In Leslie Carroll’s Reality Check, advertising copywriter Liz Pemberley and her two best friends sign up for a new reality show called Bad Date. On the show, contestants share stories of their worst dating experiences and the person with the most horrendous stories will be voted the million-dollar winner at the end of the season. On the day of her audition, Liz meets restaurateur Jack Rafferty and is instantly attracted. Naturally they both get on the show. If only there wasn’t that pesky rule about no fraternization between contestants….
With the current popularity of reality shows, this could have been a great romantic comedy. Unfortunately, it’s the book that’s in dire need of a reality check:
- If you’re going to write a book about characters on a reality-based game show, it would help if to come up with something that sounds like it could be a real show. Bad Date doesn’t come close. A show where 12 people tell stories about their worst dates, and each week the audience votes off the person with the weakest story? Come on. Television is a visual medium, and with at least a dozen dating shows on the air where you can actually see footage of the couple on their terrible dates, as well as commentary from both parties, who would watch something like this? The lie detector element – to verify the contestants aren’t making up their stories – sounds a little like Meet My Folks but that show at least has the parents-interrogating-potential-suitors gimmick to make it interesting.
- Actually, any kind of realism or believability would be welcome. Would Hollywood’s hottest heartthrob be caught dead hosting a reality-based game show on a second-tier cable network? No way. How would a stoic Native American (stereotype alert!) and a hunky-yet-dimwitted cabana boy (stereotype alert!) who can barely string two words together get on a reality show where the only thing they have to do is talk? That makes no sense.
- Regarding those stereotypes: they’re not funny. They’re the lazy way out of developing actual characters. The contestant from Brooklyn with the Noo Yawk accent whose every story is about a date getting “whacked” in a different manner? Gee, that’s new. With the exception of the bland main couple, every character that appears in Reality Check can be reduced to a simple two-or-three word label. Gay Rastafarian. Butch female biker. Prissy academic. Hollywood hunk. Rich Girl. Sleazy Middle-Aged Guy. They’re types, not characters. Most of them can’t even get one dimension, let alone three.
- Humor that stems naturally from the story is good. “Humor” that keeps grinding the story to a halt is not. The first hundred pages of this book are the most painful, because every moment is so forced, strictly a set up for a punchline, and nowhere near as clever as the author seems to think it is. There’s not a hint of subtle or witty humor to be found; everything is strictly junior high level. Liz is assigned to work on a campaign for a British product called Snatch, mainly so the characters can guffaw about the language barrier. Here’s an example of the book’s humor, when Snatch’s British owner introduces himself to Liz:
“Lord Ian Kitchener, Knight of the British Empire. Likkbe, for short,” he joked. “Sounds like a headcold and I’m begging for oral sex.”
- “Dull” is the best description for Liz and Jack’s romance in Reality Check. Other than the forced obstacle placed on them by the no-dating rules of the show, there’s no real conflict. They both like each other. There’s no reason for them not to be together other than the million dollars, and they don’t even make a big issue of that until late in the book. While there are some glimmers of a real conflict (Liz doesn’t want the rich Jack to bail her out of her job problems), mostly they’re kept apart by lame misunderstandings and wacky hijinks (Liz gets food poisoning on their first date, a situation that could be mined for laughs, and isn’t).
- Reality Check is told in the first person from Liz’s point of view. This results in a hero who is never developed as a actual human being. Jack is generally perfect in a plastic, Stepford kind of way and sometimes comes across as a little creepy. The first time they meet, he fixates on Liz’s hair and pets it. On their next meeting, he starts out by saying:
“I’m a very tactile person. I love crisp cotton sheets, the rich softness of my cashmere blazer–and, well, your hair…I felt this chemical ‘thing’ happen when I first noticed you.”
- Liz’s two best friends, Jem and Nell, verge on despicable. It’s bad enough that they allow a reality show this pathetic to come between them, but when they each run out of bad date stories, they set out to find some laughable guys to go out with and then mock on the show. What a horrible thing to do! Despite knowing that this is a romance novel, and anyone can guess how these plotlines will unfold, I was disgusted. When Nell begins corresponding with a farmer from upstate New York she met online simply so she can go out with him and then make fun of the country bumpkin on national television, I had to set the book down before it went flying out a window.
- Nothing kills a joke like repeating it. Repeating a joke that wasn’t funny the first time certainly isn’t going to improve it. A producer whose name is Rob Dick? Not particularly funny. Using his full name every single time he is referred to throughout the book verges on sadism.
Lines like that should only be said by really desperate drunk guys in bars just before closing. Is he attracted to her or her hair?
Want a real Reality Check? While some developments in the last fifty pages of Reality Check were moderately interesting, up until the contrived and ridiculous final show, Leslie Carroll’s second book is boring, flat, annoying, and seemingly endless. It’s less the romantic comedy it’s billed as than a Chick Lit wannabe that strains without attaining a tenth of the effect. As a 20-something urban dweller who works in a media-related industry, I would seem to be the target audience for this book. I may be the target, but rather than a dart hitting the bulls-eye, the book hit the wall instead.