Wanted: Relationship with Single, Successful TV Camera

Bored by 'The Bachelor,' flirting with fame

Dante famously defined hell as "proximity without intimacy." If there's any truth to that theory, then the simulacrum of reality in which The Bachelor exists is a sulfurous prairie of flame. The titular hero is a celebrity sibling less famous than Frank Stallone or Don Swayze. Yes, there is a Don Swayze.

Meet Charlie O'Connell, brother of megawatt star Jerry (Kangaroo Jack, Tomcats) and self-described "good guy." Now, imagine this demi-O'Connell courting 25 glossy-haired hopefuls, all of whom claim to be husband-deficient despite apparently being married to their straightening irons. In this scenario, surrounded by hungry, loveless strangers, Charlie is less a suitor than a prize, a Kenmore washer/dryer for she who plays dirtiest. Dante himself would blister in this heat.

Charlie and his rapt harem of sycophants do everything. Together. They dine à vingt-cinq. They shoot billiards. They even bowl, albeit poorly. Occasionally, Charlie squires one lucky lady away on a novel excursion known as an "individual date." If she tickles his fancy (or an equivalent erogenous zone), he might kiss her, but that's as far as things proceed. There's proximity here, yes, but intimacy has long since fled the scene. It's as romantic as a finger condom, and as authentically human as KY Warming Lube.

Another bubbly moment on the nation's newest reality show, 'American Harem'
ABC
Another bubbly moment on the nation's newest reality show, 'American Harem'

If you believe the promos, both Charlie and his Fox Force 25 are in search of an elusive "connection." On The Bachelor, this word is invoked with maddening frequency, reducing the complex choreography of love to a plug-socket diagram. Based on the episodes that have aired thus far, Charlie isn't actually seeking a life mate. His favorite contestant appears to be Kim, a Canadian swimsuit model with Double-Stuft implants and a suitcase full of gold lamé.

"How can you see so much?" she coos as Charlie ineptly analyzes paintings on their individual date. Their conversation is labored by anyone's standards, and Charlie's gaze never drifts north of Kim's bulbous chi-chis. The date ends with a perfunctory make-out session that infuriates the other contestants: How dare he act on instinct? In the bloodless world of The Bachelor, that just isn't done.

The other girls hate Kim. Doesn't every girl hate Kim? In the space of a few episodes, she has managed to validate every feminist screed about what men really want. While Kim is out appreciating art with Charlie, the contestants raid her suitcase and try on her "hoochie clothes." It's a trip seeing marketing coordinators, accountants, and obstetric nurses wearing ensembles so skimpy that the network has to blur out errant nipples. And yet, the women are clearly having a blast playing at being Kim, a woman who comes off as so astonishingly dumb in her interviews that her rivals seem comparatively burdened by genius.

"Kim fest," as one woman calls it, is a telling scene. The exercise of becoming Kim is less a mockery than a pre-battle ritual. Delusions of romance and partnership have long since evaporated, and the remaining women know that in order to compete with Kim, they'll need to channel their inner Labatt's girl. (Sweet nanny Kara learns this the hard way; after wearing a modest cowl-neck sweater to her date with Charlie, she promptly gets dumped. As the age-old aphorism goes, "neck of cowl, throw in the towel.")

What about Charlie? He comes off as a nice enough dude, and he bears a striking (and not unflattering) resemblance to his famous older brah. Unfortunately, he has a disarming tendency to spout catchphrases at random. In the space of 10 minutes, he says "Hasta la vista!" "Now we're cookin' with gas!" and "Nothing says lovin' like three floors of art." Charlie's reliance on catchy slogans is fitting, considering he himself is a product in this scenario, but it only serves to underscore the hollowness of the whole venture.

Even more crass are the blatantly manufactured dating scenarios: When Charlie goes skating with a single-mom contestant, two children "spontaneously" show up and join them on the ice, allowing Charlie to demonstrate his prowess with kids. Wonder if the producers set up that one?

I don't foresee a posse of little O'Connells in any of the contestants' futures. Charlie doesn't seem genuinely marriage-minded, and his keen interest in breasts ostensibly doesn't include milk production. It all seems like a game, which it is, but even past Bachelors like fan favorite Bob Guiney were ready to settle down with a fellow fame whore. Reality shows have never smacked of authenticity, but if it's possible, this latest installment of The Bachelor seems like a staged reenactment of a previously taped reality show. It's just that phony. In this case, the eighth circle of hell is an engagement ring.

 
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