“I have to convince them I’m Prince Harry, but the goal is for them to like me for who I am,” says Matthew Hicks in the series premiere of Fox’s latest deceptive reality show, I Wanna Marry “Harry.” It’s a nonsensical sentence that sums up the nonsensical show. I Wanna Marry “Harry” takes the basic idea of a reality competition dating program — 12 women compete to find the man of her dreams — and makes it even more obnoxious: The women are competing for a man who they think is Prince Harry but obviously isn’t. It’s the typical reality show conundrum: You are trying to find someone who loves your true self by spending a few weeks acting like an entirely different person from who you really are.
I Wanna Marry “Harry” isn’t the first time Fox has tried to dupe innocent women by dangling a dream man in front of them (rich, handsome, and royal are the three qualities that all women dream of, according to the booming voiceover). In fact, the show is practically a carbon copy of 2003’s Joe Millionaire. And like Joe Millionaire, I Wanna Marry “Harry” will leave you with a nasty taste in your mouth.
Reality shows have a long and frustrating history of turning women into shrieking caricatures, categorizing them into shitty boxes like “bitch” or “slut” or “golddigger.” I Wanna Marry “Harry” is no different. The scenes that introduce us to the women (who are all American, presumably because British women are surrounded by tabloid pictures of Prince Harry and would call bullshit in a second) are all too familiar: the dirty looks, the shit-talking, the repeated emphasis on the importance of money. Upon learning that one of the contestants is 25 years old, a woman gleefully says, “We have another oldie!” An oldie at 25! She can barely rent a car, but I Wanna Marry “Harry” wants us to know that this she is ancient and still alone, and that her last chance for love is to compete against strangers to win the heart of another stranger.
Reality competition dating shows are marketed as trashy fairy tales. It’s a group of princesses trying to find their Prince Charming, a whirlwind romance of epic proportions — here, Matthew Hicks flies in on an helicopter; in later episodes, he takes them on fancy (see: costly) dates — that will surely end in a perfect wedding. I Wanna Marry “Harry” takes this fairy tale theme and amplifies it. The women believe that Hicks is Prince Harry (though he never explicitly tells them this, at least not in the first episode) and they believe that if they win, they’ll land their actual Prince Charming, will actually become a princess, and will live in a castle. To be honest, it’s a bit horrifying.
What’s more, I Wanna Marry “Harry” hasn’t just found someone who looks similar to Prince Harry (according to some handy graphics on the screen, Hicks is a 99% match) — it’s found someone who’s a pauper. How fortunate for the narrative! Hicks is so poor that he can’t afford a car and borrows his friend’s bike to go to work, where he cleans up oil spills. It’s noble, admirable work, and the show tries to mold him into a sympathetic guy: He’s just a normal guy who happens to look like Prince Harry! Look at him literally clean up the earth! Look at him constantly worrying about lying to these women — but look at him continue to lie to these women anyway. There are scenes in which we see him studying facts about Prince Harry, overwhelmed and terrified of blowing his cover, but it’s hard to forget that he’s essentially studying how to trick women.
At one point, during a conversation with one of the women, Hicks remarks on how loud and forward she is, and how loud and forward all American women are. “American women don’t seem to have inside voices,” he says, all quiet and British, and suddenly I want to do nothing but yell at him.
I Wanna Marry “Harry” is a terrible, fucked-up, and stupid reality show (do these women believe that Prince Harry needs Fox’s help to find a wife?), but in a technical sense, it is fantastic. The show is carefully edited, masterfully even; if there is ever a college course on How To Edit A Reality Show, then we’ve found our professors. It features an amazing cast and perfect trickery (“bodyguards” whisk away “Prince Harry” from a date, further “proving” that he’s the real deal), and relies on deception. It gives women the hope of a fairy-tale ending but hands them a poison apple instead.