Things I Hate About You may reinforce gender stereotypes, but in a less offensive and vindictive manner than most of its peers.
Things I Hate About You should be called Minor Irritants That Are Over-Emphasized by Excessive Exposure to Your Spouse. As it stands, the title of this new reality series implies the same intense animosity between its participants that one might see during a domestic disturbance call on Cops. Except that the couples featured in this game show aren't drug addicts, boozers, philanderers or abusers. Things more closely resembles a heterosexual version of The Odd Couple.
Each episode features a "loving" married couple who agree to open their home to video surveillance in order to prove who is the more annoying mate. Viewers learn a little about their background and about the premise of the show from host Mo Rocca, best known for his stint on The Daily Show, and his endless appearances on VH1 retrospectives such as I Love the '70s. Husband and wife each have two weeks to gather evidence to demonstrate the top three complaints about their counterpart. The only rule is that each spouse must keep the gripes a secret from the other.
This allows Rocca to blindside the duo with such "shocking" information throughout the episode. This transparent manipulation is one of Things' major flaws. It's hard to believe that the participants have no idea that some of their personal habits might grate on their mates' nerves. That said, the genre, which boasts spontaneity, has become increasingly constructed, and most viewers have either learned or chosen to overlook these types of details.
Things embraces another reality show gimmick, the use of a jury to determine the outcome. This jury, which consists of "relationship expert" Jacqui Malouf, comedienne Jessica St. Clair, and actor Nick Kroll, view the video evidence and determine which partner is more irritating. The guilty party receives a punishment customized by his or her spouse, who, in addition to inflicting mental and emotional distress on his or her mate, gets a cool prize for being named a more tolerable companion.
The premiere's couple is Renee, 33, and Patrick, 25. In addition to living together, they work at the same radio station where she is a host, and he is her producer. Cute suburbanites, they remain likeable even though they've chosen to air their dirty laundry on national television. In the first round of "play," Patrick and Renee reveal their initial complaints. Viewers find out that she becomes upset when her repeated demands for backrubs are refused. Disturbingly, her neediness extends to the workplace where she often begs co-workers for physical contact as well. While Renee's constant desire for TLC leaves Patrick physically drained, Renee's initial issue with Patrick is a bit more clichéd -- he makes disgusting bodily noises. Basically, he burps and farts with impunity, and makes no attempt to control himself in public. The couple's comments are interspersed with video footage and montages highlighting their so-called "bad behavior."
If such gender-biased quirks are indicative of what's to come, viewers can look forward to episodes devoted to toilet seat etiquette, excessive shoe shopping, and obsessive football watching. The premise would be more interesting if the creators were to dig up some couples with more eccentric idiosyncrasies. But in the end, Things (and other "romance" reality shows) caters to widely accepted stereotypes about the sexes.
Another aspect of the show that falls a bit flat is the interventions mediated by Rocca. Once it is established that Renee is a backrub whore and Patrick is exceedingly flatulent, Rocca reveals to each partner his or her mate's complaint along with the supporting footage. He tries to elicit some heated debate as well as infuse some funny quips but fails on both counts. No one readily admits his or her flaws, and Rocca's deadpan delivery doesn't work in this venue. At one point he states, "Well, I think that you both are very irritating, but it's not up to me." It's hard to tell whether he's being sarcastic or he means to antagonize.
This statement also serves as his awkward segue into the jury deliberations. After viewing the tapes, there is discussion among the panel members. Whose "expert" opinions amount to: "If it's a medical condition, seek help. Don't make your partner your personal chiropractor," and "Yes, maybe he has a rotting penguin inside his body." Finally, each juror scores the offensive habits on a scale from one to 10 (10 being the most annoying). Whoever has the lowest combined score after three rounds is the winner.
The process is the same for rounds two and three, the only difference being the habits scrutinized. The jury attributes his forgetfulness to his passive-aggressiveness in response to her nagging: planning a simple dinner with friends sends her into an organizational tailspin. In the end, Patrick's worst offense appears to be his uncontrollable emissions, while Renee's is her excessive attention to their dog, Sampson.
Like other reality shows, this one includes a last twist that gives both players a chance to improve their final score. Each person picks what he or she thinks is the partner's worst offense and whatever score the judges originally gave that offense is then tripled. Before the tallies are revealed, Malouf offers some advice, suggesting that Patrick see a gastroenterologist and Renee hire a party planner. Her glibness isn't surprising, given that the show's goal is to validate one spouse's grievances, rather than rehabilitate either offender.
Despite the fluff, Things I Hate About You gives viewers a more pedestrian look at intimacy than similar shows. It may reinforce gender stereotypes, but in a less offensive and vindictive manner than most of its peers. I'd rather see a couple incorrectly navigating a sea of sexual politics than women lining up like chattel for the chance to be part of a televised harem. At least these couples exhibit genuine affection, and Things I Hate About You makes clear that marriage is a commitment.