Lampooning reality television has become as much a cornerstone of popular culture as the slobbering, drunk, poor decision-making and endorsing half-hour mainstays of weekday primetime. “Burning Love” jams 16 one-dimensional pseudo-bachelors into a parody of “The Bachelorette” with Julie (June Diane Raphael, “American Dad!”), an emotionally unstable wreck whose own brand of crazy puts Snooki and company to shame.
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Having been rejected from the first season, in which an incompetent Ken Marino (“Wanderlust”) waded knee deep in eligible bachelorettes, Julie decides that the only logical thing to do is to spend 10 months as a lesbian with another former contestant. When she decides this is only a phase, the newly single woman is left with only two options: first, a fixation on sex and emotional manipulation matched only by her complete lack of rational thought and, second, a desire to find love in the most public, least practical way possible. Obviously, a network’s massive revenue stream disguised as shallow, scripted speed dating is her top choice.
The “most romantic web series that will ever be” takes the stereotypical array of crazies and amplifies their insecurities and neuroses to comical heights. Each bachelor has exactly one trait that defines his entire being, be it Judaism, a nut allergy or his two-month-premature birth. At the very least, those watching the 15-minute episodes can avoid the need to remember the contestants’ names by referring to them by their respective ineptitudes.
The writers flawlessly recreate the same forced-reality awkwardness that has captivated audiences the world over. Shaky camerawork and jump cuts add a layer of authenticity to the believably terrible scenario, and the program goes to great lengths — for a fictional reality show — to inject allusions to past events depicted as if they’d happened off-air.
As it stands, only four of the initial 12 eligible bachelors remain: The prematurely born Leo (Martin Starr, “Hawaii Five-0”) joins separation anxiety-ridden Alex (Joe Lo Truglio, “Wreck-It Ralph”), dependent “Prince” Simon (Rob Huebel, “Childrens Hospital”) and so-far-pretty-normal-guy Henry (Jerry O’Connell, “The Defenders”) in the fight for Julie’s affection. There’s no doubt that the future holds many an identity crisis and mental breakdown for the show’s star-crossed cast, but, realistically, that’s all anyone watches reality TV for anyway.
As a satire, “Burning Love” excels at making dating shows look like the bizarre mistrust-inspiring, ultra-competitive social experiment that they are. Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent it from becoming just another tick gorging itself on the lifeblood that is “reality” television, a genre that stumbles and refuses to die off. The watcher spends 15 minutes at a time engrossed in the phony personal lives of a crew of satisfyingly less-than-perfect men and their relationships as they vie for the attention of someone whose last shred of credibility was lost well before her show’s first season.
Less funny than annoying and sad, “Burning Love” ironically beats the dead horse that is reality television in what is hopefully the last bastion for innovation in the genre: admittedly scripted and fake scenarios of paid actors acting like unloved, spoiled children looking for love and approval.