In "The Age of Love" a genial Australian hunk named Mark Philippoussis is made to face a conundrum: Would he rather seek true love with one of seven seasoned, sexually available women in or near their 40s, or with one of several moist-eyed, sexually voracious women in their 20s? This proves a real poser, because Philippoussis is exactly 30 years old, and thus old enough to appreciate a woman with experience. Yet he's also an internationally famous tennis player who has long since grown accustomed to having his pick of the world's attractive women.
Will he choose character over skankiness? Philippoussis' brow furrows and his eyes seem to cross. No amount of muscles, dimples and international charm can help him here. Any and every decision he makes is going to end in tears, heartbreak and anguish.
"It's like throwing some piranhas in the deep end with me," he yelps.
Yes, but while Philippoussis believes he's talking about the women vying for his affections, they're the least of his problems. For "The Age of Love," in the tradition of "The Bachelor" and its romantic-competition ilk, is the most heartless kind of TV spectacle. Posing as a wish-fulfillment show for the love-and-excitement-lorn, it's actually a high-tech humiliation-fest. Its contestants set in motion to eviscerate one another's most delicate hopes and dreams, all for the delectation of the network cameras.
That these people may be a trifle narcissistic, or maybe lacking in some crucial measure of judgment, seems clear. But these are minor flaws compared with NBC's diabolical trick of inventing and airing such emotional bloodsport.
Particularly given how NBC's dark imps have concealed "The Age of Love's" most distinctive, and repellent, wrinkle from the folks at the center of the game: The older women will be competing for Philippoussis' affections with a gang of women nearly half their age.
And while this writer is not a morality professional (he merely plays one while musing on the lives of TV characters), I suspect the viewer may want to think a bit about his or her role in this whole affair, too.
Heaven knows the "Age of Love" contestants, from Philippoussis on down, haven't put much thought into how the show is going to play out for them.
For Philippoussis, the goal seems to have something to do with brand extension. He's a pretty good tennis player, but at 30, he's nearing the end of his pro circuit days. Fortunately, he's also an alarmingly handsome man who has already spent a lot of time in front of cameras with his shirt off. With a vast American market yet to be conquered, his managers must have flipped at the notion of a major network airing a Philippoussis-centered reality show.
And maybe it's the best possible thing, Q-rating wise. But the internal havoc begins just moments after Philippoussis takes residence in the gleaming Los Angeles skyscraper where "The Age of Love" is set. Standing on a balcony next to a shimmering pool, the tennis player is greeted by a procession of elegant women who have been coached to greet him with special emphasis given to their ages.
"I was born in 1967, so that makes me 40!" one chirps.
Philippoussis' shock is a bit too evident, and it only gets worse when the others turn out to be just as old, and even older. When one turns out to be 48, with a son who is nearly his own age, the tennis player is close to tears.
"She could be my mom," he says, gloomily, in a post-game interview. "The thought of that just freaks me out." The women, on the other hand, are thrilled. For all their accrued experience -- the careers, children, ex-husbands, real estate holdings, etc. -- they're all eager to settle down with the right guy. And clearly, a hunky pro athlete with dancing eyes qualifies, as their first glimpse at Philippoussis, via a video introduction, proves.
"Oh my God!" one cries.
"What a sweet guy!" chimes in another.
"He looks like my next husband!" gushes a third.
At which point the women realize, seemingly for the first time, that they must destroy one anthers' hopes in order to achieve their own.
"Game on!" one growls.
You can already anticipate the gamesmanship, subtle and otherwise, that comes to define the group's interactions with their quarry. All of which creates a wicked undercurrent that makes the flirty small talk even more excruciating than usual. One woman is sent home, tears stinging her eyes, even as Philippoussis urges her to know how lovely and special she truly is.
She should be grateful. Philippoussis has just spared her from the twist that comes with the arrival of six new women. All are in their early 20s, all prone to halter tops and extremely short shorts. In fact, nothing about their dress or behavior will seem out of character for an average, if high-end, prostitute.
That sounds harsh, I know. And yet you try to find another way to describe half a dozen women who allow themselves to be presented, en masse, as a kind of writhing tableau, all of them regarding poor Philippoussis -- now in complete hormonal meltdown -- with winks, leers and lip-smacking.
Could it get worse? Yes, it could. A brief montage at the end contrasts the older and younger women by showing the latter squirming around their bachelorette pad (which has been equipped with hula hoops, for some reason) while their elders occupy themselves in their apartment by reading novels, doing laundry and, I swear to God, doing needlepoint.
"The Age of Love" will not end happily for anyone. Including Western civilization.
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