One need look no further than the press release for I Wanna Marry “Harry” to determine its place in the world.
Summer love is in the air as 12 American women travel to England for a chance of a lifetime with a man whom they think is Britain’s most eligible bachelor. Join this diverse group of ladies, from a preschool teacher to a pre-med student, in their journey across the pond, to meet their “royal” Mister Right. On their first night at the enchanting estate, Matthew (or “Sir,” as the ladies call him) throws a lavish masquerade ball where he reveals himself to the ladies for the first time. When the masks come off, will sparks fly or will the spell be broken? Find out which potential “princess” steals his heart from the start and who is asked to leave the estate before the clock strikes midnight.
Is “love” really the right word here?
Matthew Hicks, the Not Prince Harry in question, is a British environmental consultant about the same size and shape as Prince Henry Of Wales—the 29-year-old ginger who happens to be fourth in line of succession to the throne of the Commonwealth realms, which we on this side of the Atlantic call “England.” Admirably, Hicks used to clean up after oil spills and ride a bicycle; now, his career trajectory appears to be impersonating a royal on television. (He has to dye his hair red, but that’s not too bad, as far as Method-acting prep goes.)
In a world where the cable network formerly known as The Learning Channel has stuffed every possible half-hour segment of its programming with another reality show about gypsies marrying little people and buying wedding dresses, it’s hard to imagine that any new reality show concept would really shock, awe, or horrify viewers. I Wanna Marry “Harry” manages all three. Make no mistake: I Wanna Marry “Harry” may be trash, but it is perfect trash. It is poisonous in concept and stellar in execution, a marvel constructed from shit. It’s so well done that the skill almost masks the stink of the premise.
For example: Presumably for liability reasons (and liability reasons only), Hicks never outright claims to be Prince Harry, and evades all questions that would ask him to declare anything point-blank. But he does show up to the first episode in a helicopter, surrounded by bodyguards, attended by servants. Periodically throughout the series the producers plan to whisk him away and bundle him into black SUVs to enhance the illusion; and naturally, in every episode, Hicks takes an extravagant outing with one of the women, showing off privilege he doesn’t have with money he hasn’t earned. It’s kind of brilliant. The show executes a clever dance around ethical considerations while indulging in stunts that call to mind a prank show. Meanwhile, it creates a theater of self-importance for these American women that is all too familiar. It’s amazing how susceptible we all are to our own illusions about ourselves, when we’re entertaining the idea that a prince has put together a dating show to find his princess. It stretches the imagination, but so do our egos.
The contestants are exactly what you’d expect them to be—women who are playing types on a reality show, mouthing lines intended to create maximum drama. They take to their roles with zeal, bitching about each other to the camera within minutes of showing up at the estate. One woman—who ends up getting to stay in a special bedroom adjacent to “Sir’s” by the end of the episode—takes full advantage of her newfound fame by hiking up her skirt and displaying her underwear to the camera. Presumably, the women have signed their lives away in releases and contracts already; and somewhere in the fine print, it said the production company could and would mislead them if it wanted to.
A dating show already stretches the bounds of decency. Gathering together a whole bunch of men or women (because there are no gay couples on reality television) and asking them to love one individual person better is absolutely absurd; it goes against everything we know about love (and Nash’s equilibrium, for that matter). Still, it is entertaining, because everyone on the show is absolutely determined to make a fool of themselves, and many contestants are clued into how dumb the whole process is.
I Wanna Marry “Harry” asks the important question: Is a dating show bad enough? Clearly, the answer is no. So instead of just creating the horror show that is 12 women competing for a man, it chooses also to play them for fools. The show induces viewers to sympathize with Hicks himself, against an array of 12 women who are all being systematically lied to. They become caricatures of themselves very easily, through direction and editing; it’s hard to feel sorry for them, because they are so caught up in the whirl of money, self-importance, and backstabbing.
But it’s also hard to feel sorry for Hicks. He has a folksy, accented charm, but he’s nothing but a con artist. He’s very good at convincing impressionable young women that he is a prince—though of course, he does have an estate at his disposal, staffed by a crowd of servants, who are all headed by a man named “Kingsley.”
Kingsley’s real name is Paul Leonard, and he is an actor. On the show, he works as a butler and sometime host for the girls and his “master” Hicks. By the end of the first episode, the women are all chorusing “Kingsley!” whenever he walks in or out of a room, like he is a mascot, or the high school’s most popular beta male. Kingsley also—according to the show—ran the “Harry school” that taught Hicks how to be Prince Harry, quizzing him on such arcana like “What is your birthday?” and “What is your full name?” It’s Kingsley that really deserves a show, here. Who is this man? Where did he learn to be a butler? And how does he feel, lying to the women he serves?