[NOTE: The following article will also appear as my regular television column for WILDsound.]
Last week, I wrote that NBC's decision to move Jay Leno to prime time was bad news for scripted shows, but that it could have been worse. Well, ladies and gentlemen, may I present the "worse" to which I was referring: "Momma's Boys," which launched on NBC last night and will air at Mondays at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Viewers were also reminded of how bad things can be when the sequel to "A Shot of Love with Tila Tequila," "A Double Shot of Love," debuted last week on MTV (new episodes air Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. Eastern).
Yet another entrant into the dating show sweepstakes, "Momma's Boys" has 32 women fighting for the attention of three men, with the twist being that the mothers of the three bachelors move into the house with their sons' pursuers. Virtually everything about this heaping pile of dog poop is manipulative, exploitative and mean-spirited.
Now before you go accusing me of being a curmudgeon who doesn't understand the dumb fun of reality television, let's set the record straight: I watched both seasons of "Rock of Love," in which has-been rocker Bret Michaels spent a couple of weeks making out with a collection of party girls. I even watched both seasons tracking Scott Baio's quest to grow up. I can rock the mindless reality show with the best of them. But where Baio, Michaels and the "Rock of Love" contestants weren't hurting anybody or anything other than themselves, those around them and the ear drums, eyes and self-esteem of their viewers, "Momma's Boys" is far more insidious. It's lazy. And creepy. And it's straight-out offensive.
The "Momma's Boys" house is filled with the same assortment of types you'd find in any dating show. There is the doctor and the shy hippie chick (who cleans up rather than socializing), the religious southerner and the loud, dumb southerner, the nude models and the non-nude models, and enough alcohol, peroxide and silicone to have the house classified as a chemical storage facility.
And then there are the mothers. Lorraine, the youngest of the three, still makes her firefighter son Michael's bed and calls him 100 times a day. At one point she tells the camera, "I pity my husband," and I thought to myself that I did, too. She talks about how great her son's body is, which is creepy enough, but not quite as creepy as Khalood, the Michigan mother to hockey player Jo Jo, who points out the sexy body parts on a photo of her son in a way that left you wondering if she needed some time alone with the picture. Of course, creepily drooling over a photo of her son while talking about how hot he is might be the least off-putting thing about Khalood, given that her video (played for the 32 women) talks about how she "can't have" a girl who is Jewish, black or Asian for her son. The woman has to be white, Catholic, not too tall, and not have a large butt (ironic, since, to borrow an old dozens joke, when Khalood sits around the house, she sits around the house). In the end, she says the girl for her son has to be just like her. I think she will be out of luck unless the producers hid a fat, loud, domineering, obnoxious, inappropriate, racist girl somewhere in the house. Hey, if Khalood can wait 20 years for Adolph Hitler Campbell's little sister, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, to grow up, she will be all set! Khalood hilariously claims she is not racist because she has black friends and knows "half of the Detroit Lions."
Poor Esther, mother to Rob, is portrayed by the producers as a stereotypical Jewish mother. With her frequent use of Yiddish terms and New Yawk accent, and her pride in buying her son's underwear, she comes off like Mike Myers's "Saturday Night Live" character, Linda Richmond, if she had taken a master class on how to be more stereotypically New York Jewish.
So if watching three mothers, one of whom is a racist, creepily hug, kiss and drool over their good-looking sons sounds like fun to you, then "Momma's Boys" is right up your alley (it also means that you really should seek some kind of professional attention, too).
"Momma's Boys" is truly odious in how it plays up every stereotype you can imagine. Beyond Esther's devotion to her "mensch" of a son, the show seems to have a rule that none of the black women can have clips of interviews shown unless they exaggeratedly move their heads like they were one of Whoopi Goldberg's characters. Rather than highlight some of the more articulate responses to Khalood's racism (one of the African American women has a master's degree, another is a nurse), the producers chose to show a woman saying to the camera, "Bitch, are you crazy?"
It seems as if the entire show is dedicated to portraying every woman in the most negative light possible, both the mothers and the contestants (although many of the women make it easy on the producers to do so). And none of them have any sense of themselves. A holier-than-thou woman named Jessica, reacting to one of the other women's admissions that she posed for Playboy in 1999, says she has "too much respect" for herself to do something like that, but apparently not too much respect to go on a sleazy reality dating show. And, like in every other dating program, the women talk about being there to find love, which means that there are only two possibilities: they're lying, or they're stupid enough to believe that going on television and competing with 31 rivals for the attention of three men they've never met is the best way to find a soul mate. Either way, it's hard to care what happens to them.
