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Secret Princes: TV Review

Secret Princes - H 2012

The Bottom Line

TLC's reality dating show is not revolutionary in premise, but it manages to be refreshingly quirky.

Airdate

10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21 (TLC)

Producer

Marc Beroza

Four royal bachelors head to Atlanta incognito as they search for love on the TLC show.

Dating shows are a dime a dozen, but TLC's venture into the genre, Secret Princes, feels different because it nearly comes across as -- dare I say -- natural. Lacking the extreme high gloss and plastic nature (so far) of ABC's The Bachelor and sister show The Bachelorette (though not its basement-dwelling monster child Bachelor Pad, which doesn't even pretend to have class but is the most fun), Secret Princes endeavors to have their four royals-in-disguise meet and mingle with "regular" girls in Atlanta with the hope of finding the right one for each of them to bring home as their princess or lady of the manor.

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The premise of the series is boilerplate: Four wealthy, foreign men have come to America to live in a house together and date American women, all while pretending that the shabby house and low-paying jobs are who they really are. The men say that they want to be judged on their personalities ("You should want to be judged on just your personality … unless you're an asshole," Lord Robert Walters muses) and not their money and power, so have to leave the classist home countries in order to find, they believe, true love. 

First introduced is Lord Robert Walters, or Rob (American alias: "Tate Morgan," "Morgan after Dexter Morgan, the serial killer") from London, a 29-year-old with four homes around the world. Rob is easily the best-looking, most charming and snarkiest of the men, and as such is the most well-groomed (perhaps literally) for the camera, easily outshining his castmates to start the series. He is joined by a fellow Englishman, the Honorable Ludovic Watson (American alias "Waldo"), a sweet boy from an estate in Yorkshire who at 23 is mostly overwhelmed by his housemates yet seems perhaps the most genuine of all of them in actually wanting to find a girl to settle down with.

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Also in the group is Prince Salauddin Babi of India, who might not be the most handsome of the bunch but has a certain charm despite his snobby dismissal of so many things. "Sal," as he prefers to be called, is used to a palace with 50 servants and makes quick claims to his own bathroom upstairs, denouncing the idea of sharing a bathroom as unthinkable. While some might see this as pretension, others in the men's relative age group (late 20s to early 30s) might well agree. A freshman dorm this is not, and wealthy backgrounds aside, they are also at an age where even nonprincely Americans aspire to a certain degree of personal space.

Rounding out the quartet is Prince Francisco de Borbon from Madrid, and though he "has houses all over the world filled with servants," he looks and sounds (he has an American accent from school) like just about any scruffily attractive 33-year-old one might meet out on the town. "Cisco" (his nickname and American alias) ends the first episode of the series having gone on a workout date with a fearsome boot camp instructor named Madeline who he met while speed-dating (one of the men's first forays into meeting Atlanta women). Cisco is not shy and has no problem discussing in detail to Madeline and the cameras his physical attraction to her. Strip away the royal sashes and, it seems, lads are just lads.

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The men are housed in the Midtown region, possibly because it's one of the only quasi-walkable places in the city. Atlantans (of whom I am one) should be proud to see the city displayed, for once, in a positive light, and locals also should enjoy the unintentional inside jokes about where the men are sent to meet women and sort out their wardrobes. The four lords and princes waste no opportunity in meeting those women wherever they go (explaining away the cameras in a meta way as being for a documentary about foreigners in the U.S.): the grocery store, a hipster clothing boutique, a low-key bar  -- even their low-paying jobs, where so far Ludo and Rob have secured a place scrubbing beer tubs at a local restaurant while Sal and Cisco pick up dog excrement at a pet spa, all in good humor. The camera work is intimate, and the proceedings are seamlessly narrated by the four in typical fishbowl confessionals. 

As of the premiere, the men all seem to get along well enough, but soon it seems they will learn about such concepts and phrases as "cockblocking," which could rock the boat. After countless dates over this five-part series, they eventually will reveal their lordly backgrounds to the ladies they have grown to care for and will have to wait and see if the ladies stick it out or not. In the meantime, Secret Princes has wisely combined a bevy of familiar tropes (fish out of water, searching for love, strangers living together, a secret twist) and gathered together a likable cast that should keep even the most skeptical viewers tuned in to see how the lords and princes fare in their winsome quest for love.