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'More to Love': What Becomes of the Heavy-Hearted?

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Heavyweights aren't supposed to be called "fat" anymore, which makes it difficult to speak freely about "More to Love," a cleverly titled new reality dating show premiering Tuesday night at 9 on Fox. The program features 20 women of major proportions competing for a date -- and perhaps marriage -- with a 26-year-old, 330-pound real estate developer who says, "I'm ready to meet the girl of my dreams."

So far, so hunky -- and, yes, so dory. Obviously, the ingredients are here for another of TV's nasty ridicule shows, and those of a mind to hoot and holler at the contestants will do so no matter how much alleged dignity the producers pump into the proceedings. But there's also plenty of grist here for those who are genuinely sensitive to the plentiful problems of the porker, whether one is intimately acquainted with the syndrome or just observes it from relatively afar.

Two of the 20 women participating are already shedding tears during the preliminary stages of the competition, when they chat with the show's host, Emme, a former "plus-size" model. Heather, 22 and 200 pounds, and Michelle, 32 and 230 pounds, talk about having their hearts broken because of their plus-poundage, and the memories are so painful that merely invoking them cues waterworks.

We aren't told, at least not on the premiere, what circumstances brought each contestant to her current physical condition. Perhaps some will use the old excuse of being "big-boned" -- coincidentally, the very situation from which your otherwise dashing and athletic television critic has so long suffered.

Whatever brought the contestants to the condition they're in, not all of them find it constricting or troublesome. "I'm not going to change myself for anybody," says an admirably defiant 24-year-old woman approaching 190 pounds.

The rooster in the coop, former football player Luke Conley, says with perhaps just a soupcon of self-rationalization, "I enjoy being a man of large stature."

"Large stature," huh? Well, that's one way to put it.

Perhaps partly because the producers are determined not to let "More to Love" turn into a jeer fest, the show almost chokes on its own sensitivity and refinement. One woman does take an impromptu leap into a swimming pool, and a few others come across as engagingly playful and bouncy. But for the most part, a tasteful torpor prevails. As always on such shows, we hear the voice-over, voice-after comments of the players, and one woman goes all verklempt just because Conley put his suit coat around her to warm her up on a chilly night.

"Oh my gosh, he's putting his jacket on me," she trills, thrilled. "What do I do?!?" How about something wild and nutty like saying "thank you"?

For his part, Conley parcels out cliches at such a rate you begin to suspect he's watched nothing but reality shows for 10 years or so. "I'm just an average guy . . . ready to meet the girl of my dreams," he says sportingly, at least twice.

At the farewell ceremony -- five women have to depart at the end of the premiere -- Conley tells the competitors: "You all look beautiful tonight. . . . I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart." He's so sappily bland and eager to appeal that he could make a pretty good game-show host himself. When he declares that he's "the luckiest man alive" because he's been "given the opportunity of a lifetime," you don't have to be a cynic or party pooper to feel like shouting, "Will you please shut up, you big, fat ham?!?"

Well not those words precisely. I mean, that is to say, something more along the lines of, "Could you manage to speak out just a trifle less masterfully, kind sir?" It's sad to admit it, but in the realm of replicated reality, good manners may not good TV make.

More to Love (one hour) premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Fox.

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