I was always one to admit that reality TV had gone too far, and I’d almost lost all hope that the genre might eventually produce something truly brilliant. But when socially inept L.A. millionaires struggle to make conversation with pseudo-porn star wannabes under the guidance of an insanely absurd dating service, the entertainment value is priceless. Trust me on this.

Patti Stranger is a third-generation matchmaker – a title she proudly boasts but we can’t help but laugh at – and owner of the dating service Millionaires Club, designed specifically for (you guessed it) millionaires searching for a mate, and Bravo has graciously provided us with footage of the process.

But it’s not just a dating show – it’s an addictive train wreck you can’t turn away from. Watch one episode, and you’ll hate yourself for wasting another precious hour to worthless TV. Watch two, and you’ll be hooked. For good. When a self-made real-estate mogul from Azerbaijan proposes to the beautiful Sidney on their first (first.) date and she says yes, you almost want to believe Patti when she just knows he found his B’shert.

Even though the featured bachelors hit the perfect blend of contrived suave and awkward adolescent courting, the show’s real gem is the matchmaker herself. Patti’s the overbearing, neurotic Jewish mother you wish you never had.

She’s also the woman you love to hate. She’s not pure evil, but she comes pretty close. She’s never lacking in tough love, though it comes off more as tough bitch, with little room for forgiveness. When Patti says true happiness won’t come without hair extensions, she’s not kidding. Even Simon Cowell can’t compare to the biting insults she doles out for a fee, as she thoroughly interrogates and scrutinizes each participant.

Offbeat reality TV tends to work when its material strikes that harmonious balance between real and unreal, and “Millionaire Matchmaker” is no different. But the show pushes the boundaries to the point of being farcical; it’s so far from reality, few of us can begin to relate, but it doesn’t quite reach a state of pure fantasy either. This is voyeuristic bliss unlike anything else on TV. It’s impossible to become personally involved, and therein lies its beauty. This show is a guilt-free, shameless excuse to tear the premise apart.

The women look near tears as Patti dubs them with nicknames like “Brillo” or threatens a lonely, loveless life for the curly-haired gals. She breaks each new bachelor down to the bones, belittling their adult sensibilities and ramming dating “commandments” down their throats. And all the while her semi-loyal assistants stand by, eye rolling their way to the next commission, sometimes stoking the fire of Patti’s wrath.

What is it about this woman who keeps them all coming back for more? Are the female contestants so desperate to land themselves a filthy rich man that they’ll put up with boot-camp-style bullshit in the process? Are the men really willing to abandon all common sense and invest thousands of dollars into her irrational science-meets-art matchmaking? Maybe it’s just gold-digging, fame-hungry madness propelling the show, but that’s not the point, because either way, you’re still going to watch.

You’ve got to give Patti a little credit for owning up to the crazed entrepreneur that she is. There’s simply no reasoning with Patti, and her irrational antics carry the show. But the joke’s on her, and the hilarity of “Millionaire Matchmaker” relies on her genuine belief that she’s delivering true love to hopeless high rollers. There are rare moments when you want to see the light in her, but that fleeting thought is quickly replaced.

The show requires so little mental energy that ultimately, you want nothing less than more of the same. You can tell me it’s bogus media frenzy at its worst, but “Millionaire Matchmaker” is a masterful – though equally vile – experience in American television.

-Hartmann is proudly a third generation matchmaker as well. To let her set you up e-mail her at carolinh@umich.edu.

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