The tape is in the VCR, ready to run. The opening credits have been cued up. The bedrock at the bottom of the pit is oddly smooth under my hands. And yet, I can’t start the tape. Not just yet.
Let’s talk about the show’s concept first.
For those of you who somehow missed all the ‘so this is the last sign of the apocalypse’ stories in your local newspaper, the idea behind this little FOX effort is as follows. Today’s victim will have no idea who her birth parents are. She will have been adopted at a very young age, never found any information on her genetic contributors, and she will have been searching for a long time. FOX has found her father, and is set to introduce them to each other. And all she has to do is sort out the real sperm donor from eight men who will be paraded before her while they claim to be her father, one hoping for a reunion and seven looking for a cash payout.
Right. If darling daughter can through hook, crook, and close examination of facial contours, pick out her actual father, she’ll receive a reunion and $100,000 to help pay for the massive amounts of therapy she’ll be needing very soon now. If she gets it wrong, the best liar in the group receives the hundred grand, and, this being FOX, her father is presumably given a court order to stay two thousand miles away from his offspring at all times, which will at some point put him in the middle of an ocean, where he’ll promptly drown.
Isn’t this special.
Let us, just for a moment, ignore the daughter’s potential DAW factor. Let’s look at her as a person. Someone searching for her parents, because people do dumb things when they’re looking for their roots. And that includes applying to be on a FOX reality show, which is just about as dumb as it gets. If someone, anyone told you they could find your father when you’d failed, you just might believe them. You’d sign on for anything. You’d even consider going to Spike. You would…
This is hitting a little too close to home. If only by proxy and the weakest one-remove possible, I recently went through this. One of my dearest friends met his birth parents not too long ago. It wasn’t the long, hard slog that these contestants went through: his parents checked off that vital box that says ‘Please relay inquiries to me, and I’ll make contact’. But it was an emotional wringer, and just making the decision to try the initial reach was one of those things that shreds your heart from the inside out, and I got to watch it every step of the way and it hurt like hell. From one-remove.
So let the record show that the normal sarcasm displayed towards reality shows, generated from an odd sense of affection as much as anything else, is no longer in play. The summarizer is entering the field as a hostile witness. The jury has found the defendants guilty and the judge has announced the sentence: we’re all just trying to figure out what’ll be the most fun way to carry it out.
The defense may now present its case to have the sentence commuted to death by rabid squirrels. Roll opening credits.
And it’s time for The FOX Family Values Hour, as cute, heart-warming pictures of babies and their creators flash by while a deep voice intones the special qualities of the bond between a parent and their child, much like the special qualities of the bond between the FCC and Howard Stern, because the child is always presumed to be inherently bad and must be punished at all times. Bad child! Ruining Mommy and Daddy’s time out at the clubs!
Of course, some parents solve that problem right away through a very simple maneuver, as T.J. Meyers can tell you. TJ, a slightly-off-conventionally attractive blonde of indeterminate age and with some hard-used miles showing around her eyes, was given up for adoption at birth, letting her parents get an extra ten years of disco nights in. And while she was one of the lucky ones – adopted at six weeks – having parents who wanted her didn’t get rid of her curiosity over the ones who gave her up.
‘Separated a lifetime from each other,’ the FOX voice intones, ‘does the bond between parent and child still exist?’ I’m going to say no, because I know more than a few families who’ve spent their entire lives together without getting any bonds beyond the legal. If you need evidence, please consult CBS every Saturday night at eight p.m. EST for the next five weeks.
We are then introduced to TJ’s Blur, as her fuzzed-out, voice-distorted father starts to talk about how he never wanted to give her up at all, because an infant is just the perfect accessory to oversized gold medallions, plus it’s so cute when they try to teethe on them. This is followed by seemingly endless precaps for a ninety-minute show that’s going to ultimately wind up as a one-time special and has already lost all but six viewers, five of whom are too stoned to follow the plot, and then the FOX voice intones ‘Tonight, we’re going to find out if blood is truly thicker than water –‘ blood is seawater, look it up. Except in the case of FOX producers, where it’s acid ‘—and learn the answer to the question – Who’s – Your – Daddy.’
George Steinbrenner. But thank you for asking.
The credits end, and we’re introduced to the host as shots of Generic Reality Mansion 8.2 move across the screen. (As always, the mansion is the priciest part of the show, renting at $50 an hour. The California real estate boom/bust is single-handedly responsible for most of this sewage.) The person who will forever after carry this crap stain on her resume is Finola Hughes, who has both of the qualifications for hosting a horrible FOX program: a slight accent and a face-first collision with the BoTox truck. And she thinks Generic Mansion 8.2 is the setting for the most dramatic and emotional reunion show ever, at least until the internet as a whole shoves her pre-surgery photos at her and reacquaints the hose with her original features. Denial and tears and lawsuits: now that’s a reality show. But we’re watching Who’s Your Daddy, so the good stuff will have to come later.
Finola switches to talk about TJ, saying ‘We’ve recreated this woman’s difficult search in a way that lets her get to know her dad before being finally reunited with him.’ Right. So apparently TJ’s previous search method was to go into a bar, approach eight random men who looked to be the right age and start making overtures, all of which were taken the wrong way. No wonder she’s had to search this long and stoop this low. But on the plus side, imagine how many free drinks she’s gotten in her lifetime.
It’s time to see some post-drunk logic, so we’re treated to a few segments of TJ’s audition tape as she talks about her life. As said, she was lucky enough to be adopted at six weeks – but her parents got a divorce when she was twelve. She’s always felt like she didn’t quite belong unless she knew who her birth parents were, and one of her aunts once told her any opinion coming from TJ didn’t count because it was an adoptee’s opinion and they should all be taken out and drowned at birth, so as to be less of a drain on the government and lower taxes on the rich. Oddly enough, the aunt’s name was Penny. Go figure.
The camera shows pictures of TJ as a child, infant, and teen – cute kid – as she talks about her confrontation with her aunt being a turning point in her life, and the reason she started her bio-parents search in earnest. Most of her searching was done between the ages of 16 and 24, to no avail. All she was able to learn was that her parents were very young when she arrived (bio-dad was 18 or 19), there was some difficulty in getting them to sign her over (noted on the medical records), her father was present for the birth, and he was in some branch of the military. And all this minimal information is courtesy of the incredibly restrictive, frequently asinine data concealment laws that cloud the early days of adopted children in pretty much every state in the union, creating thousands of heartbreaks and making it possible for shows like this to exist. And if that isn’t a good reason for legal reform, name three better ones.