Say it isn't so, 'Joe'
Mon Dec 30, 7:18 AM ET
Who is worse, the woman who seeks out a rich man to fall in love with, or the poor man who seduces that woman with false claims to immense fortune? That's about as deep as the philosophical questions get on Joe Millionaire, the distasteful new reality show from Fox that debuts Jan. 6. It's not very deep. A liar always is worse than a gold digger; a lack of integrity always trumps a lack of self-respect.
The premise of this ''unscripted drama'' is simple. Fox persuaded a construction worker and part-time model who earns a reported $19,000 a year to pose as a ''dashing millionaire'' who has inherited $50 million. Then it invited 20 ''beautiful, smart and sophisticated'' women to visit him at a French chateau on the pretense that he is ''looking for a special someone to share his newfound wealth.'' In the end, the poser will choose one woman as the object of his affections. If she reciprocates, he must tell her the truth. Her reaction is the money shot.
Believing that anyone worth $50 million would actually look for a mate via TV pretty much betrays that ''smart, sophisticated'' line. But at least the women aren't kidding anyone. They are honest mercenaries. Fox, on the other hand, is using false pretenses to set up the women for humiliation, which is cruel. It is inviting viewers to watch the torture, which is pandering. And it is pretending to do all of this in the name of exploring human nature, which is baloney.
Fox reality-programming chief Mike Darnell told Reuters: ''In a way, we are ripping the mask off the people. We find out whether they're really doing this for love.'' But who could possibly be that naive? We know they aren't doing it for love, otherwise it wouldn't take $50 million to sucker them into getting spoony for a construction worker.
Assuming Fox has protected itself from possible lawsuits for deceit and slander, this show has only two credible outcomes. Either the deceived woman genuinely likes the guy and doesn't care, or she slaps his face for being a fraud and nearly indigent besides. Anything else is just more contrivance.
That isn't going to stop Fox, where voyeurism and romance-novel cheese prevail with pride. But it ought to stop viewers. Reality programming has provided some of the best in television (the first Survivor) and most of the very worst (Temptation Island, Chains of Love, The Anna Nicole Show).
Toss Joe Millionaire into the latter category and then toss it out the door. When it comes to setting bad examples, sex and violence have nothing on Joe and Fox.