Ready for Love: TV Review
Executive producer Eva Longoria offers NBC's answer to ABC's "The Bachelor" in a glossy spectacle that truly focuses on dating as competition.
ABC's dating show juggernaut The Bachelor has dominated its genre for a long time, but now NBC is attempting to launch a rival network franchise with Ready for Love, a new Eva Longoria-produced dating series. NBC's show shares some aspects with that "other" show (which it references with appropriate catty disdain in the opening moments), but makes this endeavor wholly its own, for better or worse.
Ready for Love triples down on the original dating concept by having three eligible bachelors instead of one, along with three matchmakers to help guide them, and their ladies, through the process of potentially finding love. But on this show, things don't have to end in marriage; the couples can simply decide to start moving forward in their lives together (though I think we can all predict at least one ring will be in the cards).
Ready for Love has layers and layers of process (contestants are confusingly wheeled to and fro, from the studio to a group house and back again, then on to an elimination stage called The Garden), but the matchmakers (Amber Kelleher-Andrews, best-selling relationship author Tracy McMillan and professional dating coach Matt Hussey) do help guide these poor contestants who are isolated away from the advice of their family and friends. Each matchmaker also brings their own style to the table when it comes to choosing the women for each man, as well as in their coaching of both.
The men in this go-round include Dallas businessman Ben Patton, Plain White T's singer Tim Lopez, and philanthropist Ernesto Arguello. In the first episode we only meet Tim, who narrows down a field of twelve women (in groups of four, presented by each matchmaker) down to nine via a blind selection. That selection then kicks off a mind-boggling number of segments: the show hops all over the place, from the initial eliminations to a group date (where Tim's band performs for maximum cheesiness) to three individual dates (chosen by the matchmakers) to coaching conversations with the matchmakers. Half of the time is spent in front of a live studio audience, which compounds the natural awkwardness of the proceedings (let's just say, if looks could kill ...). Further, this play by play analysis of each moment makes dating feel more like a competition than ever before, with women being groomed and praised and chastised in terms of their budding connections with the bachelors.
The show drives home the point early on that people, left to their own devices, don't know how to date. Leave it up to matchmakers and yentas, apparently, because, as Amber says, "I wouldn't go looking for the CEO of my company at a bar!" But the whole things ends up feeling a lot like a Jane Austen novel: women are falling over themselves, desperate to do whatever necessary to lock down a man when the odds are stacked against them (and the focus is, of course, wholly on the man).
Bill and Giuliana Rancic, described as "America's favorite married couple" (really?), are kind of catty town gossips in addition to being the show's hosts. While The Bachelor's host Chris Harrison often keeps a poker face regarding the ladies, the Rancics, at least in the first episode, seem to not shy away from making their preferences known. They even instigate a little bit in studio segments, playing up to the crowd by goading one of the women to reveal details of a past intimacy. These moments are non-starters for the show, taking us out of the narrative element. They are in sharp contrast stylistically to the lush segments filmed outside of the studio, although too much glossy post-production work can make that also feel hollow. But these are early days.
Ready for Love seems to want to establish itself as something different so much that, in its exuberance, it's thrown in everything but the kitchen sink during its frantic premiere. None of these kinds of series are ever going to feel natural, because competing in a harem for a man you just met in front of cameras isn't normal. But Ready for Love does change things up enough to certainly keep things interesting, even though all of the old keywords, "fairy tale, best friend, soul mates, fate" are in play. With only Tim's story having been explored, it remains to be seen if Ben and Ernesto's moments just feel like seeing the same thing three times over. So far though, while Ready for Love seems worth flirting with for now, a chance at true love is rare indeed.