Boasting Drew Barrymore among its producers, “Tough Love” maps out the same terrain as Bravo’s “The Millionaire Matchmaker” — only here with a more appealing host/Dr. Phil wannabe in the form of Steven Ward putting eight women through matchmaking “boot camp.” Boyishly handsome, Ward’s advice is mostly common sense (offering dating rules such as “Don’t be weird”), but his approach to schooling his charges does have its moments — the irony being that the show should possess solid appeal among women while mostly making these women, anyway, look like complete dolts.
After a recap that pretty much previews the entire series in 2½ minutes (I really wish reality TV would stop doing that), Ward quickly introduces and labels the gals with nicknames like “Miss Party Girl,” “Miss Fatal Attraction” and “Miss Ball Buster.” The participants are then put through the dating paces, with the principal wrinkle being that Ward interviews and tapes the men with whom they chat, delivering frank comments like “I’d love to do her; I’m not gonna date her” about the buxom ex-stripper among them.
Drama-wise, the women helpfully oblige by constantly squabbling with each other. Yet the main event here is listening to Ward chide them for looking for love in all the wrong places — or simply throwing petulant fits in the midst of seeking to attract a guy. “I need you to act more mature,” he tells “Miss Bridezilla,” a 20-something who’s determined to be hitched and cranking out babies by age 25.
The eight-episode series hardly breaks any new ground, but in these endeavors casting is half the battle. Combine Ward’s no-nonsense attitude (his mother and business partner, Joann, makes a fleeting appearance while being billed as co-host) with the clueless women and the fly-on-the-wall access to men’s reactions to them, and there’s enough here to keep the lovelorn interested — or at least feeling superior to those involved.
By the way, in addition to the seven executive producers cited above, VH1 adds four more of its own, which seems a little excessive. Perhaps a little “tough love” in the area of credit inflation needs to be practiced as well.