Bravo’s new show Love Broker — which premiered last night — gives us the life of Lori Zaslow, a New York-area matchmaker for the firm Project Soulmate. She is skinny and blonde and pretty and nutty. The fictional characters she calls to mind are 30 Rock‘s Jenna Maroney, or a hybrid of Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe in Cruel Intentions. How would Jonathan Franzen feel about Edith Wharton if she had looked like Lori Zaslow? We will never know, because Jonathan Franzen doesn’t watch TV and doesn’t read the Internet or have a Google name alert set up. (Isn’t that right, Jonathan Franzen?) Lori is married to some dude, a fact she brings up pointedly in her introduction to demonstrate that she lives what she teaches. Said dude is trotted out a few times, and is seen in promos proclaiming his wife “a fucking rock star” and standing next to her at charity events. This all reads as a dig at Patti Stanger, Bravo’s original yenta from The Millionaire Matchmaker, whose unwed status is often thrown at her by violent bachelors when her setups fail. Where Stanger is harsh, brittle, and lookist, Zaslow is harsh, brittle, lookist, and blonde. Zaslow uses more false positivity to pump up the blind dates, but also says really crazy or mean things and just delivers them with a smile.
Between Zaslow and the women she brings in as dates for her pilot-episode client — David Fischer (a.k.a. “The Fish”) — Love Broker could serve as a master class in vocal fry, the speech tic enjoying a moment in the cultural spotlight. The main use of vocal fry is to convey a false attitude of not caring with an underlying hostility that says ” … bitch.” But it’s also an affect that some people adopt so hard that it ends up permeating every single thing they say. Ivy, the affable 26-year-old blind date Lori finds for David, is one such case. Even when she is supposedly excited, she sounds vaguely bored and unimpressed. David has a Long Island accent and not much to say about anything. His date ultimately complains that she couldn’t get anything deeper than a superficial read on David, and denies him a second chance. Although Ivy rejects David, Zaslow asserts that it’s a numbers game and only a matter of time before she finds (buys) David his true love.
What is it about matchmaking and dating shows like The Bachelor that is so appealing? Like sitcoms or pornography, they depict a world that we know to be patently false, which nonetheless transfixes with its suggestion that maybe this is the real reality, not lived reality, which is so much messier and lacks satisfying plot resolution. Dating shows introduce structure into the structurelessness — giving the game rules and names and fantasy suites, which then makes it possible for a brilliant player to figure out the system and crush it. These shows depict a Barbie dream world where gender roles are rigid and the bad economy doesn’t exist.
Zaslow makes a few annoyingly astute observations, like one about how there isn’t really dating in Gen Y, just all or nothing. (There is no such thing as “it’s complicated.”) She gets David to open up through aggressively flirting with him, and then tries to bro out with him to figure out his physical preferences in women, asking him how he feels about different girls walking by and their titties. She doesn’t do the cattle-call elimination that Stanger does, but she also avoids Stanger’s practice of refusing to set men in their forties up with girls in their twenties. No word yet on whether Zaslow shares Stanger’s strong, inexplicable hatred of gingers. Lori’s closing voice-over statements are that love is as necessary as oxygen, so get out there and breathe, and to give your partner head a lot, because if you don’t, somebody else will. All of this makes her guaranteed to be fascinating as a reality show character study, if potentially dubious as a person whose livelihood is to locate true love for the people paying her. Is she a pure cynic impersonating a romantic to make money and become minorly famous, or a well-intentioned romantic who sees nothing wrong with stacking the odds for cash? Is her belief that she has a knack for matchmaking a function of her own narcissism, or is she exploiting a base of entitled rich dudes with money to burn and teaching them something about how to interact socially with women beyond a financial/sexual arrangement? Could it be all of those? What’s it all about, Lori?