'Love Prison': TV Review
A&E's new social experiment series throws together two online daters who have never met
A&E's dating show Love Prison is a reality throwback. It traps a couple who have never met before on a deserted island with only an awkward bunk bed and a lot of alcohol to keep them company, but that's all been done on The Bachelor (or its spinoffs). The show's main draw is that the participants are filmed by 40 robotic cameras. No crews, no producers on-site. It makes Love Prison feel like the early days of Big Brother, or even The Real World, where people just lounged around all day, and viewers felt that was enough.
Love Prison goes a long way in showing why that's no longer the case, as two strangers (who have been online dating, but have never met) come together for one week without any technology or access to the outside world, to see if their relationship can make it. The online-versus-reality aspect plays off of the popularity of series like Catfish, which also investigates the people behind the online personas. But Love Prison isn't necessarily interested in uncovering the truth behind people's online photos, but rather, whether the online identities and personalities will match up in person as well as they do electronically.
The participants in each hourlong episode of Love Prison narrate their own story from taped segments in the (long-standard) "confessional" room. It is the only part of Love Prison where anything productive happens, as the prisoners suddenly get specific and animated about their hopes and grievances. (A large computer screen in the room suggests that the producers have found a way to help prompt some of those informative diatribes, without breaking the off-site rule — no complaints here). Elsewhere, the show's first two participants, Billy and Jeanne — both of whom are parents, and around 40 — are awkward, quiet, stilted, and prone to doing nothing at all, which backs up the claim that most of the time, there isn't anyone there telling them what to do. The problem is, it's pretty boring.
Things in the Love Prison get spiced up here and there thanks to a TV that occasionally turns itself on, and brings bad news. Clips from interviews with Billy and Jeanne from before they went on the show betray secrets or opinions that they had not yet shared (like about Billy dating other women), causing confrontations. But other than that, there's no sense of what the two are doing or talking about during the day. "There's absolutely nothing to do," confirms Jeanne, who seems to sleep a lot. "I'm putting my hair in pigtails, because I'm going stir-crazy!" the wild-eyed Billy laments, then fixes himself another drink.
Love Prison is prevented from being an island vacation because of the rule that couples can only spend one hour outside each day. Without anything else in the house besides food and drinks, it makes for a long and difficult week; it's even more difficult, though, to find a reason to watch it. Billy and Jeanne's story seems to end on a definite note, but an epilogue suggests ambiguity. Was there a point, then, to enduring this tedium? While there is something almost refreshing about the show's rustic approach, there's also a lesson here: When it comes to reality TV, bring back the meddling producers, please. Consider this time served.