Online And Looking For Love

An ABC News team follows 11 New York women to document the highs and lows of Internet dating.

TV Preview

July 14, 2005|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Hooking Up is the story of what happens to 11 young women in Manhattan when image and text are transformed into flesh and blood in the unpredictable world of online dating.

Produced by the ABC News team that in 2000 took viewers inside the Johns Hopkins Hospital in a series called Hopkins 24/7, the five-part documentary is an addictive and illuminating look at courtship in the age of the Internet. It also may serve as a model for journalistically sound, nonfiction drama that's compelling enough to compete in the ratings-driven world of prime-time network television.

"Sex and the City is the program undoubtedly suggested by the subject matter, but we didn't change methodology at all from what we did in the Hopkins 24/7 documentary," said Terence Wrong, the Emmy Award-winning executive producer of Hooking Up. "We used the same news and documentary standards to make the same kind of fly-on-the-wall TV. We're dealing with personal instead of professional lives, but the goal is still to take a serious look at an important aspect of American life."

Though Hooking Up also mimics MTV's Real World in subject matter, look and rhythm, it evidences none of the excesses typically seen in reality TV. The women followed by the cameras, for example, do not represent the usual lineup of over-the-top, me-me-me, actress-singer-event planner wannabes.

They vary in age from 24 to 38 and work in jobs ranging from gynecologist or real estate broker to poet or paralegal. By and large, they are smart, attractive and busy people trying to make dating manageable by using online services like craigslist.com and lavalife.com.

"If you want to find discriminating women, go to the fast track in New York City," Wrong said. "You're going to have more judgmental and high-powered people going out on the dates, and they're going to be a tough audience for the men they eventually agree to meet."

Not that some of the women in Hooking Up don't have their own issues. But in most cases, their quirks and hang-ups only add to what Wrong described as a certain "juiciness" to the series.

Consider Amy, a 28-year-old real estate broker from South Dakota. She yearns to start a family and is only interested in having sex with men who are solid candidates for marriage, she explains. Then she proceeds to sleep with two far-from-promising specimens.

The first, Chris, is a professional poker player who seems more interested in playing rugby with his buddies than anything else. When Amy asks what he's looking for in a wife, Chris is decidedly vague except on one point: He is not interested in "anyone who's on Paxil or Xanax [prescription drugs for anxiety and depression]." Whoops, Amy's on Paxil.

Never mind. Chris can't seem to keep his eyes off her breasts. And when Amy sees a shirtless Chris on the rugby field, well, it's only a matter of hours before the two are closing the bedroom door on the ABC News cameras.

A few weeks later, Amy's in bed with another guy, David, - who has been very clear that he's sleeping with several women. Amy is only part of his "rotation," he says. Using plastic containers of spices and condiments (he likes to cook), Amy's latest beau demonstrates for the cameras how he "plays" his rotation of women.

"Let's just say Amy is a little conflicted ... between her id and super ego," Wrong said.

She is not alone. Take Cynthia, a 33-year-old hair salon manager. She also is looking for a permanent relationship. But, hold the wedding ring, she can't even make it to the main course on her first dinner date.

Though her dining companion described himself online as a "slim Fabio," in the flesh, he is neither. In response to Cynthia's somewhat hostile questioning, he admits the online photo is 15 years old.

"He's an old hippie," she hisses to the camera once she is safely out of earshot ensconced in the ladies room.

Her next date is a little better - she almost makes it to dessert. This time the problem is a companion who concludes the main course by licking each of his fingers clean. Cynthia can't believe her eyes - or her luck.

She ends each evening by making what she terms a "booty call" - a visit to a longtime male friend with whom she finds sexual compatibility, but no promise of a future as husband and wife. The cameras do not make the booty call with her.

Lisa, 36, a gynecologist, seems to have hit the power-couple jackpot when she finds a handsome Park Avenue plastic surgeon online who likes her jpeg. But on their first two dates, she uses a false name and lies (not very well) about what she does for a living. When she finally confesses (after deciding that he has long-term potential), he is horrified by her deception.

"She lied about her name! Why?" he says to the camera. "Boy, that's not what I learned in med school." Lisa's out of luck and back on the Web using a phony name.

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