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It's love through the ages

July 15, 2007|Jon Caramanica | Special to The Times

NBC'S "Age of Love" (9 p.m. Mondays) is ostensibly about two groups of women -- twentysomethings and fortysomethings -- who are competing for the affections of Australian tennis star Mark Philippoussis. But the most compelling drama isn't between the 40s and the 20s; it's the 40s versus the Biological Clock.

Even the twentysomethings understand this. "It's gonna be one of us [that Mark chooses], it's not gonna be one of them," one of them proclaimed in the second episode, to which one of her peers added: "Because we can still have kids!" Ebullient laughter ensued.

This countdown is as gratuitous and tacky as the one on "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve." But the cougars of "Age of Love" will not be so easily cowed.

Certainly there are moments of staring down the barrel of time. When Lynn, 40, was eliminated, she fought back tears: "My grandmother is always telling me, 'I pray to God every day that he lets me live long enough to see you get married.' I hope she gets her dream."

But first, they chase baser impulses. When they initially see Mark in a video montage meant to sell his hunkiness (to the home viewers as well, one presumes), they fawn appropriately. And when they meet him in person, they're confidently flirty. It's not repaid in kind. Mark's displeasure, if not distaste, was completely visible -- it was as if he were being punk'd. He actually said, gruesomely if without malice, to one contestant, "I've never dated an old woman." Perhaps if he'd been more relaxed, he might have found time for the "er."

But libido, like air, adjusts to fill the space allotted. The first two women he kisses are in their 20s, but he seems to genuinely prefer the company of the older women and soon locks lips with most of them. It helps, undoubtedly, that they are genetically (or otherwise) blessed. On a recent date, they were outfitted in bikinis, prompting Mark to say admiringly that some of the older women had bodies that would make some of the younger women jealous.

The older women who sometimes compete on ABC's "The Bachelor" are typically played off as embryo-starved crazies. Here, though, they're assertive and frank. They ask to be kissed, without seeming desperate. They reject Mark's stiff body language -- at times, he looks like a wild animal trying desperately not to be hunted -- needing more honest engagement. They don't eschew dating show conventions altogether -- backstabbing is clearly on the horizon -- but they appear to be less concerned with spectacle than with the business of their emotional future. And if it's not here, then on to the next -- they're far too proud to beg.

Can a Lothario learn?

THE same can't truly be said of Scott Baio, the '80s Lothario staring down a ticking clock of his own. It's not children on his mind, though; rather, it's his own romantic stability he's looking to bring into the world, a gift that has eluded many an ex of his. They're all there in the opening sequence of his new show, "Scott Baio Is 45 ... And Single" (VH1, 10 p.m. Sundays): Heather Locklear, Denise Richards, Nicolette Sheridan and so on. Undoubtedly, it's a bitter pill for his current paramour, Renee, a petite blond (and former Playmate, natch) who was once Pamela Anderson's body/stunt double on "Baywatch" and now is following her in Baio's heart. (Yes, Baio dated Anderson too.) "I was running and gunning for years, dating every woman under the sun," Baio says, half apologetically, or as much as a man can who likens his love life to a football offense.

Baio isn't really the willing mark that VH1's celebreality typically exploits (Danny Bonaduce, Flavor Flav) -- he's too self-conscious rather than self-aware. The "life coach" he hires tells him to revisit his ex-girlfriends to learn why those relationships failed, but he seems unwilling to take their advice to heart.

In tonight's premiere, he reconnects with his first love; it's not a happy visit. "You're always looking for the next best thing," she tells him, recalling the times he would break up with her for the weekend so he could go out with a Playmate. "And there is no next best thing -- it's just the next thing."

And with that, she sends Baio back to his car. After all, she's got a daughter to look after.

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