The latest season of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids, which premiered last Friday, opened with an episode accurately titled “Maid of Honorzilla.” The episode’s theme is a perfect illustration of why the series will appeal to anyone who likes the wedding train-wreck genre (so well represented by Bridezillas on WE) and also of why, within the burgeoning Say Yes franchise, the show will always be, well, a bridesmaid.
The format hews closely to that of the original series: wedding party arrives at upscale bridal salon; a voice over points out the impending conflict that is an obstacle to the discovery of the perfect dress; consultants put their heads together to find said dress despite conflict; audience keeps fingers crossed for the bride to say yes (which involves literally uttering the phrase “I’m saying yes”). But whereas the first incarnation, and subsequent bride-centric programming that takes place in different stores or focuses on different kinds of brides, appeals to viewers’ sympathy or sense of romance, the Bridesmaids version is strictly for those who love a good cat-fight. Gone are the heartwarming tales of obstacles conquered—the cancer overcome and the soldiers returned home so sweethearts will be reunited—all of which make the original Say Yes one of the most satisfying silly reality shows on TV today and which explain the success of the show in a glutted wedding-TV market. In their place are a string of friendships ruined by a dress meant to be worn once.
In this premiere episode, viewers meet brides who have brought disaster upon themselves through their choice of a maid of honor. The storyline that gets the most play is that of Meghan, whose friend Jessica demands to wear a different color dress than the ten other bridesmaids and who declares herself the second most important person at the wedding. Grooms are rarely part of the equation here, but that’s enough to cue the ominous music and close-ups of the shocked faces of the others present. The contrast with the other featured story, that of LaToya whose friend’s breasts won’t cooperate with the bride’s vision of the bridesmaid’s look but who isn’t uncooperative enough as a person to merit much attention, illustrates that there’s no room in the show for healthy friendships. The huge wedding parties may be at fault on that count: with only one shopper, there’s time for the show to explain why viewers should care about her but, with a dozen women trying to agree on one dress, it’s just easier to make villains than heroines. With the women on Bridesmaids, the ever-present threat that the bridesmaids will somehow ruin the bride’s big day is not much of a threat at all; when everyone is awful to each other, it’s hard to want that perfect day to be perfect, and when they’re not awful it’s not much fun to watch.
Of course, friends who are mean to each other are reality show manna. But that mean-spiritedness is not what brings viewers to a Say Yes show. The others under the Say Yes umbrella rely on the emotional roller coasters provoked by shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, not the rubbernecking instinct that makes Real Housewives a hit. Both reality camps are addictive in their own way, but when it comes to a franchise that asks you to root for women who spend a house’s-worth of money on a dress (or who force their friends to fork out the dough) it’s important to leave the half-hour thinking that she deserves it—not that she got what was coming to her.
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