Growing up, Appellate Judge Tom Becker lived near a shepherd. Since the man never dated, the neighbors thought he was lonely, but the shepherd didn't mind—he had his flock of love.
Every rose has its thorn.
And if you can find a thornier group than what's on display in Rock of Love: The Complete First Season, please…keep it to yourself.
Aging and heavily made up one-time rock-star party-happy bad-boy Bret Michaels is looking for love. Rather than pursuing the now-menopausal groupies from his golden years or joining match.com or putting an ad on Craigslist, Bret decides to follow in the footsteps of national embarrassment Flavor Flav and bring together a bunch of creepily eager women to fight for his sagging charms.
Lured by the siren song of shacking up with a rock star (though I'm guessing more than a couple of these ladies turned to Google to find out who this guy is), 25 women who shoulda known better agree to be locked up for months in VH1's version of Barbie's playhouse—that is, if Barbie's playhouse had a stripper pole and a wet bar, and a perpetually soused and leering horndog in one of the rooms.
Like distaff Hercules(es), the women must complete a number of labors to win the clogged heart of the former lead singer of Poison. Most of these are just variants on the classic "wet t-shirt contest," but every now and again, they face some obstacle that requires firing up a brain cell or two. Those who don't cut it are eliminated at the end of each episode.
Will Bret Michaels find his Rock of Love? Or will the National Organization of Women storm this pleasure dome and liberate the harem?
VH1 started out as a music video station, an alternative to MTV, but in recent years has morphed into a reality-show paradise for faded celebrities. On VH1, you can share Scott Baio's midlife crisis or watch his obese former friend, Willie Aames, being tortured into svelteness by a sadistic marine DI.
Rock of Love premiered in July of 2007 and quickly became one of the network's highest-rated shows. VH1 got as much blood from these stoners as it could, running RoL on what seemed to be a continuous loop. There were times last August when you could turn on VH1 at practically any hour of the day or night and see Bret Michaels mooning, moaning, or musing, drinking ("Nobody likes to party more than me"), judging pole dance-offs ("Woo-hoo! Yeah!"), and setting up challenges like a motocross race ("I love motorcycles") and a phone-sex challenge ("That's hot!").
Michaels thins the ranks each week with a heavy heart and lots of explanations for us at home. A few of the girls get cutesy nicknames, which makes the leavetakings that much harder. A typical exchange might go something like this:
Sad Ousted Girl: I love you, Bret.
Then Bret might show his sensitive side with a post-mortem:
Bret: Butterball was hot, and my *BLEEP* gets *BLEEP* just thinking about her sweet, young *BLEEP* *BLEEP* *BLEEP*. But what it comes down to in the end is, I'm a rock star, dammit, and who's she gonna be doing *BLEEP* *BLEEP* to or giving *BLEEP* *BLEEP* *BLEEP* when I'm on the road? And besides, there was no spiritual connection.
Or something along those lines. (No, he didn't nickname anyone "Butterball," but there was a "Wild Thing" who came to a kind of bad end.)
In perhaps the creepiest episode, when Bret is down to the "awesome threesome," the women's parents are invited to the house. It's one of those time-honored things, you know, Dad meeting his daughter's intended.
But this isn't Fiddler on the Roof. These men are not seeing the little ones they carried off on a life of tradition with an honorable tailor. These daughters are auditioning to be groupies for a toxic demon, and they've spent the past couple of months locked up in a house that makes the one called The Rising Sun look like a convent and doing degrading things on national TV. Now, I'm no fan of corporal punishment, but really, these Proud Papas might have been forgiven if they'd smacked their daughters upside the head, dragged them out by the ear, and given Mr. No-Working-Liver a tongue lashing.
Plus, it would have been great TV.
Instead, these Pimp Daddies party with Bad Boy Bret, make disturbing comments about their daughters' bodies, and smile wanly as a series of abominations is revealed.
So, what works here? What made this cringe fest such a hit? Well, a couple of things.
First is that ol' debbel Bret. As much as he's a hard partying hound, there's something about him that comes across as…sincere. He constantly proclaims that he is "looking for love," and he really does seem to agonize over those weekly eliminations. He even chokes up a couple of times. When one woman stomps out after being rejected, he seems genuinely offended that she didn't thank him for his hospitality. He also gossips with the girls and sometimes plays big brother, and given the vehicle, treats the women with a laudable level of kindness and respect. His rube-like chauvinism in the sea of reality TV sharks is kind of endearing.
Second, the ladies are a fairly interesting and comparatively diverse and articulate lot. Sure, you've got your crazies and your airheads, but the producers wisely gave the women enough room to let their personalities come out. It's a very emotional group. We get more than a few meltdowns here, but the producers afford a modicum of dignity by not treating them as jokes.
Thus, there's a real sense of tension at the eliminations, with the girls lined up on risers, looking like the Romanovs awaiting execution, in a room decorated with a neon cow skull and a lighting effect that suggests a vagina. Then Bret makes his appearance in a cowboy hat, bandana, and some frock that looks like something Grace Jones would have worn to Studio 54, anxious and a bit flustered.
In some perverse way, we're actually rooting for our "favorites" to stay on—perverse, because it's like watching a medieval fantasy about a dragon menacing a princess and rooting for the dragon.
But we know that, for somebody, the tour ends here.
Anchor Bay gives us a three-disc set with all 13 shows from Season 1, including a Clip Show and the Reunion, wherein Bret sees his chosen one for the first time since RoL ended six months prior. Since Rock of Love 2 is currently being rolled out, it should come as no surprise that the match didn't take—but with that "stay apart for six months" deal, how could it?
The shows sound and look exactly like they did when broadcast, complete with previews for the next episodes and Bret exhorting us to visit him at the VH1 Web site. Nudity is still blurred and profanity is still bleeped.
We get a few extras, most notably an extended version of the phone sex suite, wherein our horny honeys have to get one-handed Bret off on—yes—the phone. One of our brave lassies gets carried away and slips her thong down to her knees, causing a big, oval blur in the middle of the screen; however, when another describes in graphic detail what she'd like to do with our boy's pickled man-bits, the censor must have been napping, as every not-ready-for-prime-time syllable comes out loud and clear.
Yes, it's cheesy and ridiculous, but Rock of Love is can't-turn-away viewing. Like a terrible soap opera, it draws you in and keeps you hooked. Bret's patriarchal, "I'm a man's man" schtick wears pretty thin pretty fast, but compared to some of the other reality-TV dating shows, this one is like a feminist screed.
Rock of Love: The Complete First Season is silly, embarrassing, and oddly compelling.
Bret and his girls are free to continue to rock each other's worlds.
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