Television

Harvard Women Don’t Like Stripper Poles

And other dating advice from The Millionaire Matchmaker, Matched in Manhattan, and Jane Austen.

Olivia Williams as Jane Austen. Click image to expand.
Olivia Williams as Jane Austen

Though Patty Stanger, now known to Bravo viewers as The Millionaire Matchmaker (Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET), never quite manages an actual aphorism, she’s nonetheless highly quotable. Her craft—shaping poorly socialized dudes in possession of good fortunes into reasonable facsimiles of gentlemen and connecting them with marriageable women—requires the skills of a social scientist, a moral philosopher, a casting agent, a forensic detective, a cognitive-behavioral therapist, and a den mother. Her chatter reflects a very particular mindset that makes this ice-cream tub of a TV show more nutritious than you might suspect. Listen to her scheming to teach a lesson to one client, 46-year-old Harold, who was eager to bag a chick half his age: “I’ll give him a young hottie that’ll flake on him, and then he’ll start to re-evaluate his immortality.”

Patty’s L.A.-based Millionaire’s Club does not traffic in the sort of women once called floozies and now regarded as normal girls. She strongly discourages sex outside of monogamous relationships and decries the hookup culture for turning men into “passive-aggressive Peter Pan idiots.” She rejects the notion of procuring only the sveltest lasses for her guys: “I will take a plus-size girl with a beautiful face and pray that one of those chubby chasers comes into my club asking me for that girl.” Patty does tend to speak in italics, particularly when pronouncing the names of Ivy League colleges and when exhorting her underlings to quit slacking: “Be a yenta!”

In the first episode, Patty took on the cases of Dave (who made a mint selling marital aids on the Internet) and Harold (“He went to Yale“). Seeking to set the boys up with fertile honeys, she relied on the skills of her staff members—”a director of sales and marketing” and a “VP of matching,” each of whom has the vague air and glossed lips of a middling PR girl—and of a retinue including dating coaches, relationship experts, psychologists, image consultants, and interior decorators. The decorator was unable to convince Dave to dismantle the stripper pole installed in his living room. Patty threw a cocktail party to introduce the guys to a diverse group of women: “We’ve got two girls that went to Harvard and two girls that do strip aerobics.”

Nothing panned out. Harold took a shine to one Sarah, but the generation gap between them could not have been crossed with the Mackinaw Bridge. Dave had hoped to earn the affections of Brooke, one of the Harvard girls, but he proved insufficiently sophisticated to satisfy her needs. At the end of the episode, the text on the screen—”Dave is still looking for ‘the one’…”—was matched with a slow-motion image of the man spinning around his pole while Brooke gazed on with polite tolerance from a safe distance.

A defeat for the Millionaire Matchmaker? Resoundingly, but maybe Harold and Dave were one baby step closer to going to the chapel. That’s the way these things go. Just ask Matt Titus, the star of Lifetime’s Matched in Manhattan, a not-that-grating combo of how-to program and Cinderella sketch. Where Patty dedicates herself to domesticating the nouveau riche, Matt seems to specialize in female arrivistes who, to borrow from F. Scott Fitzgerald, have not yet arrived. He aims to effect a “matt-o-morphosis,” for instance, instructing one Selene—an adorable thing newly in town from Tennessee—to corral the Hello Kitty collectibles running riot in her bedroom. This is unimpeachable advice. As such, it stands in stark contrast to his counsel that Selene should go cruising for guys at Wall Street coffee carts, which can’t possibly lead anywhere other than to a string of daytime encounters with married men and an addiction to bear claws.

After two episodes aired at the beginning of January, Matched in Manhattan vanished from the schedule. In the comments section of the show’s Web site, viewers who say good riddance (“matt should hide himself in a hole”) joust with those who, valuing its dating tips, miss it already (“I had never realized I talk so much about my cat when I’ve run out of other things to say LOL!”). Further, Matt has logged on to promise that Lifetime will relaunch the show with a Valentine’s Day marathon, and Selene has praised him for the bits of helpful advice that were left on the cutting room floor ("There’s no reason for me to look for a guy in Chelsea”).

Meanwhile, over on the Web site of Masterpiece—which has dropped its Theatre—PBS is publicizing its “Complete Jane Austen” lineup with a Men of Austen page where fans can glance at the “online dating profiles” of 16 characters in cravats and vote in response to the question, “Which of these suitors is a suitable mate?” The current leader is Fitzwilliam Darcy (“Income: 10,000 pounds/year,” “Turn-ons: Fine eyes, good manners), and one should think that George Knightley (“My job: Gentleman farmer, magistrate”) would be hard-pressed to overtake him.

That online poll cuts to the heart of the “Complete Jane Austen”series, which includes versions of all six novels and also a sodden biopic, Miss Austen Regrets, airing this Sunday night. (It happens that TCM is airing director Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility opposite the Super Bowl as well, and the coincidence inspires the notion that Austen adaptations and professional football are precise cultural antonyms.) As usual, Masterpiece serves up high-toned pap featuring very nice costumes. No petticoat can conceal its frivolousness. This is matrimonial entertainment not too far distant from Millionaire Matchmaker and Matched in Manhattan, though with less cleavage and more circle dancing, with less sense and more sensibility.