'Hitched' takes the cake for nasty reality TV
Why is it that summer reality shows are so mean? If we're not watching people belly flop into pools of muddy water, we're watching them bicker ceaselessly with their spouses. Or, in the case of the CW's new entry, "Hitched or Ditched," couples being goaded into breaking up.
This show, which premieres tonight at 9, gives longstanding couples the age-old ultimatum: Do your business, as they say, or get off the pot. Each week, it finds a pair of lovebirds who have yet to tie the knot and offers to make them a dream wedding in a week. There's a catch, of course. At the ceremony, in front of friends and family and strangers with cameras, each will have to make a final declaration: I do or I don't.
The prospect of a wedding in peril has sustained soap operas and nighttime dramas forever; that whole "speak now or forever hold your piece" thing seems designed more for screenwriters than people in real life. But to encourage real brides and grooms to leave their partners at the altar seems especially nasty. If the outcome is bad (and, without giving anything away, I will say this series isn't committed to happy endings), one party walks away crushed and exposed on national TV. It's the sort of voyeurism that makes you feel dirty.
Especially when it comes as part of a commercial for the over-the-top wedding industry. In the week before the big day, we get a mix of wedding porn - the brides-to-be get to try on dresses and pick out free engagement rings - and daytime-talk-show bickering, as our couples make the rounds of family and friends, seeking approval that often doesn't come.
The all-expenses-paid wedding package, significantly, does not include a relationship counselor. It's left to the flailing couples and their not-so-objective relatives to decide whether their doubts - and what engaged couple doesn't have doubts? - are significant enough to merit calling it off. We're asked to act as backseat pop psychologists, though with limited information. Sometimes, a couple's troubles seem deep-seated: CeLisa and Travis fight all the time, and nobody around them thinks it's healthy. Sometimes, a single relative poses the challenge. Torrino's mother complains that his girlfriend, El Lana, doesn't know how to cook, but her real concern is that Torrino is black and El Lana is white.
That particular episode, due to air on June 30, highlights the problem of reducing a real relationship to an hour of cheap TV. These two are staring down the barrel at an important social issue, and we're spending time discussing the merits of a diamond-studded wedding cake. It would be one thing if the couple were self-mocking or grotesque, like the people who parade in front of us on VH1 shows. But they seem earnest, well-meaning, and blindsided by the camera crews. Ultimately, that's the problem with "Hitched or Ditched": The show isn't pulpy enough to be mockable or deep enough to be meaningful.
All it does is attempt to drum up suspense before the final moment, showing earnest workers preparing floral arrangements, panning across the wedding guests to settle on those relatives who want things to fall apart. What we should wish for, as viewers, is an open question that probably depends on what we expect from relationships, love, and TV. And that's yet another problem with a drive-by reality show: We don't know these people well enough to care.