I want to be very clear: Do not watch ABC’s new reality show The Proposal. Yes, there are some bits that are so awful, they’re ridiculous. But I promise you it’s not worth it.
If you haven’t seen any of the promos, the premise of The Proposal is a Bachelor-ized update of The Dating Game, where a bachelor or bachelorette is hidden from view while being introduced to ten people vying for their love. There are cheesy intros, a “beachwear” round, a round of “deal-breaker questions,” a chance for their friends to question the hopefuls, and contestants get eliminated after each round. And then, after one hour of TV where each contestant speaks for a televised total of about 90 seconds, all but two are eliminated and the bachelor proposes to one of them. It’s like an arranged marriage, if the marriage were arranged by soulless reality-TV producers who cared nothing about the people involved, beyond whether they’d make for good TV.
It’s not really an arranged marriage, of course. They just get engaged … sort of. If you could ever think of a serious marriage engagement as something that happens after boring chitchat and a “beachwear” display, then sure. They’re engaged. The whole thing is exactly as dumb as you think it is, and to spare you from watching yourself, I’ll break down the “highlights.”
The ‘blue-ribbon panel of matchmakers’
We’re assured by Jesse Palmer, the roughly man-shaped lump of Styrofoam who serves as The Proposal’s host, that the contestants are selected for each bachelor or bachelorette by a “blue-ribbon panel of matchmakers.” We see nothing of them. We hear nothing else about them. If Palmer announced that the blue-ribbon panel of matchmakers was actually the ghost of that octopus who picked World Cup winners, I’d find the whole process more honest and believable.
Lest you doubt the gravity of the whole engagement process, The Bachelor’s walking rictus, Neil Lane, hauls his sparkly gold hoard over to The Proposal set so he can lurk around backstage and lure unwitting youths with his suitcase of jewels. It’s hard to imagine a more persuasive symbol of the sweetness and passion of real love than Neil Lane’s face.
The cosmic bodysuits
Okay, so. We’re not supposed to see the bachelor’s face until the big reveal near the end of the episode, but The Proposal still wants to give us a nice meet-and-greet sequence at the beginning. How does one do a meet-and-greet if you can’t see someone’s face? You could shoot the person from behind and use lots of voice-over with some elided physical presence — and The Proposal certainly does that.
But it also uses some face-forward shots. How does it do this without revealing the bachelor’s face, you might wonder? By turning him into a diamond-sparkled cosmic shape, a human void that walks through life carrying a briefcase and occasionally doing bench presses. This Leftovers-credits style of identity obfuscation might be merely disconcerting — your uncanny mileage may vary — but it’s also so cheaply done that you can see the neck creases on the bodysuit that’s used to create the illusion.
This is the only entertaining thing about The Proposal.
The beachwear round
“Dad, I’m sorry, but I want to be vulnerable,” says contestant Jessica, before removing her floral wrap cover-up so that a man hidden in the shadows can see her in a bathing suit. Her father is sitting in the audience and cheering.
Because beachwear round is all about vulnerability, the contestants put on bathing suits, parade down a flight of stairs, and then have to say something deeply personal about themselves. Meanwhile, the rest of the contestants stand decoratively in the background, wearing their bathing suits and smiling prettily. Will this process feel different in later episodes when the contestants are men and the suitor is a woman? Maybe! But ABC kicked off this “soul mate pageant” with an episode where nearly naked women descend a staircase in painfully high heels, and I feel confident in the programming department’s ability to start this show with exactly the vibe they intended to create.
The “deal-breaker” questions
This is the round when the bachelor asks what are supposed to be hard-hitting, no-holds-barred questions about each contestant. Palmer announces it as a category where nothing is off the table, including “politics, religion … even sex.” This weird framing is a useful reminder that absolutely no sex question could ever, ever be as revealing or incendiary as a politics question in 2018. It’s also an expedient way of outlining how fraudulent this willfully glib program is. No relationship between two people could ever work if they don’t take a moment to find out if they’re on the same page about, say, whether it’s okay to take a 2-year-old Honduran asylum seeker away from her mother. Needless to say, no one asks politics questions.