Thursday, April 24, 2008

Yes, it could be called P-Control.

MTV's Parental Control is everything that is wrong--not only with television, but with America as a whole--and I love it. Not just because I'm looking for tips on how to deal with what happens when I let my daughter start dating (twenty-five years from now), but mostly because the combination of reality show staging, empty posturing, and simulated teenage heartbreak is nothing short of magical. I shouldn't love a television show this much, and yet here I am writing about it.

The premise is that there is a set of parents who disapprove of their child's significant other. They explain to the camera why their daughter (or son!) is dating a shiftless layabout in confessional style, intercut with said layabout hamming it up in staged reenactments. Then the parents start interviewing replacements.

The interview sequence is all the earnest desire to please of American Idol tryouts combined with the sketchy meat-market shenanigans of Flavor of/Rock of/Shot at Love. The potential for hilarity here is maximized by the potential "dates" who seem to forget that they are not talking to the person that they are going to be dating, they are talking to that person's parents.

There's a fun mix of people who don't know what they're talking about (like the contestant who said that one of her hobbies was Argentinian Tango, and demonstrated a few steps by bending her knees in a half crouch, keeping her feet planted firmly on the floor, and thrashing her arms and shoulders like a go-go dancer with a freshly broken back) and people who shouldn't be allowed out in public (like the guy who said that if he was a carnival ride, he'd be "the one trick pony!" A pronouncement that was accompanied by pelvic thrusts while his right hand pantomimed hair-pulling and his left hand smacked his imaginary partner on the ass). Usually, one parent selects a new date based on personality, while the other goes for looks.

Here would be a good time to ask ourselves some questions about relationships and the people who want them filmed even while they rip them apart. Pretend that you are in a committed relationship, and your significant other's parents told both of you that they think you're an unworthy loser, and they are actively trying to end this relationship by sending their child out on two blind dates.

1) Wouldn't it be a huge red flag if the person that you thought was committed to you is suddenly willing to date other people because their parents said so?

2) Would you be able to sit next to those parents watching footage of the dates? Would you be able to make wisecracks and talk trash for the cameras trained on the three of you while you watch?

Some of the exchanges here HAVE to be scripted, but at the same time there's genuine fear in the eyes of some of these people; if they're only acting like they're trying to use sarcasm and jokes to cover up the fear that they might be single at the end of the day, they're doing a damn good job of it.

And then there's the final choosing, the whole show's raison d'etre. It's filmed for maximum tension, complete with dramatic music, and the two challengers stand with the contentious current sweetheart to find out who will remain. That's when things get real. Some of these contestants are mouthy. Sure, the people who have just had their long-standing relationship ripped apart on reality television have the right to blow off some steam. I'm talking about the newcomers, the are people who just came from a free date paid for by MTV, who were actively trying to steal someone from an existing relationship, and they suddenly get it into their heads that they've been slighted. The bitter comments of these losers have ranged from "go fuck yourself," "it's just as well you didn't pick me, because I'd never have picked you," and my personal favorite, "that's okay, I would rather have dated your mom."

Parental Control. It's good T.V. (that you'll feel like a bad person for enjoying)