In fact, the mothers and bachelorettes are so over the top, I started to feel like they were, at best, being coached, or, at worst, actors playing parts. Esther's pronunciation of some of the Yiddish terms felt forced. Maybe she was nervous, but maybe the producers were feeding her lines. Hippie chick Megan (the compulsive cleaner) and vacuous and childlike Cara especially felt to me like they were actresses portraying extreme characters, but maybe the casting people just did an amazing job finding these oddballs. Whatever the case, it doesn't make for entertaining viewing.
The central conflict of the show, repeated again and again in the debut by the narrator, is what the men will do when their mothers disapprove of their choices of women. Will they side with their mothers or their girls? In real life, there could be some real drama in this set-up. But in the world of a reality television show, in which no right-minded person could honestly believe that true love is a realistic outcome, the drama is nonexistent. Will a guy pick a fling with the 2008 Penthouse Pet of the Year (yes, she's one of the girls) or listen to his mother and shoot her down? Duh. No guy agreeing to go on a program like "Momma's Boys" is going to turn down a romp with the hottie.
"Momma's Boys" does not offer a dose of trashy, silly dating-show fun (like "Rock of Love"). Rather, it makes you uncomfortable, trying to produce entertainment from watching a racist woman spew hate (and women hurt by the words react to the comments), mothers seemingly get aroused by their sons, and a group of mostly vapid and self-esteemless women behaving in ways that set back the women's movement 50 years. "Rock of Love" may be a guilty pleasure, but watching "Momma's Boys" just makes me feel guilty.
"Double Shot of Love," by comparison, is harmless. Although I wouldn't call it much fun. Don't get me wrong, there are things in the show that could easily offend. It's just not as blatantly mean-spirited as "Momma's Boys." To me, the problem with "Double Shot of Love" is that I just wasn't entertained.
Taking over the bisexual bachelorette reins from Tila Tequila are the so-called "Ikki" twins, Vikki and Rikki. The sisters are given 12 women and 12 men from which to choose their true loves (ahem). I'm not quite sure what the twins have to offer as show leads, short of looking awesome in matching bikinis. Maybe that's all that's needed and I'm overthinking it. But the Ikki girls don't have a lot of personality, and their line readings can be extraordinarily wooden when they talk to the camera.
The guys fighting for the Ikki's affections represent a limited group: Several are tattooed, pumped-up meatheads, others are glammed-up club owners and party planners. There is a token geek, and an emo-looking singer in a band. And there is one conservative (politically) party boy who makes it through the first elimination largely because one of the twins has a thing for Boston accents. Meanwhile, the girls aren't much different from the women on most reality dating shows (like "Momma's Boys"), except for one who is more masculine than the rest.
It seems the appeal of "Double Shot of Love" comes down to watching pretty people wearing little clothing while making out a lot. Both the guys and the girls have to do a "fashion show" for the twins, the women dressing as "sexy" farm animals (in a moment of questionable taste, the one girl who was not skinny portrays a cow) and the men donning odd superhero costumes (I guess clearing actual superhero duds would have been too expensive). Throughout, there is a lot of hanging out in bathing suits and tiny outfits.
And there is lots of kissing. Several of the girls make out with the twins on the first day, as do a handful of the guys. One dude walks into the house for the first time, grabs Rikki, and shoves his tongue down her throat. He survives elimination because Vikki said he was sweet when they spoke, but her definition of sweet seems to be limited to the fact that the always obnoxious jerk didn't stick his tongue down her throat.
I give the producers credit for coming up with some inventive stunts. The contestants are brought to the mansion in giant crates (one for each gender) dangled from helicopters. I'm not convinced that they were really in there (the hidden camera footage seemed staged), but even if it was all fiction, it was a funny idea. And the first episode turns on a kind of "Parent Trap" meets "Debbie Does Dallas" gambit, as the twins pretend to be one person, taking turns meeting the contestants but not letting on that they had switched. At the end of the hour, at a pool party at which the male and female suitors are together for the first time, Ricki says she has a confession to make, framing it like she's about to admit to being a guy (although standing in her bikini, it would seem quite obvious she was a woman). She then brings out Vicki, much to the delight of the remaining contestants, male and female alike.
"Double Shot of Love" is a by-the-numbers, MTV dating show. Not good, but what do you expect from MTV nowadays? I hold NBC, on the other hand, the network of "The Office" and "30 Rock," to a higher standard. "Momma's Boys" doesn't belong on a network, managing to be creepy, joyless and offensive all at once. Suddenly, five nights of Jay Leno at 10:00 p.m. is starting to look good. So long as he doesn't bring Khalood on to let her talk about how hot her son is, and how much she wants him to be with a white woman.