Former Fox reality guru Mike Darnell should experience deja vu watching “I Wanna Marry Harry,” which recycles one of his favorite dating-show themes, employed in “Joe Millionaire” and “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?,” only with a Royal twist. Built around a simple if unstated idea — that people really don’t like reality contestants, and thus relish screwing with them — the show toys with the expectations of 12 candidates who assume they’re competing for the hand of the world’s most eligible bachelor. While it’s unclear if the concept will strike gold for Fox, it definitely creates an inhospitable environment for golddiggers.
Granted, the women — mostly in their early 20s, and seemingly chosen to reflect every bad stereotype harbored about their demo — do their part to inspire viewers to root for those aiming to deceive them. In the course of their direct-to-camera interviews, there are lines like, “I’m smart. I’m funny. I’m beautiful. I’m the package deal.” And, “I’m awesome, but at the same time, I can be a bitch.” When one is asked to describe an ideal guy, she responds by using the adjective “rich” twice.
Clearly, the women are made to look foolish so the producers (and by extension, the viewers) can feel less guilty about goofing on them, coyly misleading them without ever actually uttering the name “Harry.”
Of course, it’s not the real prince, but an incredible simulation — a British working stiff who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Royal. To advance the ruse, he makes his entrance via helicopter, landing just far enough away for the conceit to be plausible.
The show’s butler calls him “sir,” which means he must be either royalty or an inspirational African-American teacher in a lower-class London school. But mostly, the program relies on the women’s greed, enthusiasm and stupidity to sell the notion that most of them think the hunt for “Prince Charming” is, in this case, more literal than usual.
A particular challenge is that the series has to operate on two levels — as a “Can the bachelor pull it off?” ruse, a la Spike’s “The Joe Schmo Show” — and, whether a love connection can be forged considering how disappointed the “winner” will be when she learns her prince is a commoner.
That’s a lot of variables that might appeal to many different constituencies — and they might be enough to earn “Harry” a reasonable following. Still, it’s worth remembering that reality-TV programmers and the genre’s would-be princesses have one thing in common: You usually have to kiss a lot of toads before finding the real deal.