The latest installment of "Chains of Love" makes "Temptation Island" look like "Jeopardy!" and "Jerry Springer" look like "Firing Line." It makes the Garden Claw -- a Garden-Weasel product, available at Kmart and memorably introduced to us this evening in one of those UPN commercials we've never seen before -- look like a distressed-leather La-Z-Boy recliner with a built-in cup holder.
Right now, in hell, Molech is wondering whether John de Mol is angling for his job. De Mol and his Endemol productions gave us the American version of "Big Brother" last year.
Molech is thinking, "I don't know what it is about that Dutch guy, but he gives me the creeps."
This week on "Chains of Love," a guy named Tomas is chained to four women UPN calls "lovely" and Hooters calls "the dinner shift."
Tomas is a grad student -- a grad student of evil, we presume -- and an "old-fashioned romantic," which our experience has taught us means he's controlling, humorless and impossible to please.
He'll release four women, one by one, when a large and silent Samoan-looking fellow called "The Locksmith" appears throughout the show.
After meeting Tomas, we are introduced to his future chain-mates through a series of dynamic minibios with exploding superimposed titles. The first girl is a Heidi Fleiss look-alike named Shannon, who describes herself as a "fun-loving party girl." Shannon lists several party foodstuffs -- pizza, chicken wings, beer -- that she is able to consume while partying.
(Tomas, meanwhile, is riding in the back seat of a limo, getting a preview. This week, the girls have photographed a favorite part of their bodies, and it probably comes as no shock that there is not a single brain Polaroid in the stack.)
Next is Tammy. "Career-driven and intense," she sometimes enjoys "fun." Twice, we are shown that Tammy can read, or at least stare intently at a piece of paper.
On UPN, this makes Tammy seem sort of like a strange, exotic bird.
Tammy also claims to have "good morals and values," which makes her seem sort of like a goner on UPN.
Third, the dwarf we always forget to list, "bashful bombshell" Jane. Jane is a blond, and stacked. She says she has to meet the others to figure out how she's unique. Of Jane and Jane's navel, Tomas says, appreciatively, "I'm a Latin." (Castanets clatter in the background -- no, really.)
"Latins are known to appreciate shape," Tomas informs us.
Jane tries to say that she works out "probably five times a week," but almost doesn't make it through "probably." It's a lot of syllables for Jane.
She pouts, however, like a champ.
Finally, there's Alma, whose "boobs are real." (On UPN, this fact is announced as an act of singular bravery, the way "a stint in the Peace Corps" might be mentioned on another channel.) Alma is a "quirky writer." Also a dog walker -- not because she's not published but because "dogs can't hurt you like men can."
(Of course, to be fair, men can't hurt you like dogs can, either; they just don't have the incisors for it.)
In sum, this week's contestants, like every week's contestants, make exile seem like an ever more attractive option.
Tomas meets the girls. We think his graduate studies are in anthropology: He immediately identifies Alma's cheek peck as a "Latin thing."
He notes that Tammy "looks Latin," too.
"Are you Latin?"
"No. I'm Italian," Tammy says. Which makes her a descendant -- as luck would have it -- of the guys who invented Latin. But Tammy's mothlike mind does not pause on the history of Western civilization at present, since a "distant bell" is ringing, "summoning" everybody into the "ritual room" for the "chaining ceremony."
After the chaining ritual, the chain gang walks around amusingly and eventually sits down to eat or, as Tomas evocatively terms it, to "break bread." A book on Tomas' chair contains information on each of the girls courtesy of their ex-boyfriends.
Tammy's calls her somewhat demanding. Shannon's ex-boyfriend calls her lazy, manipulating and a drunk. (These words will later come to evoke a harsh foreboding.)
Alma's ex calls her a drama queen, and Jane's former husband says he's still waiting for her to send him her left breast implant as part of their divorce agreement.
We are shocked by this last bit of nastiness, frankly, as is Tomas. He does not think breasts are something to make light of.
He looks like he just ate a Hot Pocket, which, oddly, is what the next commercial is selling. If we could eat a Hot Pocket instead of watching "Chains of Love," we would.
We would go that far.
After the break, Tomas mentions that Jane -- who looks like about 40 miles of rough road -- is very similar in appearance to one who broke his heart. We're assuming he means one who still has both implants in place. Alma, meanwhile, has body language that makes him "want to take care of her." Maybe it's the way she flails her arms around helplessly, like a colicky infant. Tammy has "something there" that intrigues him, something hard to define. He thinks maybe it's "her looks."
As for Shannon, he can tell she's the wild one. It's probably something in her bleary eyes: furtive and ashamed while sober, glassy and mean while drunk.
