Rants & Raves

By Lynne Murray

The idea that "Fat is a fate worse than death" is so common in popular culture right now that I hesitated to watch when I heard about the reality show called My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé.

However, they were using the three-letter "F" word in the title, so I decided to at least watch enough to write a scathing critique if it turned out to be a festival of fat jokes. I was pleasantly surprised, and then ended up watching the whole thing. Primarily this was due to actor Steve Bailey, and the ensemble of actors supporting his deception of the lovely, and very uptight, Randi Coy and her highly conservative, arrow-straight family.

The premise of this show is to offer half a million dollars to a young woman to pretend to be engaged to and marry a man who is well, big, fat and obnoxious. Ms. Coy is a not-very-sophisticated, conventionally attractive, 23-year-old who has clearly never thought outside the box in her entire life. She is told that in order to split a million dollars, both parties must convince their families that they have fallen in love during a reality TV show and will be married on national television in just a few days. If their families take part in the sham wedding, the couple will split a million dollars. If family and friends don't cooperate, the contestants walk away with nothing.

What Randi does not know is that her partner in deception, Steve, and his supposed family are professional actors, who are going to play up the in-laws from hell angle to the hilt.

Despite the F word in the title, Steve's size was simply the initial shock to Randi. More than his size, the obstacle for her was his oafish behavior.

I personally dislike surprises and detest practical jokes, but Steve Bailey and his merry band of co-conspirators did an excellent job of tailoring their outrageousness to hit Randi and her family's sore spots. Unconventional lifestyles, bawdy humor and low-brow behavior raised eyebrows and dropped their jaws every time.

Reality TV shows have, at best, tenuous connections with real life as lived by actual humans. But they do give us a pretty clear readout on our current prejudices, hopes and dreams. The motivating factor here is money.

The hypnotic phrase was A Million Dollars. "I would not go on with this if this weren't for a million dollars..." Randi says over and over again while being interviewed and convincing herself to stay, despite her severe discomfort, or even pain. Technically the amount was supposed to be half a million to be split between herself and her parents, if her friends and relatives agree to attend the bogus wedding. But half a million dollars just doesn't conjure up the same magic as "a cool mill."

Adding some believability to the idea that Randi and Steve might be marrying for real (at least in the eyes of friends and family) was the tremendously publicized wedding of Trista and Ryan. That couple met on The Bachelorette reality show and were married in what amounted to multi-million dollar, nationally televised wedding wet dream. One could argue that the unbelievable cost of a formal wedding might also be a motivator for some people who would prefer losing some privacy to going into debt for the foreseeable future. Over the past few years, reality television has discovered that it is not hard to find people who either want to, or can be persuaded to share some of their most intimate moments with tens of millions of total strangers. Those with entertainment industry aspirations are naturally drawn to the kind of spotlight this provides.

The producers of My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé had amazing good fortune in finding attractive, brilliant and resourceful actor Steve Bailey. He conveyed a sense of mischief in framing each episode of "obnoxious, clumsy oaf" behavior, and then in order to lull Randi's parents on first encounter he stated, "My character had to gain 30 IQ points and a soul overnight." By explaining the orchestration of the deception, he provided an atmosphere of collaboration with the audience through episodes of social embarrassment that might easily have been simply excruciating to watch. On occasion, when the deception cut particularly close to the quick, he acknowledged it, but made at least a case for this being all in fun -- and for the money.

Bailey, a classically trained actor, once played an intriguingly similar part -- Caliban, the half-man, half-monster in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Here he demonstrates mental and physical agility. He's in touch with his body -- even while dancing in his jockey shorts while Randi hides behind a dressing room curtain and assures him she does not want to look, or moaning in unacceptably erotic fashion while the two receive a spa treatment. He is totally unafraid to talk about the masseuse "touching my fat" or to show his belly. Frankly, he showed about the same amount of belly that you'd see on your average football linebacker. He also has very nice blue eyes, as even Randi noticed instantly, despite her shock upon meeting him. Are these people blind? I thought the guy was adorable. But I do have a weakness for men with a functioning forebrain.

The actors playing Steve's family were also skilled in improvisation and brilliantly tuned their improvisations to shock the Coy family, but not to offend them to the point where they walked out.

Reality shows, which began as essentially minimally scripted and edited game shows, are evolving into video art forms that make a point and tell a story, by the footage selected during the editing process. Some, like Survivor, have a stronger competition content with tests of skill and strategy. Others more scripted with an eye to a female audience, like The Bachelor and Bachelorette, present the "game of love" in luxurious settings with stronger fairy tale elements in the story line.

Against all odds, and despite my initial trepidation, I found My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé to be an intriguing tightrope dance of deception.

In the interests of disclosure I should say that I only laughed once or twice while watching My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé. My anarchistic streak being what it is, I must also confess that while researching this show, I found a web site offering a cruel, callous and hilarious skewering of this and many other reality shows that made me repeatedly laugh until I could hardly breathe. That's an experience worth sharing. As with all humor, your mileage may vary, but you may enjoy televisionwithoutpity.com as much as I did.


© Lynne Murray