Minds on a new romance
September 11, 2001
BY PHIL ROSENTHAL TELEVISION CRITIC
When the opening hour of "Love Cruise: The Maiden Voyage" degenerates into a raging debate over the relative merits of one contestant's breast implants, you realize you are watching what might be, short of something along the lines of Christians vs. Lions, the state-of-the-art Fox reality show.
Catty female rivals become united in their ridicule of this woman. The men on board claim to barely notice, even their eyes pop out of their head and tongues droop like Looney Toons characters. The preternaturally pneumatic woman, trying to show she has a soft side, tells them she was tired of looking like a child and that she didn't get attention as a child. And, even as she tries to say she is more than the sum of her store-bought body parts, the camera lingers shamelessly, suggesting otherwise.
We're supposed to be held spellbound by whether this brassy woman will end up on top, find true love and leave the boat with a share of the $200,000 for her trouble?
Instead, we can't help thinking she and the other 15 singles aboard the Caribbean ship Mandalay are cruising for a bruising as "Love Cruise" quickly becomes a mean-spirited adventure in voyeurism that begs us to leer, loathe and laugh.
Eight of the 16 lab rats clinging to this stinking ship come from Chicago (including Toni the Busty Physical Trainer), which, if the opening **1/2 hour is any indication, does not look to be a source of great local pride. These are fragile, vulnerable people allowing their cracks and desperation to be exposed, their open wounds doused with salty seawater, for our amusement.
You can't really blame Fox for going back to the "Temptation Island" formula of stringing viewers along with the promise of sex and the hope that the barely clad hunks and babes will do something on camera they will regret.
The network tried to cut a different swath through the "reality" genre this summer with "Murder in Small Town X" only to find no one cared about the people on the show, their fake murder mystery or the convoluted rules to solve the crime and pick a big-money winner. In the end of "Murder," you couldn't care about the mystery, the money or the mopes ferreting out clues.
We are able and encouraged to quickly pass judgement on the "Love Cruise" crew, which will help it draw a crowd. Some critics have said they aren't likable, but that isn't it. They're just kind of sad. Rather than dislike them, you simply feel bad for them--assuming you're not howling because they were dumb enough to sign up for this exercise in humiliation.
"I'm sorry you had that reaction because we think they're quite likable and people that you do root for," said executive producer Mary-Ellis Bunim, who, with fellow "Real World" co-creator Jonathan Murray, is responsible for this tropical cancer. "Some of them become a little diabolical as it goes on, but they're still fascinating."
"You shift your opinions on them as they go through this journey," Murray said.
"Every great drama has a great villain," Bunim said.
The greatest villain in this drama might well be the unseen hand of Fox and Bunim-Murray Productions, which took "The Jerry Springer Show" and "Jenny Jones" and set them adrift off the coast of Grenada last winter.
On each show (after two days on the ship), the men pick a woman and the women pick a man to be cast off and sent to what is quickly dubbed "Loser Island," though it's actually Aruba.
"I'll let the audience decide whether these people are interesting," Murray said. "I think they are. I think they're fascinating. I think they're fun to be with. They have a sense of humor, which we bring out on this show."
Listening to Anthony the tattooed Los Angeles screenwriter spouting sophomoric poetry ("like he's Aristotle or something," as noted by Michael the Chicago lawyer who can't stop talking about how he used to be overweight) is fairly funny. So is Lisa the Dallas consultant, who claims to be "much more intellectual" than her competitors even though, by her very participation, she is not helping her case any.
Listening to Lisa whine about getting stuck with Michael in the series' first on-ship couples pair-off is not a pretty thing. For someone so intellectual and sensitive, she shows so little empathy she might as well be in the audience, or the editing room.
"The ugly duckling guy," co-executive producer Bruce Toms said, "is a very successful attorney. Smart guy. Very funny, and he didn't make a big-splash first impression, but he did OK."
At least no one has made fun of his chest. Not yet, anyway.
As a native Chicagoan myself, I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of ALL of our losers, er, cruisers. We've never had a castaway nor a single houseguest, but we OWN the Cruise!! Go on y'all. REPRESENT!!
Tangent: The building where I work (the Aon Center - 81 floors of very inviting target) was evacuated this morning in light of today's unbelievable events. I came home and have been watching CNN all day and I gotta say that REAL reality TV is more scary, more shocking, more disturbing than anything MB or MBP have ever put together...Be safe fellow DAWs.