We Need to Talk About the New Dating Show ‘Love Prison’

I love reality dating shows in the worst way. I carry a blazing torch in my heart for Bachelor and Bachelorette and my passion for Bachelor in Paradise is a dark and unholy thing to behold. So when I found out about A&E’s new Gilligan’s Island-meets-Match..com dating show Love Prison (Mondays at 10/9c), I was like, “Of course I’m going to check you out and if everything works out, I’ll be obsessed with you forever and ever and ever.” You guys, it’s okay, I like things like Russian literature and post-modern art too, I’m into enough smart things to be entitled to love something as trashy and ridiculous and so-perfect-it’s-practically-god-like as reality dating.

So here’s how it works on Love Prison. Every episode, the show picks a couple who has been dating online for several months and sticks them on an island (not a sexy, tropical island, but like a normal, boring island on the East Coast) for a week, and that time together either makes the couple or breaks the couple. Also, the couple has to spend 23 hours every day indoors, and the crew messes with the couple by remotely turning on the TV at weird intervals to reveal scandalous bits from each person’s past. And the couple can’t bring their cell phones or any technology with them.

The first episode, which featured Billy, a Long Island tatted-up slacker dude in his early 40’s and a Jeanne, a Southern Californian old-fashioned romantic in her late 30’s , didn’t get the best reviews. The Daily Dot complains that, “On top of the tired premise and boring subjects, Love Prison is a rather cheesy production.” while Entertainment Weekly lays out the complicated premise and then asks us readers if we are “confused?”

After watching the pilot, I can say this show isn’t THAT bad. They chose an interesting couple for their first time out, Billy and Jeanne are likable and engaging and aren’t all fratted and sororified up like Bachelor-franchise participants and that’s all great. I had a fine enough time watching the pilot, but I can’t see going back for that much more. Honestly, it seems like A&E is missing the point of what makes reality dating shows go the distance. First of all, the show is an HOUR long which is WAY WAY WAY too long to spend with one couple stuck inside for 23 hours every day for a week–WAY WAY WAY too long. I can see this being a 21-minute show MAYBE but 43 minutes on two people indoors all the time—you are out of your GD mind.

Also, it just seems like this show is working way too hard to make its couples way too miserable. There should be a balance of positive and negative fantasy in every reality show. For example, in Bachelor in Paradise, the best show that’s ever been on television ever, there is positive fantasy (“Tulum, Mexico is so sexy!” “All the other contestants are so sexy!” “When you get a date card, you get to go have a romantic dinner somewhere with cobblestones or swim in a magical cave pool,”), BUT there’s also negative fantasy (“Everyone is acting like they’re in junior high,” “There’s nothing to do all day save get sunburned on the beach and at night maybe go make out with someone in the ocean,” “You have to get coupled up with someone by the rose ceremony, even if you’re not all that into the dude/lady in question because otherwise you’re going home, sucker-pants”). The dream and the nightmare balance each other out.

I was fine with Love Prison, like if I was down for the count with a bad flu bug and there was a marathon and I was caught up on all my other TV, I’d give a few more eps a spin, but this just is not compelling enough to be appointment television.

(Image via A&E)

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