We are living in the golden age of television. If you’ve read any article written about TV in the last few years, especially ones written during the months when Breaking Bad or Mad Men was on the air, then you’re already aware of this. For as long as critics have been throwing around this declaration — every decade since the ’60s has been a golden age! — other critics have been quick to dismiss it, scoffing at the idea that TV is any better than it once was. The current general consensus is that this golden age, the one focused on complex male antiheroes doing complex things, is coming to an end. To that, I say: What about Dating Naked?
VH1’s new reality dating show is exactly what it sounds like. Dating Naked is not a parody of dating shows but a serious, straightforward, “I just want to find love” dating show. Two people meet, strip down, and go on a date while completely nude. The dates make the nudity extra awkward: they prance around in inflatable plastic balls, they go boogie boarding, they paint with their penises (what else would you do on a first date?) — and the next day, they do it with a different person. The original two people date each other while naked, then each dates two additional people who are naked, and then everyone hangs out together while naked, and nakedly create drama. At the end, the original pair of daters stand in front of the other four potential mates (they are all naked, by the way) and choose who they want to spend the rest of their lives (read: the rest of the day) with.
Golden age of television!
In the first episode, which aired last night, we meet our antihero, Joe. He’s a tattooed Long Island dude who worries about getting “a little excited” when he sees the girls. At first, we root for him and the woman — who is named Wee Wee, for some reason — a bubbly character who fails to hide her insecurity and jealousy. They hit it off. They later put their clothes back on to go on a more “romantic” date (they drink wine and talk to each other).
The next day, Joe goes on a date with a bombshell named Jasmine and admits that he’s no longer thinking about Wee Wee naked because he has this new, hotter naked girl in front of him. Wee Wee goes on a date too, with a silly guy named Jack. “Like the geckos on the island, I like to adapt,” Jack says at one point, channeling the muddled musings of fellow golden age show True Detective. Wee Wee thinks it’s weird that he wears sneakers while naked but informs the audience that he is “packing.” All four meet up, and Wee Wee is heartbroken to learn that Joe is obsessed with Jasmine. And so is Jack. Poor Wee Wee!
There are more dates. Joe dates a concert violinist and Wee Wee dates a “headliner” named Justice. Both dates are very boring. Later, the six of them — still naked, of course — drink in the pool. Wee Wee lusts over Joe, Joe lusts over Jasmine, Jasmine lets Justice pour Jack Daniels into her mouth. It’s all so very stupid and high school. There is some drama when Joe kisses Wee Wee and, later, Wee Wee walks in on him kissing Jasmine. Think Trudy finally confronting a cheating Pete on Mad Men.
The next day, naked and probably hungover, Wee Wee and Joe have to make their final choices. For the audience, the choice is obvious: no one. Don’t date anyone who willingly chooses to go on a VH1 show titled Dating Naked. But it’s not so black-and-white for the contestants; after all, they all chose to go on this show and therefore all deserve each other. Joe, surprisingly, chooses Wee Wee because Jasmine was too much of a chase, whatever that means. Wee Wee takes her time, not wanting to get involved with a player like Joe but also not wanting to spend the rest of her very long life single and alone — because that’s the shitty, hidden subtext of all of these dating shows: This is your last resort, and if you don’t find love here, you won’t find love anywhere. So she picks Joe. It’s anticlimactic.
Dating Naked is nothing more than a boring and stereotypical dating show. There is nothing that sets it apart besides the nudity aspect — and the number of close-ups on butts. This is a show for Tina Belcher, which is to say that it’s not nearly as cool or controversial as VH1 seems to think. Also, there are so many other naked shows on television! Maybe we should re-title this era the Golden Age of Nudity?
But you know what? If you love dating shows (and admittedly, I sometimes do), then there’s nothing you won’t love about Dating Naked. That’s fine. I will probably keep watching because the contestants are awful and the drama is totally manufactured, and that’s what makes it kinda fun. And honestly? The first moments, when the vulnerable contestants meet each other, are awkwardly sweet.
Toward the premiere’s end, we get one final line from our egotistical buddy Justice, a line dripping with so much hubris that even Heisenberg couldn’t pull it off: “Wee Wee don’t have the swag to facilitate Justice.” He even speaks in the third person! It’s such a perfectly shitty ending to a perfectly shitty show.