But more on that later.
The group ventures out to play a little game called "truth or dare pool" and get ogled by locals. Truth or dare pool, which probably requires no explanation, results in Shannon spanking Jane, yelling "Bad dog, bad dog," and Jane simulating orgasm.
But it's so worth it, for a small fraction of $10,000 before taxes.
Later, in the car, Tomas breaks some bad news. He's saving himself for some lucky bride. Yes, Tomas is celibate, which explains what he's doing chained to a bimbo, a drunk, a doormat and a love remora. In fact, we learn, he has been celibate for a total of five years, which may account for his frequent crying jags, but more on that later.
For now, Shannon says, he "screwed up" twice before. "Who's saying he can't screw up again?"
And here's another bit of news: Tomas is a Christian. Sure, for many girls, it's an attractive combination -- sober, Christian, abstemious, judgmental, moralizing and prudish: a catch!
But these girls were sort of in the market for "fun." And Shannon would prefer for it to be liquid.
So it's no surprise that once the wine starts flowing, the grievances start flying. Alma complains that Tomas is paying too much attention to Tammy and not enough attention to her. Tomas protests, unconvincingly, pointing out that, you know, they are chained. Tammy takes Tomas' side against Alma as Jane looks on and giggles. So Shannon, who's been getting reacquainted with the grape all night, jumps in.
"You said you wanted to kiss her. Are you pretending? Are you kidding? Are you joking?" She runs out of synonyms and sense, but not of vitriol. "Then don't act innocent."
"Hey, easy now," says Tomas, who doesn't look like he engages in too many tavern brawls.
"But you did. It's funny that you act innocent." Shannon is by now slurring, an eerie smile pasted on her face.
"Easy now," Tomas says again, as Tammy looks on adoringly. He's so thrillingly condescending!
"You and I have something to talk about," he says to Shannon. It's her drinking, isn't it?
"La, la, la, la," Shannon ripostes.
"La, la, la, la," replies Tomas. "You're out of here tomorrow."
After this Algonquin-style exchange, Shannon is wasted, miserable and confused. Her mind naturally turns to sex. So she kisses Tomas on the way to the hot tub. Once the four are situated, she sits across from him and treats his foot to a tongue bath and tries to get his little piggies in her mouth.
At this point, we would gratefully accept a grim execution at the hands of the Locksmith and a Garden Claw, but it is not to be.
Tomas the Christian is in a state of moral confusion as well. The toe sucking has him appalled but dimly intrigued by a hint of a world he's never considered before, like a church deacon propositioned by a transvestite hooker.
But Tomas isn't buying what she's selling. When she snuggles up to him in bed later, Tomas asks her to kindly get off him.
"If it's all right, I don't really want to make any contact," he says politely. Jezebel!
"Let's not get into this," Shannon snaps, rolling over. "Good night."
"Wait a minute," sniffs the haughty teetotaler. "This is not your conversation to rule!"
What follows is a particularly scorching episode of "The Date From Hell."
Shannon gets up and starts screaming and swearing like a guest on "Jerry Springer" (which she is, sort of, except that at the moment Jerry's not around and she is chained to a custom-built bed for five).
We're seeing the dark side of skankius drunkius, the American "fun-loving party girl" native to TGI Fridays across this great country.
Shannon's on the outside of the bed. We're watching on nightcam: She kneels over poor Tammy, who literally covers her face in fear, and shouts at Tomas. Jane and Alma fight for a pillow to hold over their heads.
"You have a big fucking problem, buddy. Huge!
"You think you know who you are, 'Mr. Fucking [unintelligible] I Need to Fucking Wax My Chest!'
"You think you're fucking cool! You're a fucking geek."
Tomas can only respond: "You're in it for the money. The money -- mo-nay!"
The next morning, Shannon wakes up looking even more frightened than the others. This is one of those moments she's going to talk about in A.A. for years to come.
"Scary" is the most diplomatic word the other women can find to describe Shannon. Alma says, "I didn't know if they were going to end up fighting or having sex or what. She was a little scary." Jane concurs.
The camera then focuses on a blue bottle with a tag on it. It reads "rum." Behind it, Shannon appears blurry. Widening the lens aperture is a cheap, effective way to reduce depth of field, thereby conveying a character's inner blurriness.
Tomas struggles to explain his feelings. He's able to forgive, he tells us.
But not forget.
Shannon obviously feels bad. But think for a moment about how we feel when a commercial reveals that a human-lard golem made of the discarded fat of liposuction patients is driving around Los Angeles on "Special Unit 2" this week. (In L.A., even discarded fat drives.)
