Online Dating Rituals of the American Male: TV Review
Sunday at 10 p.m. on Bravo, beginning March 9
Bravo's new faux-anthropologic docuseries that goes behind-the-scenes of online dating could be promising, if it dared to dig deeper.
For those with any trepidation about online dating, and who might be looking to Bravo's new docuseries Online Dating Rituals of the American Male for guidance, the series has good and bad news. On the plus side, there are men out there like 37-year-old Marcus: a tall, handsome and sincere fellow, looking for true love. On the other, there's 27-year-old Alex, best described by one of the women he goes out on a date with in the inaugural episode as "a wanker."
Each week, the series features two men who supposedly represent various online dating styles, such as "the romantic" or "the hook-up hunter." In the lead-up to the series, Bravo has even launched a faux-anthropologic video series to define each of these kinds of daters, who on the show will run the gamut of age, race and sexual orientation.
When it comes to the first episode's two main men though, it appears that the pool of people willing to be on reality TV has reached a finite point, because these "regular guys" have been featured on reality series before. Alex appeared several years ago on ABC's Big Brother knock-off The Glass House. On it, he asked viewers if they wanted him to become "the most evil villain in the history of reality TV." He didn't need prompting. Constantly referring to himself on that show as "Primetime Alex Stein 99," the wannabe stud he fronts on Online Dating Rituals is the most toxic kind of bachelor. He's lewd, shallow, and sexually aggressive, and is also clearly playing to the cameras because he knows the game.
Marcus (formerly a trainer on the NBC lifestyle series Starting Over) is, however, everything ABC's long-running series The Bachelor should want in a star (and they would be foolish to pass him up if he's still single). Though married before, he claims to believe fervently in finding true love, and actually interacts with online dating in a fairly sensible way. He has a list of reasonable red flags, and labors over the depth of his messages to potential dates. When he meets the women, he's respectful, and he gives everyone a genuine chance, even if they don't exactly match their profile.
Over the course of the first hour, both men go on a number of dates, some of which are funny and interesting, with women who are mostly (at least for Marcus) off-beat, which feels forced. But as Alex sneers at the girls he meets, and rejects them for not wanting to sleep with him on the first night -- even grabbing at them and generally acting like a predator -- the series (which aims to be lighthearted) takes on an uncomfortable pall. "This girl is obviously an alcoholic. I like that. She probably has self-esteem issues." Alex has issues, at least.
Like the differences set up between Alex and Marcus themselves, there are two ways to look at Online Dating Rituals of the American Male. The premiere can rightly be read as a sexist and misogynistic look at the "meat market" of dating ("She's 31? Oh …"), where the women are just props who either stroke the man's ego or who are dismissed as weirdos or prudes. The "revelations" are not particularly groundbreaking: Men are looking at and attracted to breasts and butts. Is this news? Further, though the show doesn't initially seem to reward or condemn anyone's behavior, things wrap up quickly and neatly in the first episode, with a chance at happiness for both men. Has Alex done even one thing to deserve this good fortune? If this is a show that is supposed to illuminate the meaning of behavior, where's the lesson in consequence?
The other possibility is that Online Dating Rituals could be something very interesting and very different if it dared to take a more serious and in-depth approach to the subject matter. Though it's ultimately grounded by its willingness to play up shenanigans like Alex's glib disrespectfulness, it also reveals some deeply broken things about Alex that it doesn't explore, but would be much more interesting if it did. A few worthwhile moments are revealed in Marcus' story, too, but Online Dating Rituals seems more interested in showcasing the "weird women" than digging deeper with the men. The series has to make a choice moving forward. Is it browsing for a hookup, or for a deeper connection? If it's the former, as it seems to be, then … check please!