'Momma's Boys'


Having seemingly squeezed every conceivable ounce of life from the dead horse known as the unscripted dating genre, network TV — and producer Ryan Seacrest, no less — has unfurled this clunky, derivative mess of a concept that obliges a bunch of gorgeous women to win not only the heart of a hunk but also that of his overly controlling, possessive mother. Because there are cameras rolling that presumably are gathering images for later playback, the ladies don't immediately ditch the whole fiasco as way too weird.

As if that weren't enough, NBC's "Momma's Boys" stacks its threadbare deck with gimmicks like making sure one of the moms is an unapologetic bigot (at least, she plays one on TV), stirring all sorts of animus into the show's abundant single-babe melting pot. If it sounds cloyingly contrived, trust me, that doesn't even begin to describe it.

The idea, over six episodes, is to toss 32 single women, three hot bachelors and the guys' brassy mothers underneath the roof of a Santa Barbara, Calif., mansion, then sit back and watch the personalities clash. The ladies range from blond bimbos to black goddesses, all in their 20s. The presumption is that winning any of the male hearts will be very much a package thing with mommy, which might seem a deal-breaker in itself.

The big sociological question, evidently, is: Does a man's heart belong more to momma or to the overwhelming passion that comes with romantic entanglement? The thing is, if the dude even needs to mull it over, he needs professional help, not a reality-series platform.

A jump-the-shark/nuke-the-fridge moment arrives about midway through the "Momma's" kickoff when the aforementioned racist mother begins making her way to the mansion gates as foreboding music plays and a dark hue covers the screen. The producers might as well have flashed the name Cruella De Vil on the screen, with an arrow pointing to the mom.

Seacrest and his cohorts do everything they can to ratchet up the artificial tension and drama, following in the footsteps of so many primetime abominations that have preceded it. Here's the good news: Come fall 2009, 10 o'clock shows like this will be obsolete on NBC, replaced by five nights a week of "A Man Named Jay" (or whatever they choose to call it).

For those of us rendered uncomfortable by love triangles that invoke thoughts of Oedipus the King and gouged-out eyes, it can't happen quickly enough. (partialdiff)