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Say It Ain't So, Joe Millionaire

Of course, Joe Millionaire is loathsome. You don't need me to tell you that. Sure, it's less loathsome than The Surreal Life and that show where a guy races a giraffe, but its loathsomeness can still be seen from high Earth orbit by the naked eye. The trick is figuring out exactly what the worst part of the show is. It's like walking into an open sewer and trying to figure out where that smell is coming from.

I am bound by convention to describe the premise of Joe Millionaire. I realize that you already know all about it, but this isn't for you; it's for future generations so they can more fully understand why our civilization crumbled.

The Fox Network has found twenty women and told them to compete for the love of a millionaire. The catch is that he's not really a millionaire. Didn't this already happen? I'm pretty sure that the guy in Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? turned out to be a con artist. But this time, we know ahead of time that the guy's not rich, so we can rub our hands and cackle gleefully at the prospect of the "winning" woman finding out.

There are some flaws with that scenario. For one thing, very few people cackle these days. And second, we're supposed to be asking whether the women are in this for money or for love. And that misses the point: they're in this for publicity. What do they care if they're mucking out stables for an actual millionaire or not? They get to be on television! People on Big Brother, Love Cruise, Temptation Island, and Cops all did more humiliating things without the prospect of millions of dollars.

I think I've figured out what really bothers me about it. The gimmick that the so-called millionaire really only makes $19,000 a year is phrased to suggest that therefore, he doesn't deserve love.

Am I wrong about this? Isn't there a sense of Fox giggling about how naughty they are to trick women into being nice to a construction worker? They can't possibly like him! He's (shudder) poor! I can just see the Fox executives with their cognac and powdered wigs chuckling at the very idea. Won't the ladies be shocked when they find out that their new beau is a mere peasant? I say! Now let's go to the cotillion, Muffy.

The introductory voiceover goes on about how he makes a "humble living" and then shows him eating his lunch with his hands. Why, this sort of boor would never be accepted by polite society! So there's a lot of remaking the guy so he looks more millionairey.

The story is that he's just inherited fifty million dollars, but they spend a lot of time "teaching him to be wealthy." Being wealthy, in this case, means waltzing and riding horses and generally acting like Prince Charming, but if he'd just inherited the money, why would he already know how to fence? Is the idea that when they deliver the inheritance check, you also get skilled with the epee?

Look: I live in Seattle, the home of Microsoft and a bunch of rock stars. I know a few millionaires, and most of them can barely dress themselves. From my observations, vesting stock options doesn't automatically make you elegant.

Watching this show, there are a few different things to enjoy, depending on what you're into. If you like, you can enjoy the way the women get humiliated by the structure of the show. Welcome to the chateau! Now fight over dresses! Shovel manure! Pick grapes in mud! Shovel coal! Grovel! Grovel, I say! And all the time you're chuckling at their foolish idea that they'll find love. Of course they won't find love; it's a reality show.

You can also enjoy the very poor job Our Hero does at pretending to be a millionaire. It doesn't sound all that hard; all you should really have to do is occasionally say "Oh, by the way, I've got fifty million clams." But he's not good at coming up with things on the spur of the moment, so there are a lot of awkward pauses. The women seem to end up thinking that he's nice (because, presumably, of the aforementioned clams, and also because I hear he's an unemployed male model, not a construction worker) but eccentric. "Eccentric" being rich for "crazy."

But he's not super-crazy. I'd enjoy the show a lot more if he were full-on, over-the-top, Steve-Martin-in-The-Jerk crazy. There is one thing I can say for the show, though. It's practically the only hour of television during which you won't be subjected to those awful commercials for Joe Millionaire.


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