a real-life date," said 21-year-old Melissa. You still haven't, sugar.
Once you get past the fact of the producers' milking more than the usual volume of pathos from scenes of pre-elimination anxiety and post-dismissal distress, More To Love is much the same as its slimmer sisters. The chicks on these shows will forever be drunkenly cannonballing into swimming pools while wearing floor-length gowns, and those here simply displace more water.
For a smart take on a dumb summer dating show, join the millions tuning into Dating in the Dark (ABC, Mondays at 10 p.m. ET). This one involves a smidgen of the physical comedy of the exquisitely stupid obstacle-course show Wipeout and some of the intrigue of the eighth-grade classic "Seven Minutes in Heaven." Every week, three men and three women go groping for love, conducting their initial group date and all subsequent one-on-one rendezvous in unlit rooms, some decorated with glass-top tables. Like More To Love, this show dares to ask questions about standards of appearance as they relate to romance while also featuring the bachelor and bachelorettes sniffing one another's shirt pheromones. If it were a promotional gift, it'd be a quilted night mask with sequined details.