`Things I Hate': Nothing to love

Bravo's new reality show judges combative couples


July 20, 2004|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

He says that she loves her dog more than him, and that the hound has taken his place in bed. She says that he's maddeningly passive-aggressive in the way he manages to forget almost everything she asks him to do. He says she's forever demanding - not asking for - back rubs. She says no human should have to hear the kinds of sounds he makes when belching.

This is what they call a relationship show in the lovely world of reality TV. The title of this one from Bravo is Things I Hate About You, and it features a competition between partners in a relationship to prove which is more annoying. Bravo is pairing Things I Hate with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy over the next 13 weeks, but Things shares none of that show's sense of style, fun or attitude.

In keeping with the yin and yang of reality TV - the narcissism of contestants and voyeurism of viewers - cameras are placed in the home and car of the couple, while camera crews follow them around. Plus, each of the contestants carries a hand-held camera to try to document the offensive behavior of the significant other during a period of two weeks.

Then the two - along with their accusations, denials and videotape - are brought before a panel of "celebrity" judges to see which is most annoying. There's a modest prize for the winner, and a punishment determined by the winning partner for the loser.

Celebrity is a dubious designation for this threesome of judges. The most widely known is Jacqui Malouf, who is described as a "relationship expert" by Bravo on the basis of having written the book Booty Food, a guide to cultivating a relationship through food, and serving as sidekick on the TV show Hot Off the Grill With Bobby Flay. Based on her performance in Things I Hate About You, she does not appear ready to step out of Flay's giant shadow just yet.

But it's not about the judges or even host Mo Rocca, a former correspondent for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Rocca is there to gently mock the guests and suggest through his bemused and ironic tone that he and the show are somehow smarter and better than the other people on the screen. (They aren't.)

The show is supposed to be about the couple's private life, and that's an idea that has some promise (for those who like to look in the closets of others). After all, partners do complain about the annoying habits or idiosyncrasies of the person with whom they live in the semi-private space of family and friends.

In that sense, Things I Hate About You is another example of television making the semi-private public - the way Queer Eye does when it goes through someone's bathroom or refrigerator. But, whereas Queer Eye redeems any meanness done along the way with a winning final scene of transformation, there is nothing like that here.

The stake through the heart on the first episode of Things I Hate is the phoniness of the contestants, Patrick and Renee, a young couple who work at a radio station in Connecticut. She is an on-air morning-show host, and he's her producer.

I suppose only an idiot would expect any authenticity in a person who seeks to capture her partner on camera passing gas so that she can share that special moment with the world, but it is all too obvious that Renee and Patrick are not just playing the game, they are playing us. From the way they josh with Rocca to the winks they share with the camera when a partner behaves badly, it is clear that they are performing for the camera, not being captured by it.

During the entire hour, Renee and Patrick are doing a very calculated striptease, showing parts of their private lives to advance their professional careers. (The radio station's call letters are constantly on display.)

In the end, that makes those of us who waste an hour of our lives watching them bigger fools than either of them.

Things I Hate About You

Where: Bravo

When: Tonight at 9

In brief: Reality TV asks another burning question: Who's more annoying, you or your partner?

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.