Shedding For The Wedding debuts tonight on The CW at 9 p.m. Eastern.
Why would anyone ever go on a weight loss reality show? They take something intensely personal and try to turn it into mass entertainment, and they all inevitably fall back on the usual reality show filler—endless repetition, long and pointless confessionals, challenges that don’t make any sense and seem ripped straight from the pages of the Price Is Right series bible. What’s more, the method used to determine who goes home and who stays in the competition, which involves figuring out who lost the most weight percentage-wise, is mostly bullshit, as even the personal trainers on Shedding For The Wedding will tell you. At the end of the second episode sent out to critics, one of them says that, yeah, some people will lose a lot of weight one week and then less the next, because their bodies are creating more muscle mass or just not losing as quickly or any of a number of things. And yet people are sent home based on failing to hold to this invented standard, mostly invented for our own entertainment.
Shedding For The Wedding is a fairly typical entry in this reality sub-genre. It’s The Biggest Loser: Couples, only smashed together with a rudimentary wedding planner show. As such, it gets most of the big things about the genre correct. It doesn’t fall on its face in the attempt to clone other shows, and it more or less will be enjoyable to people who really love this kind of show. At the same time, there’s no good reason to watch it if you already watch The Biggest Loser or Heavy or any of a number of other basic-cable twists on the genre. You’ve got all of the usual personalities—the person who realizes how much harder this is than they thought it would be, the happy-go-lucky fat guy, the girl who’s smaller than everyone else and, thus, has a harder time losing weight—and all of the usual reality show beats but with all the charm of a substandard knock-off. It’s not awful, but don’t you have better things to do? Like lose weight?
The “hook” of Shedding For The Wedding is that all of the people on the show are engaged couples, who are working through this weight-loss process in order to look good for their big day. A huge amount of time in the first episode is spent introducing all of the couples and giving them pithy little titles like “Team Greek Week” or “Team Football,” so we can get to know them by something OTHER than their first names. (Honestly, given the fact that nearly everyone refers to Amazing Race teams by pithy little nicknames like “Cowboys” or “Soccer Moms,” this is probably smart.) We see the story of their courtships. We see footage from their audition videos and talk about how much losing all of this weight (and winning the big, dream wedding) would mean to them. If the girl was slim at one time, we see footage of her in a bikini, followed by footage of her at the apex of her weight with a voiceover about how hard it’s been to gain all of that weight. And so on and so on.
If there’s a reason to recommend Shedding For The Wedding, it’s this idea of couples supporting each other in this process. It’s always more fun to watch two people suffer together, and the show does a good job of showing how some couples are better at giving each other the boost needed to complete a tough task or stick out a rigorous exercise session. And the show’s best innovation for those who watch the whole series is that the couples who are forced to go home are encouraged to continue to work out at home. If they do, the couple that loses the most weight after elimination from the show will be given the prize of an all-expenses-paid honeymoon. It’s a nice touch, and it’s one that more weight-loss reality shows would do well to emulate.
Furthermore, the show is hosted by Sara Rue, who’s always an appealing TV presence but seems particularly enjoyable here. Where the physical trainers here are introduced like they’re the Orcish horde in a Lord Of The Rings movie and treated as the series’ primary villain, Rue is always on the side of the people working out. She has little patience for, say, people seeming to give up, but she’s always there to lend a sympathetic ear to someone who’s just realized how hard it’s going to be (always said through tears) and to explain the sometimes-Byzantine rules of a particularly complicated challenge. Rue is one of those actresses TV hasn’t done right by, and she acquits herself well as a reality show host.
So what’s bad about the show? Well, other than the fact that it’s such a blatant copy of other shows and those shows have a number of fundamental flaws at their core (including the whole “different people lose weight differently” thing), this show has a handful of additional elements that keep it from being as good as a copy of a weight loss reality show could possibly be. For one thing, many of the challenges are poorly designed and rely on strange logic. In the second episode, a challenge involving going through an obstacle course while trying to keep a wedding cake intact (already a silly idea in and of itself) is mostly invalidated by the fact that the couple that wins chooses to wreck their cake and just sprint to the finish line. The time penalty offset ends up not being enough to keep them back with the rest of the pack, who really try to keep the cakes intact. And there’s also a weird mechanic for elimination challenges, where the two bottom couples bet on just how long they can perform some physical task, with the couple winning the betting process being the only one that has to perform the task. If they succeed, the other couple is immediately eliminated, without even seeing if they can beat the first couple’s time. It’s just a bizarre way to carry out this business.
On top of everything else, the wedding-planning aspects of the show are carried out halfheartedly, tossed into the mix simply because the word “wedding” is in the title. While it’s hard to imagine a wedding-planning reality show being at all interesting, Shedding would have been better off emphasizing these elements more or tossing them entirely, since they mostly just detract from everything else going on. And finally, the show is simply poorly cast. The series’ version of the “person who didn’t realize how hard this would be and cries about it” is a gamer girl named Taylor, who’s really into Final Fantasy. You’ll be sick of her whining and dry heaving soon enough. The show mistakes basic irritating for fun irritating, and it makes Taylor too much of a miserable Goofus to everybody else's stoic Gallant. (Insert standard boilerplate about how Taylor is probably a lovely person in real life, and the editing just makes her seem that way, etc., etc., etc.)
But the biggest problem with Shedding For The Wedding is the biggest problem with all weight-loss reality shows. This isn’t a show about losing weight; it’s a game show. It’s a show about getting rid of as much weight as possible in the midst of a crazy competition, not changing your lifestyle so you eat healthier and exercise more regularly. It’s hard to lose a lot of weight at one time, but not nearly so hard as making long-term, gradual changes to who you are as a person and what you value as an individual. But only one of those two approaches to changing your life is TV-friendly. Will the couples on Shedding For The Wedding keep it up post-nuptial bliss? That’d be more interesting, but that would require thought and insight and something more than a reality TV framework can handle. Shedding For The Wedding isn’t bad if you like this sort of thing, but it’s certainly not good.