OK, I loved it.
Read no further if you wish to be surprised by Mark’s final bridal decision.
I had some qualms with the series by its mid-point, but after re-watching those episodes with my brother, I became less bothered by the easy jokes and more enamored of the dead-on lampooning of reality television, a phenomenon that I wholeheartedly despise.
I have read that director/star Ken Marino and his wife, writer Erica Oyama, are actually fans of reality TV, but I see Burning Love as something of a hate letter to the Bachelor-type programming that lines women up to compete for a man who they don’t know.
Marino and Oyama saved the cruelest cut for the only contestant who fit the mold, the one who seems too smart to be there but shows up because everyone else does. Poor Annie. She’s like America and reality TV.
Annie, the perfect candidate, the only not-crazy one, the kindhearted kindergarten teacher, the earnest cook, the sexually ingratiating (even Haley didn’t put out, at least not to Mark), was all set up to receive the final hose, the marriage proposal, when even she in the end was rejected – by Mark on bended knee!
And Carly’s rejection, followed by her giddy-headed sprint into the limo, which she ordered to “Go! Go!” before closing the door behind her, got the best laugh out of a character that I felt was sort of played out by the first few episodes.
That DOES NOT, however, count the “family” episode, when we get to meet the families of not just Carly, but Annie, and TITI as well.
For me, this may have been the series highlight.
Carly’s mother (Mo Gaffney) – desperate to lock her lesbian daughter into hetero marriage, critiquing Carly’s body (just bones and muscle, nothing soft to hold onto), and then offering up herself sexually to push Mark over the edge.
Annie’s normal family, who frighten Mark by mentioning Annie as a little girl, leading his absurdly concrete mind to the conclusion that she was a dwarf who had “grown out of it.” This leads to a dispute with the family as to whether people grow out of dwarfism. They have to agree to disagree, though there is a quick shot of the mother crying and being consoled in the aftermath. I also enjoyed Annie’s brother urgently trying to get her out of the house like he was rescuing her from a cult. I think cults make more sense than The Bachelor.
And TITI’s father! Brian George! In a show that didn’t really go for nuance, his subtle facial expressions and precision timing made a perfect counterpoint to Ken Marino’s seismic buffoonery.
In the finale, none of the remaining three ended up with the prize; instead, we get Ken Jeong’s Ballerina, who Mark never technically eliminated himself – Ballerina was voted off in the first show by the ladies. Now Mark gets Ballerina back for the proposal! Ken Jeong in a blonde wig is not entirely novel. (Please see him as Jeff Winger’s understudy in the Community episode “Documentary Filmmaking Redux” and you’ll see it go even a step further, with a blonde wig atop a bald cap. ”The Asian guy really pops,” exalts one of The Dean’s superiors. And holy shit, he is right.)
Ballerina does offer something new here, however. Jeong plays the character with no effort whatsoever at the femininity stipulated in these stupid fucking shows. He lumbers around in the gown as if he were wearing a towel around his waist while fixing toast in the kitchen. Though elegance and grace are absent entirely, his sexuality is only a notch less base than Haley’s. He is repeatedly spread-legged and hiking the dress up to his crotch. And his seduction with the phallic carrot shoved in Marino’s mouth isn’t even flirty; it’s like an aggressively public precursor to sex as raw as the root vegetable stuffed into down bachelor’s throat. Jeong’s leering eyes and lewd laughter bring Ballerina all the more out of the outlandish artifice of the scenario and right into sheer vulgarity, which is really the essence of the dating reality show genre.
In a sense, he epitomizes the genre perfectly. No lady would participate in this shit, and Ballerina is no lady.
That is the best part.
Mark’s obliviousness to Carly’s barely closeted lesbian,
to Haley’s sloppy slattern,
to Vivian’s full-term pregnant flight attendant (plus his startling misconception of human conception)
made him a glorious idiot, misconstruing and misinterpreting everything in his sphere. It’s only fitting that he should choose a man in the laziest drag this side of a fraternity prank to be his bride. TITI may have had the titties, but Ballerina has that je-ne-sais-quoi allure: a dick under his dress.
Ballerina’s triumphant return, complete with full-on kissing and vigorous ass groping from Mark, also makes us question the hunky fireman at the center of the show. Judging from the specific searches on this blog, it appears that there are plenty of viewers who found a special appeal in Ballerina, not just as humorous, but as sexxxy, not gay-sexy, but trans-sexy. Maybe Mark is amongst them, and he just hasn’t quite figured it out yet. He hasn’t figured much of anything out: poems, pregnancy, or even how to put on pants. Ballerina will have plenty to teach him on their wedding night.
I now hold out a hope for another season of Burning Love so that the coupled Kens, Marino and Jeong, can return to counsel the new bachelor and his slew of hopefuls. Or since they used locations favored by The Biggest Loser, maybe they should turn their attentions to make-overs – obesity and drastic plastic surgery are both leitmotifs in current U.S. culture. Either way, I think the reality show parody still has some mileage in it before it becomes completely indistinguishable from its source material.