This month, Netflix will release Sexy Beasts, a dating show where hot people wear makeup and prosthetics that transform them into weird creatures. Then they date one another, with the presumed goal of finding someone who doesn’t care about them for their looks. Like many Netflix reality shows of the last few years, it’s appealing because it’s unhinged, but also because it has a sardonic narrator/host who keeps things lively with a running commentary about how silly it all is. Sexy Beasts is narrated by Rob Delaney, who’s great in it, at least if the trailer is anything to go by. The Circle was hosted by Michelle Buteau, who was also fantastic.
Reality hosts tend to come in a few distinct models. There’s the Rob Delaney/Michelle Buteau style host, who is in on the joke and half-mocking the whole thing. On more sincere reality shows, there are people like Survivor’s Jeff Probst or Phil Keoghan on Amazing Race, hosts who are mostly there to facilitate the game and be enthusiastic about everything. There are host-experts, like the judges on Top Chef, the fellas on Queer Eye, or the sharks on Shark Tank. And yet, every single one of these reality shows would be improved if their hosts were either swapped with or joined by a new kind of reality host. A curmudgeonly one. A recalcitrant one. A curt, blunt, exasperated host who could cut through the drama with a few retorts and a sharply raised eyebrow. Every reality show would be better if it were hosted by Matt Berry.
There are some shows where Berry’s inclusion is such an obviously good idea that it hardly bears arguing. Imagine one of those big red chairs turns around on The Voice, and instead of Blake Shelton, it’s Berry, who shrugs and says “Yeah, it was fine,” and then he just hits the button and turns the chair back around. Picture Berry, with an expression as though he’s being slowly dipped into hot oil, attempting to help a bride find a dress on Say Yes to the Dress. (The best moment in this one would be the part where, after hours of having no interest at all, he suddenly shoves a lace-bodice V-neck gown at a woman and mutters, “Please stop with the strapless.”) Or what about Berry on Bake-Off, standing next to Mary Berry, taking a bite of a scone, looking mildly disgusted, and then saying nothing at all?
The curious, vital key of a host’s job — in reality television and all kinds of media contexts — is that it is a performance, but it’s a performance of one’s own selfhood. Even when viewers understand that RuPaul’s performance as the host of Drag Race cannot possibly be identical to RuPaul’s private self, the host persona is still connected to the idea of RuPaul, a cultural narrative about who RuPaul is. It’s easy to overlook the way a reality show reveals its hosts, because reality shows are designed as showcases for the drama, the contestants, the competition. But even the most bland host role is really a platform for the host’s personality to get put on display.
And if that platform is displaying the personality of one Matt Berry? Who even knows what you might get! He’s a bit mysterious, which would be so much of the charm. Perhaps a little grumpy. Enthusiastic, but maybe about things you might not expect. Frankly frustrated about why he has to be there at all, and why all of this takes so damn long. Who better to puncture a reality show’s glossy, false-feeling TV bubble? Take the clip below, in which Berry receives an honorary degree from the University of Bedfordshire in 2016 and is beyond uncomfortable the entire time he’s there. This is the energy we want!
Barry would be incredible at the Netflix narrator-style reality-show hosting, as his voiceover work already makes clear. I have a suspicion he’d be a moving, absolutely sincere, reverent host of a show like The Repair Shop, where people bring in treasured family antiques so that expert restorers can bring them back to their former glory.
Beyond all of those, though, there’s a specific reality franchise where Berry would make a particularly welcome addition. Chris Harrison is gone. Guest hosts are being cycled through. What if — and I know this is going to sound wild — what if Matt Berry were the host of The Bachelor franchise? Not permanently! The franchise needs to find someone younger and ideally not male, and even better, not a white man to become its new permanent host. But right now, the show is really exploring how different host dynamics impact the feel of the series. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch someone who could not possibly care less about The Bachelor show up and awkwardly offer all the emotionally overwrought contestants a nice cuppa tea? Maybe someone who, when forced to opine on a Bachelorette’s broken heart, responds by calling the guy a tosser then growls at the producers about why they even cast the guy?
The dream scenario is Berry standing in front of the rose podium, staring out at the field of hopeful contestants, and saying “This whole place is a pigsty. You call this a mansion? My God.” Two episodes later, he stands in front of the podium again: “Guess what, we’re going to Budapest. Personally I hate Budapest, for reasons I will not be detailing at this time, but at least it’ll be better than this rancid excuse for a motel.”
This might not be a role Berry would relish. He might, in fact, hate every minute of it. But once you’ve envisioned Matt Berry sitting on the velour club chair at the Women Tell All reunion episode, sighing deeply, and then saying “All right Lauren H., you’re up next. Tell us why you hate [glances at cue cards] Lauren J.,” there’s no arguing that it wouldn’t make for some incredible television. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for art. Surely the spectacle of Matt Berry as a reality-show host would be worth the personal sacrifice of however much he would absolutely despise the whole experience.
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