The first several minutes of last night’s series premier of I Wanna Marry Harry, FOX’s new reality dating show, are spent repeatedly explaining the premise of I Wanna Marry Harry. This is not unreasonable, because it is difficult to conceptualize exactly how this show exists. In the vein of Joe Millionaire, 12 American women compete for the chance to marry a British man they believe to be Prince Harry. To be clear, the man is not actually Prince Harry — he is 23-year-old Matt Hicks — but the women supposedly believe he is Prince Harry, and therefore, want to marry him, because of fairy tales. Eventually, someday many episodes from now, he will reveal the truth to his dream girl: “under all the trappings,” a voiceover reminds us, “he’s just an ordinary guy.”
Prince Harry, too, is just an ordinary guy, under all the trappings. In this way, they have a lot in common. Already, this show is raising important questions about authenticity. And the questions continue as the girls are introduced. Do they actually not know what is going on, or are they pretending they do not know what is going on to appear on a FOX reality dating program that may launch their careers, as physical therapists, maybe, or perhaps in regional productions of Gypsy?
As the girls arrive, we learn that Matt has been training at Harry Camp, acquiring many important royal skills, like handling horses, shooting skeet, and remembering his birthday. Leading this royal training is Kingsley, who appears to have wandered out of Downton Abbey. Perhaps he was never cast to begin with.
Carson Kingsley is quickly established as a sort of confidant and advisor for Matt. This is good. Matt, who cleans up oil spills by trade (“it’s something I really do enjoy”), will need some advising.
Despite their various ethnic backgrounds, the girls look exactly the same. They are all wearing lipgloss, and have straight hair, except for Kelley, who is wearing lipgloss and does not have straight hair. My early favorite is Leah, who is extremely beautiful and also probably not cut out for a career in reality television. “The guys I’m used to dating just get me drunk and make out with me in the back of the bar,” she says. You get the sense Leah is doing this not to be famous but to escape her life. Leah, I’m rooting for you, Leah!
As it turns out, none of the contestants know who they are competing for, but they have sussed out, possibly by virtue of being in England, that it is likely he is British. This theory is confirmed when they catch a glimpse of Matt getting out of a helicopter and being escorted by “tough guys looking like security men” (I love you, Leah!) into his suite. Maggie, who as of yet has few distinguishing features but is totally going to be important, notes that because Kingsley is calling him Sir, “this must be Prince Harry.” Maggie is then hired by Scotland Yard for her excellent sleuthing skills. While everyone buzzes about whether or not Not-Harry is actually Harry, Kingsley announces that the girls will all meet “sir” at a masquerade ball. This causes excited panic among the girls, and panic-panic for me, because I cannot tell these people apart without masks. You never really realize how much you depend on hairstyle to tell women apart until they all have the same one.
The masquerade is Matt’s first opportunity to interact with his potential brides, and accordingly, he is nervous. “The strategy is deflection,” he says. The plan is that he’ll eliminate one of the girls, and pick another to sleep in the suite next to his suite, which is a prize if I ever heard one. Can he pull this off? he asks repeatedly. Meghan, who has emerged as a person, has doubts. “I feel like I’ve seen enough pictures in my life of Harry, and I don’t think it is him,” she says. Meghan has officially become my new favorite, which is good, because Leah, who has caught the attention of the Not-Prince, is busy self-destructing. Don’t do it, Leah! But Leah does it, because that is Leah, bowing out on Matt/Harry mid-dance while mumbling something about how the other girls are probably better dancers and she shouldn’t be doing this, any of this, oh god. He’s not even a Prince, Leah!
Matt, who cannot wait around while Leah repairs her broken wings, moves on to Rose, a self-described naughty schoolteacher, who is flying just fine. So well, in fact, that the Matt-via-Kingsley requests the honor (honour?) of her company for a Patti Stanger-style mini-date and cultural exchange. American girls are very forward, Matt tells Rose, who agrees loudly that in America, “it’s all about aggressive.” “American girls don’t seem to have inside voices at all,” Matt muses to the camera. He’s going to pick Rose you know he’s going to pick Rose Oh God please no please don’t pick Rose. “This is a fairy tale beginning,” Rose observes.
In the background, Maggie gets drunk.
Because it is indeed a fairy tale beginning, and also a fairy tale ending (of the episode), Matt is to make his choice “when the clock strikes midnight,” the time when all royals make decisions. “Meghan stood out the most,” he tells Kingsley, but Rose “intrigues me.” Leah, despite her dancing, is deemed “stunning, really stunning,” and Kimberly, who I feel strongly may develop a defining characteristic in future episodes, is “nice.” Innervated by his chat with Kingsley, Matt asks Leah to please go to the drawing room and Rose to adjourn to the library. Professor Plum will be in the observatory with the lead pipe.
“Leah is this tall gorgeous dry sense of humor and I’m just ROSE,” Rose bellows to the camera. While this is true, being just ROSE is enough, apparently, because ROSE gets the key to the (adjacent) suite and Leah is eliminated. “She didn’t look like she was having that much fun tonight,” says Matt, which, obviously — she was trying to build a new life, can’t you see that, Matt? “My fairy tale’s probably not over,” Leah says, holding back tears as she climbs into her exit vehicle. “It’s just gonna be a little less fancy than this.” Oh Leah, it’s gonna happen, happen sometime. Maybe next time you’ll win?
Rose, meanwhile, accepts her victory with traditional American grace. “It makes me feel FUCKING GOOD,” she cackles to the camera, her lips blurred by FOX censors. She is in “fairy tale heaven.” That’s probably a better place for her to be than back in the communal suite, because everyone is discussing how much they liked Leah, who is “just a genuine girl.” Everyone claps for Rose’s victory, but Rose can tell they don’t mean it. “The competition has set in and I’ve been named as a frontrunner now and this might be a double-edged sword,” she says, ominously. But early blooms, Rose — they catch the first frost.