'Married at First Sight': TV Review
9 p.m. Tuesday, July 8 (FYI)
A&E's rebranded lifestyle network FYI has a new slate of extreme reality programming, including a show that marries complete strangers.
For those who don't think ABC's The Bachelor escalates fast enough between meeting up and marriage, there now is FYI's Married at First Sight, on which three couples meet at their weddings, then have four weeks to decide whether they want to stay married. The concept is based on a popular Danish series and apparently a desire to make the idea of marriage as frivolous as possible. And, at a time when the definition and legalities of marriage are at the forefront of national conversations, it also seems particularly callous.
Married at First Sight is one of more than six series that will, for better or worse, define the new FYI network. Parent company A&E appears to be throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, calling FYI (formerly known as Biography) a "hyphen network: creating-tasting-designing-loving-life." The I in FYI also is mutable, standing for "inspiration, imagination, innovation" (basically, I like whatever you like).
FYI is entering a cable field already overflowing with reality television, so to stand out, the network is seeking different or extreme takes on long-standing reality genres: a dating show that marries strangers; a home improvement show that focuses specifically on tiny houses (Tiny House Nation); a cooking show based on a hit whiskey-laced, burger-stuffed YouTube sensation (Epic Meal Empire); a makeover series that is all about the attitude and eccentricities of its leads (B.O.R.N. to Style). Each seemingly would appeal to very disparate audiences, but FYI seems confident that there will be enough hyphenated-interest viewers to sustain its new programming. At the very least, that one show will become a hit that can be built off of.
That breakout star, unfortunately, may be Married at First Sight. From a pool of more than 600 individuals, four specialists — psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona, psychologist Dr. Pepper Schwartz, sexologist Dr. Logan Levkoff and spiritualist Greg Epstein — used "scientific methods" to narrow down these determined human lab rats down into three couples, who do not even know one another's names before they walk down the aisle. It's not that the idea of arranged marriages (or matchmaking) is anything new, certainly, but the show takes it to unnecessary extremes, devaluing any purported loftier purpose. The men and women range from ages 26 to 33 and see the process as one that easily will find them their soul mate, whereas the experts are using the institution of marriage to make these couples more serious about relationships and working things out together. Of course, how serious do they have to be if they are given the option of divorce after a month?
The appeal of this "radical new social experiment" is, naturally, in the train-wreck nature of its proceedings. And while the show's participants mostly seem genuine, if somewhat deluded, it's the experts who are really to blame for making any of this seem even remotely viable as an experiment or otherwise. If the couples decide to stay married after the initial month, one can assume it's only because they're still shell-shocked at what they've just done.
As a clean slate, FYI had the opportunity to offer some truly different or interesting programming and still does have the chance to (B.O.R.N. to Style and Epic Meal Empire, for instance, are two more palatable offerings in the new lineup — both are breezy fun and feature leads who are funny, enjoy what they do and only take themselves slightly too seriously). But in the shadow of this particular series, the network's "I" might as well stand for icky.