Fox caused a furor when it coyly explored the question of women’s “gaydar” in its short-lived 2004 reality series “Playing It Straight,” but Lifetime seems to have gotten the delicate sexual politics right simply by turning the whole thing into a 21st century “Dating Game.” As constructed, a female contestant must try to identify who is “Gay, Straight or Taken?” among three men, as the audience gets to play and guess along with her. What felt tawdry on Fox, however, has a more benign streak here, one apt to burst stereotypes as much as it promotes them.
Jenner, a buxom blond with the reality TV-specific skill of being able to walk in slow motion, is presented three guys with washboard abs and must decipher which one has a girlfriend, who’s single and available and who is gay. Pick the free male and they share a fabulous trip to a tropical paradise. Screw up, and whoever she chooses takes the same vacation with his girlfriend or boyfriend, as the case may be.
It is, in other words, the perfect vehicle for out-of-work actors who can ham it up during a screening process that, in the pilot, includes touch football, massage and a dip in the pool. (By Jenner’s logic, a skin-tight bikini swimsuit equals gay, lack of dancing skills equals straight. Or does it…?)
By providing the three guys an incentive to engage in deception and failing to clue in the audience, viewers can experience their own “incredible journey,” or at least as much of one as can be gleaned from this relatively brisk half-hour format. (The show kicks off with back-to-back episodes.)
Yet at the concept’s core is a question many women have no doubt pondered: All things being equal, are there tell-tale signs they ought to recognize, tipping them off that a potential suitor is otherwise involved or plays for the other team?
Given the age range of those in the dating trenches most likely to face this quandary, Lifetime has also seemingly scored a possible demographic bull’s-eye. That’s no small matter, inasmuch as one of the business hurdles new management must clear is attracting a younger audience — the daughters, in essence, of those accustomed to watching attractive leading ladies being menaced by strangers on the basic net.
Crass as it might appear on paper, then, this provocatively titled series should resonate among an audience segment that Lifetime desperately yearns to reach — young women who can relate to the “Gay, Straight or Taken?” dilemma, even if they haven’t mastered the art of strutting in slow motion.