My Big Friggin' Wedding
Part of the appeal of reality television is undoubtedly its democratic nature: that it can turn virtually anyone into a celebrity, either for a few months of tabloid scrutiny or a few years of shameful self-promotion in some, but not most, cases culminating in lucrative endorsement deals or at least mildly profitable sex tapes. But while fame for fame's sake may be deeply appealing to the thousands upon thousands of would-be R-listers, who indefatigably pursue their dreams of sorta-stardom by sending out audition tapes and attending casting calls, perhaps even more appealing is attention for attention's sake, and not just any kind of attention, but that accorded an interesting person with something to say, in a sense, a "character." Unfortunately, this impulse on the part of many reality television personalities—to affect a quality of interestingness where it is lacking—can often prove inimical to the genre's intended purpose of candidly depicting real life, be it ugly, funny, sad, cathartic and so on and so forth. The invasive presence of the camera, the knowledge that one is being filmed, can turn even the strongest willed participants into self-consciously ham-bone actors, and when this occurs, the upshot seems to more closely resemble community theater than documentary television.
My Big Friggin' Wedding, VH1's latest addition to the genre, arrives amidst a post-Bridezillas/Jersey Shore epoch, when it's already been established that "proud to be from Joisey" New Jerseyans and neurotic brides and husbands-to-be are almost guaranteed sources of toxically addictive entertainment. Weddings are especially rife for exploitation, nearly always entailing shameless materialism, the inevitable onset of cold feet, unreasonable expectations and warring in-laws. And My Big Friggin' Wedding's series premiere contains quite a lot of evidence to suggest that its producers didn't want to risk telling a "happy" wedding story and, to insure against such a failure have enlisted five couples who, for various reasons, all seem to fall under high risk categories. Firstly, there's sweet but tactless Amanda and aloof but likable jerk Matt, whose storybook romance began when Matt "scooped her up" while her boyfriend was away in prison. In addition to Matt there are not one, but three additional "homewreckers": pathologically vain Tammie, who first became involved with her fiancé Danny while his first marriage was "on the verge" of being dissolved, and both unemployed aspirant chef Johnny and pregnant Megin—who are by leaps and bounds the most likeable couple on the show and are marketed accordingly—claim to have terminated other relationships to be together. Added to which, another couple has a child out of wedlock—Tyler and Alyssa—and two of the couples are of mixed race: Amanda describes herself as "100% Spanish" while Matt is Italian-American; Danny is Haitian while Tammie is Italian-American. The show's directors have made it clear that they intend to plumb the remotest depths of the couples' respective family dynamics for the juicy pulp of prejudice and resentment, inventing them if need be.
But this tendency towards "invention"—in other words, instigation—underscores one of the main problems with My Big Friggin' Wedding: as interesting as (some) of these people are, they are still far less interesting than they or the show’s creative team would have you believe—as are their various conflicts. While Tammie teeters on the brink of objectionability, the only truly off-putting character is Joey. After Amanda clumsily disparages Matt's mother's gift of an antique espresso maker, the latter appears to be "playing up" the perceived effrontery of the harmless remark, obviously at the behest of a bored television director eager to see some of that working class New Jerseyean drama he's read so much about. To make matters worse, the subsequent confessional interviews with both Amanda and her supposed adversary appear to have been cleverly edited to, again, render more severe the implications of a meaningless exchange—and both subjects are obviously suppressing laughter as they talk about their "falling out" over the espresso remark. The show's editors will also employ comical music to produce a desired effect. The fact of the matter is that while weddings and the petty squabbles of those directly or peripherally involved in their inceptions are more often than not histrionic, tedious and stressful, wedding-stress is such a widespread phenomenon that it’s taken on the quality of an acceptable neurosis. While there’s no doubt in this reviewer’s mind that, as they are all very cuddly, likeable and relatable, My Big Friggin' Wedding’s five couples will effortlessly endear themselves to the viewing public, only time will tell if they can, with or without the help of overzealous documentarians, consistently amuse the viewing public.