Relationship TV: From 'Bachelor Pad to 'Baggage'

I have been in Los Angeles for the last few weeks, and at every turn I have heard somebody talking about ABC's silly sophomore series "Bachelor Pad," which made its season premiere August 8. At the beginning of my trip the talk was all eager anticipation. During the last two weeks it was all about the show itself. Thank God I'm heading home soon.

"Bachelor Pad" is nothing more than a mindless exercise in sexual attraction and half-dressed recreation; an empty diversion custom-designed to make the traditional dog days of August less of a drag, I guess.

Of course, from where I sit, August isn't such a mutt anymore, not with so many great scripted shows on basic and pay cable. On the unscripted front, Food Network's just-concluded "The Next Food Network Star," HGTV's "Design Star" and Oxygen's "The Glee Project" stand out among dozens of summer reality entries. They're fun, smart, emotionally engaging and don't leave you feeling that yet another hour of your life has slipped away into nothingness. (I have to say that with Cathy Knows Best Hobbs eliminated from "Design Star" last Sunday, I fear the show might lose a little of its entertainment value as the season progresses.)



Competition comes in many varieties, especially on television, but for many, "Bachelor Pad" is prime stuff. Maybe it's the hot mix (or is it mess) of interchangeable past contestants from "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" grouped together, stripped down and encouraged to re-engage with each other in all manner of ways. When they aren't drinking, trying to hook up or crying about something, they're made to compete in nutty "Big Brother"-style competitions, often with considerably less clothing. This week, the men were made to line up with their backs to the women, who then threw paint-filled eggs at the men they most wanted to see eliminated; then the men returned the indignity. The outcomes of such challenges can lead to bragging rights, dates, immunity from the week's painful eliminations or other perks. (Enduring humiliation while avoiding elimination is important: The last hottie in the pad will collect a cool $250,000.)

Surprises abound. Two people are supposed to be ejected from the house at the end of each episode, but this week three people went home. Jackie was chosen for elimination, Gia left because she was betrayed by a friend, and Ames, who's in love with Jackie and couldn't bear to be separated from her, decided to bolt. (How long would Jackie and Ames have actually been apart, anyway? I can't believe the total production time for the entire season exceeds two weeks.)

I'm giving this show more thought than it's due, though ardent fans might disagree. But I will offer this: "Pad" often has more sizzle than many carefully plotted daytime and primet-ime serials, so maybe it's on to something.

Meantime, anyone looking for a show in which men and women really mix it up, seemingly without any shame at all, should check out GSN's "Baggage," now in its exciting second season. It's hosted by trash-talk titan Jerry Springer, which says a lot right there. Throughout each galvanizing half hour, men and women attempt to attract each other by revealing increasingly intimate (and often ugly) secrets about themselves. The secrets are concealed in briefcases, giving it all a "Deal or No Deal" vibe. (The bigger the case, the more startling the secret contained therein.) The prize for putting themselves out there is a far cry from the cool quarter mil on "Bachelor Pad": just dinner for two.

Here are some of the secrets I've seen revealed in recent episodes, some from men looking to impress a woman, some from women looking to impress a man: "I urinated in an ex's gas tank." "I have a library of my own sex tapes." "I love cheese so much it's tattooed on my butt." "I sleep in a horse stall." "I stole from a homeless man." "I have a room devoted to 10,000 sci-fi action figures." "I made a living taking experimental drugs." "I broadcast and rate my man's performance on the radio." "I only shave my legs once every 2 ½ months." "I've lost women because of my oversized testicles." "My ex-husband chose the psych ward over me." "I tied a woman to a hotel bed and left her there."

Plainly, one can learn more about the human condition and affairs of the heart by choosing "Baggage" over "Bachelor Pad." It's amazing what people will do for a free dinner.

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