Tuesday's (May 26) California Supreme Court ruling on Proposition Eight has me contemplating the sanctity of marriage. With that in mind, I urge all California voters (and all national voters for that matter) to tune in to the premiere of "Hitched or Ditched" at 9 p.m. ET. You don't often hear about supposedly educated voters attempting to restrict the parameters of heterosexual marriage, nor are you likely to ever see a better illustration of the need for such a referendum than The CW new reality show. 

There's more damage being done to the institution of marriage in 44 minutes by the stupid heterosexuals of "Hitched or Ditched" than could be done in a thousand generations of marriages by consenting homosexuals. 

And with that, I'll step off my soap box. "Hitched or Ditched" is only political by the association of its premiere date. Taken in a vacuum, it's no more or less political than The CW's recent dud "13 - Fear Is Real" and no better qualitatively.

[Review after the break...]

So the premise goes like this: You start with a long-term couple seemingly in no hurry to walk down the aisle. There must be something wrong with them, right? Exactly. So irrelevant and superfluous host Tanya McQueen shows up at the couple's door, accompanied by the friend who outed them. The couple is presented with an invitation to their own wedding, seven days hence. The show's producers will pay for the whole build-up and the ceremony itself and on the glorious day, the couples will have to decide if they're ready to tie the knot or break up.

Wait, who gave producer Mike Fleiss and The CW the right to issue an ultimatum like this and is the "break up" portion of the equation contractually mandated? And does the marriage ceremony lose some of its impact when the faux-priest kicks things off with a declaration like, ""Do you understand the magnitude of what could or could not happen in the next few moments?"

The show trades upon what is already an obnoxious dynamic. Every "Amazing Race" season, for example, seems to have at least one long-term dating couple where the gal is all, "I love him, but if we don't get married, I don't see any future for us" and the guy is all, "I love her, but dude..." Every season, that couple is guaranteed to be my least favorite, but as tests for matrimonial welfare go, a high-pressure trip around the world feels far more effective, to me at least, than one week of intrusive camerawork, contrived and scripted drama and the sort of altar-side pay-or-play final choice that could form a generation of Miss Havishams.

You can tell the tone of the show based on which foot The CW opted to put forward for the premiere.

North Carolina residents Travis and CeLisa have been together for four years, but no ring. The official press notes tell us that their biggest obstacle is "jealous," but that's just shorthand for "they're vapid people who bring out the worst in each other and probably would have moved on long ago if they were swimming in a deeper dating pool." She's a flirty, flitty nitwit and he's an insecure, obsessive lunkhead and everybody around them thinks they should have broken up long ago. Heck, her father threatens to kill Travis three different times within minutes of hearing that a wedding is afoot. Granted that he's been stirred into his hyperbole by alcohol and the intrusive cameras, but he doesn't seem totally unreasonable.

[The episode is titled "Bastards Out of Carolina," which would seem to be a reference to the Dorothy Allison novel "Bastard Out of Carolina," which is a story of abuse and sexual molestation, which makes the whole thing simultaneously appropriate and woefully inappropriate.]

With the ceremony approaching, Travis and CeLisa pick out cake, select a ring from featured sponsor Natalie K and she goes out with friends for a bachelor party where random strangers just happen to come over and flirt with her and just happen to decide to strip for her just as Travis arrives to see what's going on.

You watch the episode rooting for a horrible flameout and the cessation of the impending nuptials, which is ghoulish enough, but there's the awareness that without the cameras, this probably would have happened naturally. Forcing Travis and CeLisa to the brink of revelation isn't a public service, because the editors don't do a good job convincing us that their partnership is damaging to anybody but themselves and that either one of them would actually be capable of more happiness or more stability with somebody else.

So it's all just a freakshow and just because the couple's doomed to failure anyway doesn't mean that the pressure of the camera, their families and the pomp and circumstance won't force them to get hitched anyway, so don't think you know what's coming until the very last second.

Critics were sent a second episode, from far later in the run, where the couple -- Torrino and El Lana -- have been together for 10 years. She's white. He's African-American and his mama disapproves. That's their only real obstacle and they're actually a pretty sweet couple and one could conceivably imagine rooting for them to work it out. That's why The CW won't be airing that episode first.

These couples all have problems, but precious few seconds are spent with them talking to relationship counselors or members of the clergy. No, those people are trained professionals. The producers prefer the in vino veritas path to enlightenment, hoping that with the help of booze and nosy, camera-hungry friends and family, their complicated problems will be solved in seven days of artificial stress. So the women all go about planning their fairy tale weddings (CeLisa, in tried-and-true reality TV fashion, must say "fairy tale" 20 times in her episode), while the guys shrug and wait for it all to be over. 

There was actually a bit of backlash a couple years ago when FOX defiled marriage for the far more entertaining "Married by America." That show, by democratizing these sham unions, at least acknowledged what "Hitched or Ditched" keeps on the down-low, the unspoken assumption that some people shouldn't be allowed to take control of their own romantic destinies. 

"Marriage is a sacred institute," malaprops one of Travis' uncles in the premiere. 

You wouldn't know it from watching "Hitched & Ditched." 

 

 

"Hitched or Ditched" premieres on Tuesday, May 26 at 9 p.m. on The CW.

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