Most Eligible Dallas

Most Eligible Dallas, the new Bravo reality show with the title that looks like an unscramble-these-words puzzle, was probably conceived as an attempt to extend the format of the channel's Real Housewives franchise into swinging singles territory, but it feels more like  Jersey Shore with a drawl. The six friends at the center—actually, in the premiere, it's more like five friends, plus one interloper—go to nightspots and "charity events" together, while talking nonstop about how hot they are. Tara. the most frighteningly Texas-chauvinistic—she calls herself "the quintessential Dallas girl"— explains that you can have a great social life in Dallas just going to charity events, which are "rowdier" than similar events in other cities. I live in Texas, but you only have to have been here for 20 minutes to know that, for a certain breed of Southwestern chucklehead, "rowdy" is the ultimate term of praise, meant to convey a level of free-wheeling, anything-goes excitement that you can't get someplace where the majority of people in your social circle are less likely to have their own oil well. From what I've been able to make out, rowdiness consists of standing in front of a mock-up of a red carpet so you can be photographed for the local paper and filmed for the local TV news while wearing too much makeup, ideally while standing next to a man wearing boots with his tux.

Perhaps because the never-married, four-times engaged ("The first one doesn't even count. I just call him 'Sweetie'") Tara is the oldest, she's the one whose brain seems to have gone the longest without producing any new material. She's eager to present herself as big-haired cartoon of a Texas gal, and she talks about the importance of breeding and being from a good local family ("I definitely come from good stock") until you may start to wonder if the reason she hasn't made it to the altar yet is because she's holding out for a first cousin. Like many another snob, she is also a case study in the selective compassion of the mean person who likes cute things. She runs a charity that collects stray dogs from shelters. "I've broken into houses that, on the floor, there were broken crack pipes everywhere. There's people lying on the floor passed out on drugs. I don't know what their issue is. That's not my issue. I save dogs. I don't save people."

The people in Tara's orbit, each in his or her own way, could use saving too, though that might not be how you'd put it if you found yourself trapped next to one of them at a dinner party. The one with the most interesting backstory, and the one most likely to serve as inspiration for a recurring character on Saturday Night Live, is Drew, who is gay, used to weigh 420 pounds before slimming down thanks to surgeries and regular injections of the female hormone hcg, and works for his family's upscale car dealership. Of all these things, it's the cars that he sees as key to his identity. "People look at me and ask, how the [bleep!] are you gay? You sell cars. I say, I don't know, I've broken the mother-[bleep!]in' mold all my life!"  There are the odd hints that he might possibly be overcompensating for something. "You want to talk carbon fiber, you want to talk fuel injection, you want to talk horse power, then I'm your guy. You want to talk Armani, you want to talk Versace, you want to talk the arts, go find another queer." 

Even those of us who'd normally rather grab a blowtorch and a hammer and chisel and help Tara take off her makeup than spend 30 seconds talking about cars might come to regard Drew as a sparkling wit and Renaissance man after we get a load of his co-stars. Glenn is an NFL punter who's worked for 12 teams in eight years and who is looking to break into male modeling and the fashion industry now that it's beginning to dawn on him that this football thing may not be the most stable of careers. Then there's Matt, who seems to know every hot young woman in the city and sees nothing the matter with inviting half of them to join him at the same club on the same night, let alone with extending the invitations while he's on his way there. "I try not to do one on one," he says, "because it's just not time valuably spent. Why settle for one on one when you can have two on one? Why settle for two on one when you can have five on one? Why settle for five on one, when you can invite a buddy and have fifteen on two?"

The fly in the jar of lubricating ointment that is Matt's life is his relationship with Courtney, whose face is fairly tolerable to look at until words start to issue from the hole near the bottom, at which point her upper lip curls back, her teeth seem to triple in size, and her features run through a series of expressions, all of which could be captioned, "Gah! Who farted!?" Matt and Courtney, they both tell us, have been friends forever, and never been anything but friends, and never could be anything but friends, and are practically brother and sister. Brother Matt might want to make sure he has a cattle prod and a can of Mace handy the next time baby sister suggests a sleepover. It becomes clear—to the viewer at home and possibly to everyone in Dallas, with the inevitable exception of Matt—how bad things have gotten when Matt lures Courtney out for what see thinks is supposed to be a nice quiet evening out and then shows up with his full complement of, in her words, "Hooters waitresses."

That's nothing compared with the climactic scene in the premiere, when Matt shows up for dinner with the gang with the sixth major player in tow: Neill, a 23-year-old single mother he used to know when she was just 18. Now, after a few years out west, she's back home with a one-year-old son. After warming up by running through her full repertoire of arch facial expressions, Courtney sets to work making her feel welcome: "Have you been a single mother since the beginning, or where there ever two people involved?" Dinner quickly degenerates into a high-pitched debate session, with Courtney taking the position that, if she had a baby, she would never leave the house, and if she did, she would use those few precious hours away from the house to catch up with her girlfriends, that's girlfriends, and not waste them with someone like Matt, who, for all his marvelous qualities, is not a girl, and you can trust her on that. (In rebuttal, everyone else argues the position that Courtney needs to shut the hell up.)

The only good thing about shows like this is that they make you feel as if you better understand how the world got into the messed-up state it's in, when most of the people you know, and even those you read about and watch on TV, seem at least reasonably intelligent and decent. The wonder of it, as with Jersey Shore, is that the people onscreen seem so happy to be seen like this, as if they were moths and the camera was a flame. If they had any sense of how they come across, you'd think they'd react more like cockroaches when someone turns on the kitchen light in the middle of the night.

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