Last week, NBC premiered Ready for Love, the latest bland iteration of reality dating shows. In the show, three interchangeable clean cut dudes pick from groups of interchangeable attractive women and hope to find true love. I can't tell you if they found it, because I could only keep the nausea down for about 40 minutes of Ready for Love's 2 hour premiere.
Into this cynical landscape comes Burning Love, a genius web series spoofing reality dating shows. Bizarrely, the show just made the jump from web to E!, so now the parody reality show will run on TV alongside reality shows that are unintentional parodies.
Created and written by Erica Oyama and directed by Ken Marino, Burning Love has been a spot-on satire of dating shows, primarily The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Everything from the production value of the shots to the lavish communal home the contestants share to the convoluted date ideas (a puppet show! Exercising!) make you feel like you are actually watching a reality show. Burning Love's excruciating attention to detail in recreating The Bachelor's absurd ambiance is a crucial part of what makes the show such an enjoyable commentary on the toxic gender and dating norms many reality shows spread.
Burning Love's first season stars Ken Marino as the bachelor: Mark Orlando, a fireman looking for love. Marino, is brilliant as Mark, a walking parody of boringly handsome Bachelor archetype. He's a muscular dude who parades around shirtless, constantly working out and uttering mind-numbingly dumb dialogue. When he runs out of banter, he discusses getting laid and blatantly stares at contestants' chests.
Mark's group of potential brides-to-be range from a teacher to an 86-year-old grandmother to a transgender dancer/pedicurist named Ballerina (played by Ken Jeong). The show constantly calls out everything ridiculous on these shows, pointing out the the lack of racial diversity and playing contestant stereotypes to the extreme. On the first season, for example, there's a "crazy bitch" Lexie (Beth Dover) who takes the role a little over the top: Instead of just being a fun-loving alcoholic, she's homicidal.
Mark eventually confesses many times to not being into any of the contestants but just wants to sleep with them all.
In the second season, the show stars Julie (June Diane Raphael), the "damaged by love" heroine. The potential future husbands fulfill a lineup of stereotypes from an overly devoted dad to Blaze (Ryan Hansen), the totally hot and completely noncommittal guy who has to constantly "bounce" due to other obligations like getting his mail.
When it comes time for Julie to pick her guy, she scream-cries, "So many men want to marry me!!" The show makes clear that all this spectacle is not about finding love as much as going through the act of it with absolutely anyone willing.
Beyond skewering the dating show, Burning Love serves as a comedic showcase for some great actresses who are under Hollywood's radar. June Diane Raphael (you may know her as Jess's lesbian doctor friend on New Girl) as Julie is a complete powerhouse. She is unafraid to be completely awful, self-centered, and utterly clueless. Natasha Leggero is gold as Haley—a drunk, swearing, no pants-wearing contestant—as are Malin Ackerman, who plays a homeless woman who signed up as a contestant to get a place to sleep, and Janet Varney as a closeted lesbian whose mother has forced her into being on the show. Some of my favorite bigger-name actresses also make an appearance: Kristen Bell plays a devout Christian contestant and Christine Taylor has a role as a former, extremely disillusioned contestant.
Season three of Burning Love just began this past week—judging from the first two seasons of Burning Love, the race to that $900 prize and hot tub sex will continue to be a hilarious, subversive look at the dregs of exploitative reality television. Here's the first episode from the new season: