On the very same September night that the summer’s most wonderfully grotesque dating competition program, Bachelor in Paradise, reached its inevitable conclusion with the betrothal of a dead-eyed duo called Lacy and Marcus, A&E was standing by with an even more dazzling example of how to make the romantically bereft wish they were never born. Being trapped at a Mexican resort mingling fluids with one or more rejects from the Bachelor franchise is one thing. Love Prison, premise forthcoming, is another thing altogether. A much more sadistic thing.
Two people who've been dating each other on the Internet but have never met in person agree to meet. And they're ever so excited! It's not until they've each arrived at a boat slip in an undisclosed location that an unfriendly PA informs them, in their turn, that they need to hand over their cell phones because they're about to be incarcerated for seven whole days in the Love Prison, an actual island fortress (well, it's a house), where they'll be sensorily deprived except for the sights and sounds created by their not-so-significant other.
As the audience has been informed by white-on-black text accompanied by horror-movie-tense music, there are "no producers in the house, no modern technology, no escape." There's also no way these people are still going to like each other after seven grueling days spent as cellmates. (Seriously, the only bedroom has bunk beds, and the couple is only allowed one hour of "yard time" a day.) But none of these shows exist to foster healthy long-term relationships, so it's refreshing when there's no pretending that's the case.
In episode one we met Billy and Jeanne, a couple who've been dating online for six months but haven't met because he lives on Long Island and she's in southern California. Granted, six months isn't a very long time to get to know a person, but once the two have been locked up together, there's almost no indication they know each other at all; they might as well be strangers. Maybe they are. For instance, Jeanne was completely unaware that Billy is disgusting, a thing he demonstrates in a variety of ways, but most notably by having a tattoo of a camel on one of his big toes. "If you can have a camel toe, I can have a camel toe," he explains to Jeanne, who can hardly focus because her life is flashing before her eyes.
And, sure, the show can brag that there are no producers in the house—on The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, etc, the producers are practically cast members—but there's still plenty of manipulation. The television hanging over the mantel doesn't work—except when the producers switch it on remotely to play for the couple some footage of each divulging something unflattering in a taped confession it's obvious neither knew would be shown to the other.
In episode two, a schlubby, balding guy named Chris finally meets fit, bubbly Rosie, with whom he's been chatting for two years. Chris's infatuation with Rosie cools—and quick—as he discovers that she's an unpleasant human being. She belittles him, mocks him, throws tantrums. Chris says he's thankful for the experience: in seven days, he saw in her the awful things that might've otherwise taken several more years to reveal themselves. A week in Love Prison was getting off easy.
Love Prison, Mondays at 9 PM on A&E