“I have to convince them I’m Prince Harry, but the goal is for them to like me for who I am.”
– an actual quote from the premiere of Fox’s new reality dating show “I Wanna Marry Harry,” in which a Prince Harry doppelganger tricks women into thinking he’s the royal prince
It’s hard to put into words the level of stupidity that “I Wanna Marry Harry” reaches. But I am a professional, so I have to try.
Let’s put it this way: As a connoisseur of terrible reality shows (I would say just for work purposes, but don’t want to lie), I have felt badly for many duped contestants. Some don’t know what they’re getting themselves into; others seem like decent people who don’t deserve the mockery they endure. So, congratulations, Fox and executive producer Ryan Seacrest: The group of 20-something women assembled for “I Wanna Marry Harry” come across as so unlikable that’s it’s impossible to have any sympathy for them as they take part in this cruel prank disguised as a reality show. And therefore, that almost makes it a slightly (slightly) less horrifying to watch.
Exploiting a young woman’s dream of marrying a real-life Prince Charming does seem mean — but it’s clear that these women just want to be on television. They’re getting their wish. Welcome to London, England, says Voiceover Guy at the beginning of the episode, as the 12 single, American women arrive at a breathtaking castle to compete for one man: A Prince Harry look-a-like, who will do anything to convince them he’s really the dashing, mischievous royal prince. (“We will go to extreme lengths to protect his true identity,” Voiceover Guy warns.)
To start, let’s dispel any notion of what Fox had been saying, which was that these women will be just “led to believe” the guy in question (a broke 23-year-old British guy named Matthew Hicks) is truly Prince Harry. Producers go to such great lengths to convince them he’s Prince Harry that the women would likely feel dumb if they didn’t believe it. He’s not allowed to confirm it one way or another, but the hoax is far more elaborate than is necessary.
Young Matthew is given a red-haired, tuxedo-ed makeover and led through a rigorous training session before the show starts — he’s equipped with a castle, a staff of servants, security detail and a butler named Kingsley (because of course he is). Matthew must learn how to play polo, shoot skeet and drink tea, as rich people do. He also must memorize many details about the real Harry’s life, including birthday (Sept. 15, 1984), full title (His Royal Highness Henry Prince of Wales) and other stats, all written out on one of those picture boards that looks like what TV serial killers use to stalk their victims.
The best part is that the show tries to act like it has some bigger picture plan: When Matthew chooses the winner, he’ll have to reveal the truth about his non-royal status. “Can love survive when fame, wealth and status falls away?” Voiceover Guy asks breathlessly. Hey, let’s drop the act: We’re just here to laugh at dumb Americans who think Prince Harry would find love on a reality show. Okay? Don’t waste precious time when we could be hearing more about how Matthew will feel so guilty lying to these 12 women if it turns out one of them is his soulmate.
Speaking of his potential soulmates, here’s what he’s working with.
Meghan, 25: “I’m smart, hot, I cook, I clean. I look bangin’ in a bikini, and I like the finer things in life.”
Chelsea, 21: “I’m a little off my rocker.” Description of her dream man: “Handsome, rich, funny, rich.”
Rose, 22: “I’m a preschool teacher, and kind of a naughty one!”
Maggie, 24: “My version of afternoon tea is happy hour.”
Anna Lisa, 23: “My occupation is Miss Los Angeles.”
Leah, 24: “I’m cool, I’m intimidating, it’s fine.”
Kimberly, 24: Thinks this guy must be important if he has security guards. “Who else has Secret Service? The queen, the president, Michael Jackson.”
Jacqueline, 25: “I’m awesome, but at the same time can be a [another word].”
Carley, 24: “I don’t know what Prince Harry’s looking for, but the fact that I’m intelligent sets me apart.”
Andrea, 25: “The most romantic date I’ve ever been on, we went to the casino. That’s about as romantic as it gets in East Texas.”
Kelley, 24: “I’m a southern belle.”
Karina, 25: A doctorate student who says her age, and someone shrieks, “Oh good, we have another oldie!”
Okay, I might feel a little sorry for Karina. Anyway, the women arrive at a glorious English castle and can’t believe their good fortune. “We’re in ‘Downton Abbey’!” one yells, as another starts to panic that she’s arriving at a castle wearing jeans.
After some introductions and some required catty judgmental camera interviews (Meghan: “I’m the package deal. A lot of these girls don’t have anything.”), it’s time for afternoon tea. All of a sudden it’s interrupted by a bunch of really fake-looking security guards looking really fake-concerned about something. A helicopter is landing! In it, there’s Matt, wearing a very collared shirt with rolled up sleeves and khakis. Okay, we’ll say it — from a very far distance if you were were kind of squinting he sort of resembles the real Prince Harry.
Naturally, the women freak out. “That’s Prince Harry,” one whispers; another confesses she doesn’t know what Prince Harry looks like. Jacqueline is immediately suspicious, though she gets swept up in it like everyone else.
Soon, Kingsley, the poor host of this debacle, arrives with some news. Tonight, there will be a masquerade ball. At the end of the night, “Sir,” as he calls Matthew/Harry, will choose one lady to accompany him in the “Crown Suite.”
“Overnight?” they giggle.
“That I cannot say,” Kingsley says sternly. There’s still bad news: One lady will get sent home.
The women scramble to a rack of dresses to get ready. “There’s a lot of pressure because we might be dating Prince Harry,” one explains. More cattiness as the women judge each other while getting dressed and Leah mocks everyone for using too much makeup: “I’m not sure what bronzer is, exactly.”
Finally, it’s time to meet — a red carpet is rolled out to the masquerade ball, and the women go in pairs to meet Matthew/Harry. (“Don’t drink too much alcohol tonight, sir, just in case you give the game away,” the wise Kingsley advises.) It is incredibly awkward, especially as Matthew leans in to do the cheek kisses and could not seem less prince-like. Luckily, he’s disguised by his masquerade mask and no one can tell he looks terrified.
Oh, and he’s not allowed to tell them his name. “That’s for me to know and you to find out,” he says coyly/lamely. What’s his job? Where does his family live? Does he play polo? He uncomfortably dodges the questions and finally drags a few of them out on the dance floor.
“You kind of look like Prince Harry,” Carley tells him. “Really?” he responds. “No one’s ever said that before.”
She buys it, so Matthew boasts that he’s keeping up the ruse, even as he overhears whispers about how might be Prince Harry. (Meghan confesses she’s seen enough pictures that she doesn’t really think it’s him, but hopes it is.) He nailed it! He gets to spend some alone time with a few, as the rest offer scathing commentary about their housemates: Leah has awful fashion sense, Maggie drinks too much, etc.
Matthew thinks Rose is cute and flirtatious, but too loud. “American girls don’t seem to have inside voices,” he complains, adding they’re “loud, in-your-face and brash.” He is quite taken by Meghan and Kimberly, and finds Leah beautiful and charming — except that she’s even a worse dancer than he is, and she doesn’t seem excited enough to be there.
In the end, loudmouth Rose gets the Crown Suite and Leah gets the boot. (Sorry Leah, guess “playing it cool” doesn’t translate overseas as a solid flirting technique.)
Meanwhile, Rose goes to get her things to move into the Crown Suite and tells the other women she’s the lucky winner of the evening. “Wowwww, congratulaaaations,” they say with fake smiles as their eyes spell rage.
There are scenes from upcoming episodes, which feature lots of fighting and screaming and crying and making out, so — typical dating show. Fox has high hopes for this one, as they changed the date of the premiere for the prime post-”American Idol” finale spot. But hopefully, it can just fade away into the “Joe Millionaire” pile of forgotten reality shows.