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TV Review: ‘The Proposal,’ ABC’s Bizarre Throwback of a Reality Show

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Miss America pageant announced that it would drop its swimsuit competition and pageant descriptor in order to focus on inner beauty and other such empowering buzzwords. That updated version will air on ABC in the fall. In the meantime, the network has swooped in with “The Proposal,” a bizarro world replacement, which makes its intentions clear when host Jesse Palmer spreads his arms wide and declares, “Let the soulmate pageant begin!”

ABC’s “The Proposal” opens with the promise that “what you’re about to see has never been attempted on television,” but that’s not exactly true. The new reality show is basically just an accelerated version of “The Bachelor” by way of “The Dating Game,” hiding an eligible bachelor from the view of ten women contestants as he narrows them down in order to propose to one by the time the end credits roll. If “The Bachelorette” is supposed to be a champagne glass of romance, “The Proposal” is a “to hell with it” shot.

While the man watches on from a shadowed “pod,” the women parade onstage as the crowd cheers. A perky announcer shares fun facts about them, ranging from “she loves the beach and hates parades” to “she learned to surf, even though she’s horrified by the ocean.” One is introduced as a lifelong baton twirler (“sometimes the batons are on fire!”) before it’s revealed that she’s also a neuropsychologist.

Once they reach the second round, the women come back out in “beachwear,” because as Palmer puts it, “physical compatibility is a big part of falling in love.” Meanwhile, the suitor remains hidden from view until it’s down to the final three, give or take an introductory package in which he takes the form of an iridescent blob straight out of “Annihilation.”

This round is especially jarring, because it’s the one in which the women are expected to get past the fun facts to bare their souls for their suitor, all the while wearing sassy bathing suits. “Dad, I’m sorry, but the first thing I want to do is be vulnerable,” one says, balancing a family scrapbook as she takes off her sarong to let her mystery man get a better look at her in a one-piece. (ABC’s website indicates that the show will also let women judge from the pod, at which point it will be fascinating to see what kind of “beachwear” her presumably male suitors might wear.)

If this all sounds surreal, well, it is. In a time when even the Miss America pageant is trying to show that it understands the possible damage of judging women on their most superficial merits, “The Proposal” is doing exactly that while pretending it’s about true love. It’s also kind of incredible — and not in a good way — that ABC is airing a show about pushing engagements upon two relative strangers amidst serious questions about how it screens (or doesn’t screen) its “Bachelorette” contestants.

Despite all of its attempts at both figurative and literal fireworks, “The Proposal” is also not painfully outdated, but also painfully boring. This reality show isn’t some magical solution to the nightmare that is dating. It’s a “get married quick” scheme — and we all know how that usually ends.

TV Review: “The Proposal”

Reality series; Mondays at 10 pm on ABC.

TV Review: 'The Proposal,' ABC's Bizarre Throwback of a Reality Show

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