ABC keeps lighting off new editions of The Bachelor, one off the other, like a chain smoker copping lights off the embers of his last butt. In the latest edition, pilot Jake became the last Bachelor/ette hopeful to fail to “find love” on one edition of the series, only to find a much dearer prize: his own TV show. What lucky woman will land him? What luckier woman will fail to, and become the next Bachelorette?
But really the two-hour premiere of the unkillable dating show was only prelude to ABC’s special Conveyor Belt of Love. Which would be awesome if the title were some kind of incredibly raunchy euphemism, but in fact is simply a dating show involving a conveyor belt. One that asks the question: is it possible for a dating reality show to objectify men the way past ones have done women?
The premise of Conveyor Belt is about superficial judgments by design: a panel of women quickly evaluates potential dates as they roll out assembly-line style. (The belt itself is dispensable, though it makes for a good title; Giant Water Slide of Love or Ox-Drawn Cart of Love might have been nice too.) The men get snap-judged on looks, among other things. Living with your parents is a dealbreaker; magic tricks are not the lady-magnet you might think. Celebrity impressions, on the other hand, got mixed results; one gent struck out with a Sean Connery (“You might remember me from such films as James Bond!”), but a portly gentleman got a date partly on the strength of his Chris Farley.
Conveyor Belt is basically a dating comedy show where the Bachelor/ette is a dating reality show; the “dates” themselves are crammed into the closing act, and there’s only the barest pretense that any of them will lead to anything serious. (ABC calls it a special, presumably with the option of returning if ratings are promising.) On the other hand, that makes its unashamed ridiculousness easier to enjoy. The Bachelor asks you to suspend your disbelief that anyone would find lasting love on a TV show, but Conveyor Belt invites you to take it for the joke it is.
Which is probably why my favorite woman on last night’s panel was the crisply judgmental Keiko, who seemed to embrace the show as a campy lark. Her date, Johnny, came out on stage wearing a swimsuit and 150 pounds of muscle and cradling a miniature dog. And she was so delighted with her choice! She picked out the coolest toy! While the others agonized over their dates’ religious beliefs or sense of humor, she just went for the shiniest hood ornament, and was not disappointed. “I’m definitely going out with Johnny again, because he’s super hot with his clothes on.”
Will she really go out with him again? Do you really care? Conveyor Belt of Love would be a dispiriting show if you took it seriously, but you’re not only obviously meant not to, you’re also meant to forget it 20 seconds after the credits roll. Which made it a good enough time for one night. But I’d probably give it a fake phone number if it asked to call me again.