The Parents Television Council has already done its part to help promote “Seven Year Switch” by condemning it, sight unseen, suggesting at least that the title (intended to rip off a beloved comedy classic) and concept (couples swapping spouses) have done their job. Yet what emerges in this series on the FYI network is, not surprisingly, mostly conservative in nature, positioning this experiment in “switch therapy” as an attempt by the four couples to save their marriages, not get some on the side. That said, a disingenuous quality permeates the whole exercise, from the indie-rock score to the clinical mumbo-jumbo.
Seeking to pick up on the success the nascent, rebranded A&E-owned channel has scored with the Danish format “Married at First Sight,” “Switch” essentially weds the “Wife Swap”/”Trading Spouses” reality sub-niche with trappings of “The Bachelor,” placing each of the jumbled pairings in a well-furnished house, ostensibly to offer the participants the chance to see what life would be like had they married someone else. The set-up, however, is completely artificial, since the idea that the couples are forced to stay off the grid and will apparently go on activities together is sort of the opposite of an ordinary life; more like a two-week Club Med vacation, only with someone other than their spouse.
The producers feature two people with official-sounding titles, “relationship experts” Dan Shapiro and Jessica Griffin, to explain the purpose of the exercise, with the narrator asking at the outset, “Will they recommit to their spouse and marriage forever?” More like will they say that they will at the end of the program’s run, to give everyone that warm, fuzzy and slightly superior feeling.
It would be easier to take the “experimental” part of all this seriously if the show wasn’t so awash in reality-TV trappings, from manufactured meetings with aghast friends and relatives to explain the adventure on which they are about to embark to all the pad, pad, padding building up toward the couples finally parting ways in the second half of the two-hour premiere. Even by the standards of the genre, “Seven Year Switch” is tedious, feeling like the show has lasted about five years before any suitcases are packed.
At their best, such programs not only tap into the emotion of a struggling marriage but also inspire viewers to contemplate their own lives, and the producers provide plenty of helpful musical cues to tell the audience how they should feel. The formula is to create an atmosphere of titillation that lures viewers in — as WE Tv did with the short-lived “Sex Box” — and then deliver something closer to an episode of “Dr. Phil” than “The Ice Storm.”
So will these fabricated pairings strengthen the marriages or fuel breaking them up? Since at least half the participants are shown crying during the “This season on” tease, the impression is there will be plenty of angst along the way, but don’t be surprised if “Seven Year Switch” delivers a lot more “happily ever after” than “see you later.” In TV, that’s called the bait-and-switch approach.