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Bliss as a spectator sport

It's June, and there's no shortage of brides and grooms willing to swap sanity for the spotlight. Reality TV's at the altar to catch those vows to love, honor and, OK, humiliate.

June 27, 2004|Janelle Brown | Special to The Times

"Marriage is the only adventure open to the cowardly," wrote Voltaire. Apparently, things were different back in the 18th century.

Today, it takes an extreme measure of courage -- not to mention money, ingenuity and a dose of monomaniacal neurosis -- to embark on a wedding. This, at least, is the conclusion that you might arrive at if you'd turned on cable TV this month. The reality television industry has distilled every ounce of drama from the monstrous $25-billion-a-year wedding industry and delivered up an open bar of new offerings for June, the high season of weddings.

There's "Buff Brides" and "Bridezillas," "The I Do Diaries: Instant Wedding" and "For Better or For Worse," "Secret Weddings" and "A Wedding Story," "Vegas Weddings Unveiled" and "Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?" And that's just the beginning.

Each series purports to track "real" nuptials in all their quirky glory. But bear in mind that this is reality TV, which has turned even the most mundane subject -- say, finding a job -- into a Darwinian competition for survival. Suffer through a few hours with these brides and grooms, and the contemporary wedding starts to resemble a war -- one that demands emptying the royal treasury and a year of battle planning. Forget about love: Weddings are a blood sport.

Sit through even half of these shows, and you'll be forgiven for eloping. Sift through all of them, though, and they begin to fall into four subgenres, which vary wildly from cynical to romantic, materialistic to chintzy. But all are top-loaded with abundant tulle and torpid cliche.

Beware: All that pink champagne is guaranteed to leave behind a vicious hangover.


Sweetly sincere

Though it may be hard to believe, there are still people who believe in pure romance. For this ever-dwindling population, there exist utterly earnest shows such as "Wedding Secrets" (Discovery Health Channel), "Real Weddings From the Knot" (Oxygen) and "A Wedding Story" (The Learning Channel), which walk you down the aisle alongside happy, normal, well-adjusted couples.

Take Barb and Miguel, an Arizona couple recently profiled on "A Wedding Story." They first share the riveting tale of how they met -- "My friend said I should go talk to him. So I did." -- while the camera, its lens blurred with Vaseline, stalks them walking hand-in-hand down the beach. They have a rehearsal dinner, where the family ardently discusses the proper ingredients for paella. They practice walking down the aisle. Finally, synthesizer music kicks in and they say their vows. Everyone cries. The end.

That's high drama compared to "Wedding Secrets." Here, a commentator offers play-by-play analysis as a couple choose flowers and table settings. "Jamie goes with the green tablecloths with a purple flower centerpiece. Now it's Gavin's turn to feel the pressure. He's got to choose the wine." The drama!

Think of these shows as extremely well-produced wedding videos -- and expect them to be just as compelling. Which is to say, not very.


Chasing instant commitment

Why on Earth people would turn the most important day of their lives over to "The I Do Diaries" or "For Better or For Worse" is beyond comprehension. Taking their cues from the TLC hit "Trading Spaces," both shows turn wedding planning into a race against the clock.

"For Better or For Worse" (TLC) corrals a team of friends and family to plan a wedding in one week for $5,000 without the couple-to-be's input. Under the command of a wedding planner -- who provides a theme, like "Gay Paris" or "Mardi Gras" -- the teams are armed with glue guns, spray paint and a list of local thrift stores. When the bride puts on the purple-sequined dress chosen for her, it's not clear whether she is crying from joy or remorse.

At least the brides in the "I Do Diaries: Instant Wedding" on Lifetime select their own gowns: The catch is they get only 15 minutes to do so. The premise here is that a bride-to-be is "surprised" at the moment of her engagement by soap star Lisa Rinna, who gives her the next six hours to plan her wedding. (One recent victim fixed her new fiance with an evil eye and wailed, "What have you done?")

The show purports to deliver celebrity-style fantasy weddings -- dress by Richard Tyler, diamonds by Neil Lane -- but it's actually a very crafty exercise in torture. And product placement. Even gifts from the father of the bride are sponsored by Sony.

Disaster almost ensues -- can a professional caterer cook a meal for 75 in one hour? -- but is always narrowly averted. If the bride isn't truly thrilled with the glue-gunned shoes her friends made, or the uncomfortable Jimmy Choos she had three minutes to pick out, she doesn't say a thing.


Monsters of matrimony

Ah, the Bridezilla. This monster has been known to pitch a fit when the stamps on her envelopes weren't licked just right. She rents a $1,400 suite for herself for the night before the wedding, but balks at dropping $70 on a motel room for her fiance.

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