Bravo’s latest reality show Newlyweds: The First Year promises to document the highs and lows of four couples as they adjust to marriage. Obviously these people aren’t familiar with the inevitable demise of many couples who have decided to put their marriages on display. But I’m dubious as to whether this show is really supposed to be an in-depth look at the work and sacrifice it takes for a marriage to work. Viewers won’t be forced to sit through a show that chronicles four couples as they go about the repetitive drudgery of day-to-day life. Newlyweds is bound to focus on whatever is likely to generate ratings, strife and tears.
The institution of marriage has been analyzed before in documentaries such as After Happily Ever After, The Truth About Marriage and American Marriage. It has also been put on display ad nauseam thanks to the hundreds of married couples who have been more than willing to expose their unions to the scrutiny of the American public in exchange for reality TV notoriety. VH1 is currently airing a show titled I’m Married To A… that provides insight into what it is like to be married to a quadriplegic, dominatrix, and a cross dresser, just to name a few. So what is so special about Newlyweds? The show has reality juggernaut Bravo delivering the goods. Bravo’s bread and butter is reality programming, and the network wouldn’t intentionally hedge their bets on a potential ratings disappointment. The endless episode repeats and marathons alone should generate some sort of fan base.
Like any premiere episode of a show, there is a lot of time spent introducing all the cast members and establishing their backstories. We meet the twosomes just days before their respective weddings. The couples are:
Tina and Dave “Tarz” - She’s and Indian pop star, and he’s some sort of entrepreneur. It is unclear how they met or how she wound up in Columbia, SC. In fact, all we do know is that they’ve been dating for four years.
Kathryn and John - Kathryn has given up her job in TV production and her life as a single, party girl living it up in NYC, to become a full-time housewife. She’s relocating to Long Island where John already has an established business and a home. The two only dated six months before John proposed and they will be marrying about the same time as their one year anniversary.
Jeff and Blair - This Los Angeles-based gay couple have a 16 year gap in their ages. Blair, the younger of the two, is an entertainment reporter for the number one morning show in Australia. I guess you could call him the country’s answer to Ryan Seacrest. His older, more responsible mate is Jeff. Jeff’s job is doing background checks for homeland security. Since same-sex marriages are still not legally recognized in California, Jeff and Blair will be signing a domestic partnership license, the sterility of which makes Jeff equivocate the process to trying to get welfare.
Kim and Alaska - Kim and Alaska have been dating for six years. He works in the music industry and she’s a personal stylist to the stars. They consider themselves a power couple and look to the likes of Will and Jada Smith and the Obamas as their inspiration. Their religious beliefs have prevented them from living together-bet the same can’t be true for pre-marital sex-and they are preparing to live a bicoastal lifestyle.
Each couple has their own unique issues, and the show quickly exposes the problems that are most likely to balloon into major conflicts down the road. Tina and Tarz have lost their sexual mojo, but she’s ready to reignite their sex life for the sole purpose of making a baby. Tarz would like to put procreation on hold for a while.
Tina’s father, Kan, is also not pleased with her daughter’s choice of Tarz as a husband. His objections are muddled and he himself admits that he’s not sure why. Tarz states that Indian father-in-laws have certain expectations in regards to their daughters’ husbands but he fails to specify what those are. We do learn from Tina that Tarz’s job, he has started some sort of social media company, is difficult for Kan to understand. Tina’s dad also finds the amount of time that Tarz spends with his face buried in a laptop is both unusual and rude. It seems most of Kan’s complaints are culturally biased but his daughter dismisses the possibility of cultural differences as the root of the problem.
In-laws are poised to be an issue for Kathryn as well. She managed to offend her fiancé’s sister, Ellen, at the couple’s engagement party by omitting any pictures of her in a scrapbook she distributed to family members.
The larger question marks looming around Kathryn and John’s union are how she will adjust to all the sacrifices she has made for this marriage and the question of whether or not they rushed into it too quickly. The latter seems to be the consensus of all their friends and family. It turns out that John had been engaged before and broke it off four times due to cold feet. John had been dating that woman for seven years.
One spouse who will be spared any in-law headaches is Blair since Jeff’s family disowned him when he admitted to them that he was gay. Jeff and Blair must contend with the 16 year disparity in their ages and clashes over money. Once they are married, Jeff expects Blair to contribute more financially, but Blair states that since his is not, and will never be, on the mortgage he questions why he should make the investment. He tells Jeff that he wants “a rent-controlled marriage.” Blair comes from a broken home, and his parent’s divorce has made him determined to make his own marriage work, but it has also saddled him with a lot of baggage.
Kim is going to be dealing with gender equality issues in her union with Alaska. She refers to him as an “Alpha male,” and admits that he’ll have to be willing to bend for things to work. Luckily for Alaska he is under no obligation to make any concessions since their religion subjugates women and demands the wife be submissive. But Kim is no shrinking violet and she hopes to maintain her own identity.
I think that any network that edits marriage for television is going to paint an inaccurate and most likely unfair picture of the institution. And watching couples try and work through some very relatable issues could be hit or miss. Viewers like to watch TV to escape the daily grind, not to be reminded of it. However, reality fans are voyeuristic and can’t resist the urge to revel in the triumphs and tribulations, mostly tribulations, of others. If the premiere is any indication, I don’t think Newlyweds: The First Year has what it takes to be Bravo’s next breakout hit.