In one classic fairytale, a ghastly beast turns out to be a handsome prince. In another, a frog is in fact a handsome prince. In "I Wanna Marry 'Harry'," FOX's new reality show that premiered tonight, the handsome Prince Harry of Wales turns out to be a random British kid named Matt. Will the girl still want him when they learn he's a pauper? Better than an amphibian, but still: Despite the fact that the word "fairytale" is said almost a dozen times in the first 10 minutes of the premiere, this story is far more similar to a teaching fable.
Twelve American women...young women...girls, really (the most senior in the bunch are 25 and referred to as "oldies"), are brought to a castle in the UK and told nothing about the man who's eye they'll compete to catch. Meanwhile, we enjoy a montage of Matthew Hicks, 23, who really does resemble Harry, learning to pretend he comes from the House of Windsor instead of nondescript flat.
He can't afford a car, so rides his bike to his job cleaning up oil spills. He's fit, humble and more handsome than Harry. The producers (including Ryan Seacrest) hit the jackpot. As for the ladies, it's more of the same: we have the loud one, the catty one, the drunk one, the old one (at 25!). Yet, "The Bachelor" franchise — with its perfectly polished, family-oriented, trained and molded dolls — this is not. These women seem to have been chosen specifically because they might go off the rails. This show may be the frog that turns out to be a thoughtful (if unintentional) investigation: into the differences between English aristocracy and the slums of American culture, reality television.
I find it comforting that, when it's suggested that their secretive suitor may be Prince Harry, most of the women either have no idea what Harry looks like, or at least can't be certain one way or the other. America, as we've long known, is not obsessed with royals. One woman — Chelsea, 21, the only African-American in the bunch — after admitting she knew nothing about Prince Harry, also wished that instead of crumpets at the tea party, she could have carne asada fries. I'm rooting for her. Never mind that, when they arrived for tea and greeted the servers in tuxes, most of the girls were wearing booty shorts.
One refreshing thing about this morally-unclear debacle: a bachelor who doesn't think he deserves be there. Whether because actually humble, told to be, edited to be, or simply British, Matt actually is charming. He thinks they're all out of his league. And, considering what most are after (fame and money), he's right.
He's presented as adorable, particularly during a montage in which he's taught, by a hilariously fake butler character named Kingsley, which fork is for what and how to shoot skeet, among other supposedly royal trappings. We see Matt — whose slug, appearing under his name during confessionals, is "Matt, 23, Not Really Prince Harry" — exclaiming that his fencing uniform has given him a "massive front wedgy."
Shorts for brains
The closest thing to actual royalty on the show is contestant Anna Lisa, 23, who's Miss Los Angeles. I'm guessing she'll strengthen any assumptions Matt, and for that matter America, have about Tinsel Town. There are, however, some women who appear to be down to earth, but we haven't heard much from (most of) them yet.
So far the front runners appear to be 1) Kimberly Burch, from Long Island, who's as normal as a reality-show contestant can be; 2) Meghan, from SoCal by way of Dallas, who thinks she deserves whatever she wants because, "I cook and clean, and look bangin in a bikini;" and 3) Rose, who's a hot mess in the best rubbernecking sort of way.
Matt and the women first meet at a masquerade "ball" on the castle's lawn. He avoids pointed questions and doesn't even reveal his name. Then, at the stroke of midnight, they each unmask one at a time. A mask analogy on a reality show! Is this dreck or high lit? I can't tell.
Matt chooses Rose to stay in a fancy "adjacent" suite in the castle (he thought with his shorts). And he sends home Leah, who also, sadly, seemed kind of normal.
It's tempting to spend these recaps simply mocking the show (and, honestly, I probably will). But I'm not certain who the target should be. The women, for their cattiness? The bachelor, for his duplicity? The producers, for their evil genius? Myself, for watching it? My heart wants to see Kimberly win; the bully in me is pulling for Rose just for the spectacle; the skeptic in me knows it's all fake anyway and hates that after one 40-minute episode, I'm already like, "Aw, she's cute" or "Whoah, she's a train wreck."
Ultimately, it's not much different than any other reality show: people pretending to be people they're not. At this point, I'm hoping for a surprise ending, in which we discover that one of them actually is royalty — Kingsley.