The Locksmith has shown up, giving Tomas a chance to express exactly how he feels about Shannon. In two words: "Frankly, psychotic." He gives her $13 for her unflinching portrayal of a "Friday the 13th" beast and says goodbye.
As she drives away, Shannon tells the Locksmith that Tomas had it out for her from the start because she showed her breast in the photo, and "he can't handle a very strong woman."
The poor Locksmith. He wants to do Hamlet and he's second-billed to someone named Madison Michele. Mute, too. Life can be so cruel.
With Shannon gone, the group relaxes and is soon enjoying an adorable hayride. Alma tells heartwarming stories about her pluck and resourcefulness, including the one about the time she ambushed her deadbeat dad years after he abandoned the family, and the one about the time she flashed a parking lot attendant to avoid paying the $9 she owed.
When the Locksmith shows up, Alma gets the boot ... and $1,009.
The extra $9 is a Christian-like gesture by Tomas so she doesn't have to expose herself for parking next time.
Tomas finds her, well, "wounded." Alma weeps. She thanks him twice. We're humiliated for her. Tammy lets drop a salty tear, and Tomas puts a protective arm around her.
In the car, Alma muses on the poetic and beautiful way in which Tomas ejected her from the show. "It was a release, it was almost like an orgasm, it was beautiful!"
The remaining two are touched as well, conveniently ignoring the fact that when Tomas asks himself (as he surely does often), "What would Jesus do?" Jesus apparently answers: "Implants."
The next morning, Madison Michele shows up to announce the day's two semiprivate dates. She is windblown, as always, as she explains the rules. (Maybe a fan is stalking her?)
Anyway, Jane's date is a "tropical paradise" on the arid Southern California coast. Jane's formidable chest is only part of what gets Tomas talking. The date is a series of crotch shots followed by a lovely lecture on marriage and compatibility by Tomas and, later, a symposium on his past hurts by beautiful blonds, plus butt close-ups.
Tomas is very hirsute, we see.
As reality TV couples so often do, they "connect."
Tammy thinks tonight is her chance to "connect" with Tomas as well. But things go horribly wrong during their intimate sushi dinner. Here's an example:
"Do you want to do a shot of sake with me?" Tammy asks, all sweetness and light.
"I have the funniest feeling that you're trying to get me drunk," says Tomas, not at all coy. "But then again, you've kind of been trying to get me drunk this whole time."
"I have a sense that this is an issue for you," Tammy says. "You think I need to drink to relax."
"I can open up and let a person know what I'm feeling, what I'm thinking, without alcohol. OK?"
"So when someone needs to have alcohol to open up, I don't know, that's just where I am."
She plops her head in her hand.
"I mean, you're talking like I'm some kind of strait-laced freak or something!" he sniffs.
She bursts out laughing and he stares at her with pure hatred in his beady eyes.
"This is pitiful," he says.
Tammy tries to treasure him, but Tomas is full of doubt -- and then the big guy shows up. Tammy smiles. Jane smiles. Tomas nods. Tammy looks soulful. Tomas weeps. Tomas kisses Tammy soulfully.
"The connection" he'd hoped for is not there.
Tearfully, he chooses the implants over the evening's second manifestation of demon rum incarnate.
That night, in bed, Tomas observes that "sometimes what you think is good for you is really not."
Like Lean Pockets, we imagine. Another quality sponsor of "Chains of Love."
The next morning, Tomas, Jane and her breasts meet Madison Michele (nee Michele Madison). Tomas tells Jane that he has worked past his preconceived notions and has realized how much they have in common. He wants to "pursue a relationship."
Under the "rules" of the "game," Jane is whisked away and "tension" builds.
Off-screen, Jane is given the opportunity to split. Tomas must walk up to the terra-cotta-kissed balcony, where he'll find either Jane and her assets or just the Locksmith.
As Tomas packs to meet her, he basks in the memory of the light that comes out of her eyes when she talks to him, and recalls their "spiritual connection."
"The potential for love is there," he says.
But Jane, unfortunately, isn't.
"I feel really bad that I may have hurt Tomas," she breathes from God knows where. "We just didn't have that 'ultimate connection.'"
Finally, the camera soars over a pensive Locksmith standing, tellingly, on a cliff's ledge, contemplating his career and wondering whether he should jump. The final titles fade up.
"Tomas never heard from Jane," they read. "A week later, he called Tammy. Since then, they've gone on dates, they've gone on trips, they just haven't gone all the way."
Which is so much more than we want to know.
-- Carina Chocano