Prologue

 

 

“COUCH CRITIC” TV Weekly Magazine

By Amory Columbus

This week’s review takes a look at the latest entry in the reality television craze: Husband Hunters. For better or worse, reality TV and shows like this one have become a mainstay of twenty-first century entertainment delivered via the tube. Do TVs even have tubes anymore? I digress….

Husband Hunters is based on a simple premise, shamelessly modeled after another life-decision show: HGTV’s House Hunters. As we all know, that show takes us into the life of someone hunting for the perfect home. We get to stomp around with the potential buyer, testing the water pressure, checking out the backyard, searching for cracks in the ceiling. It’s all great fun and gives us a beginning, middle, and end, and leads up to a happy ending where we get to see the contented homeowner or owners all settled in their new nest, where they will live in residential bliss for many years to come.

Like House Hunters, Husband Hunters does much the same thing, focusing on someone who wants to find that perfect situation where one can be happy for the rest of one’s life—or at least the immediate future. But this show takes an even more modern twist, because it is about gay men looking for husbands. Along with the blossoming of reality television, the twenty-first century has also witnessed the blossoming of marriage equality, so that the premise for Husband Hunters is not only compelling but entirely possible—and legal.

Husband Hunters does not stray far from the show it’s modeled after in its basic premise. We have a gay man looking to get hitched and follow him as he spends three separate weekends with three potential suitors. We are privy to the conversation (easy or stilted), the gazes (soulful, embarrassed, or barely concealed boredom), the dinners, the breakfasts, and the activities the producers planned, designed to help the couples get to know one another. In recent episodes we have seen everything from a kayaking adventure on Kauai’s Wailua River to antiquing in St. Charles, Illinois, to attending the famous Sundance Film Festival. We are not privy to what goes on overnight between the “contestants.”

At the end of the three weekends, our single gay hero chooses one man to go on and… marry! Yes, darling, you heard me right. This ain’t your father’s Dating Game. In a fast-forward to a few weeks or a few months later, we get to be witnesses at a ceremony wherein the couple says their “I do’s.”

Cynical side note: one thing that not many folks know is that the network pays for the divorce if the couple decides to split up within one year. But that’s not something they talk about—it would be like focusing on a skid mark in a Fruit of the Loom ad. Yuck!

Anyway, your Couch Critic is here to answer the question: does this show make for good television? Like the show it’s modeled after, Husband Hunters offers us a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an end. You can’t help but get invested in our lovelorn single guy out to find the man of his dreams. Will he choose the hot but buttoned-down CPA from Santa Monica? Or will he go with the penniless but talented and oh-so-quirky tattoo artist from the Castro? Maybe the ginger bear with the amazing sense of humor will bring him his happily-ever-after. It’s fun to play armchair matchmaker.

But is it ethical? The Couch Critic has to wonder. I presume these guys actually spend more time together beyond the weekend portrayed on the show, just like the House Hunters in that other show must spend time looking at more than simply three options. But it rankles the romantic in me to see such a major life decision become must-watch TV. Can love be parsed into three six- or seven-minute segments?

Oh, what the hell! The romantic in me adores buying into the idea that love can and does happen surrounded by slick production values and ads for Kiehls, Subaru, and the Atlantis Cruise line.

If you can accept the premise and the ethics of a show that creates love and marriage assembly line style like I do, you too may be charmed by Husband Hunters. And you too, like me, may just find yourself more often than not grinning like an idiot or wiping a tear away as you watch the latest installment.

 

 

One

 

 

CODY MOOK woke to three things that Saturday morning in January. The first was a Post-it Note on the pillow beside him. The Post-it was lime green and bore the scrawl of the one-night stand he’d brought home last night from the Lobby Bar in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. It read:

 

Mike,

I had a great time last night. Hope we can do it again!!!

 

There was no phone number, e-mail, or other form of contact on the note. Cody sighed, thinking that the prospects of meeting up again were slim, but then maybe that was Keith’s intention. And yes, Cody noted that he had remembered his trick’s first name. At least he was pretty sure….

He sat up and stretched, the covers slithering off his naked form. “No awkward conversation over coffee and eggs this morning? No whispered good-byes in the half-light of dawn, telling me you had to work early? No ruffle of my hair? Pinch of my cheek? Cup of my balls? Nothing? Your loss, sport,” he said aloud to the empty room. “Mike indeed!” he cried out in despair.

And then he turned his head and noticed the second thing, which was unusual for Seattle. It was snowing. Hard. He stared in wonderment at the big, fluffy flakes drifting down. He couldn’t stand it. Like a little kid, he jumped from his bed, almost slipping on a discarded condom on the hardwood floor, and rushed to the window.

Outside, the snow drifted down so heavily Cody couldn’t see more than a few yards past his apartment building on Stone Way in the Fremont neighborhood. The green and orange lights of the 7-Eleven across the street appeared dimly through the caul of white. Every once in a while, a big wind blew up, slanting the snow sideways. What cars there were coasted slowly down the hill that ended at Lake Union.

Seattle was not used to snow. Winters here often went completely without the white stuff, probably because the mountain ranges to the east and west sucked it all up before it had a chance to get to the relative lowlands of Seattle. Or maybe it was because wintertime temperatures seldom dipped below forty degrees or so.

Whatever the reason, the snow was a rare and wonderful sight, inspiring a feeling of childlike wonder in Cody. It helped, a bit, with the sense of loss he felt at having been abandoned without a word spoken by his trick from the night before. They had seemed to be getting along so well too!

Men.

Cody tried to assuage the disappointment with thoughts of cooking himself a comfort breakfast of poached eggs over broken toast and a nice cup of Earl Grey. After breakfast, he could pull out his green down-filled coat, orange muffler and gloves, and head outside. And for the first time in at least a couple of years, he realized he would need to pull his winter boots out from the back of his closet, where they had languished, untouched, for so long.

He imagined himself walking down Stone Way toward Lake Union and approaching the snow-framed skyline across the water, like some kind of Currier and Ives Seattle Christmas card. Perhaps on the way, he would encounter a nice man, out walking a Labrador retriever or some other manly breed. The dog would recognize in Cody his inherent kindness and would strain at his leash to get to him. The man would try to hold the wayward pooch back, laughing, and the sudden desire in the dog would give the two men an opening for conversation. They would comment on the snow, the rebelliousness of the dog, but the unspoken would be ringing out loud and clear as the handsome stranger’s crystal clear sky-colored eyes met Cody’s brown ones. They would walk to Norm’s a few blocks over, an eatery that allowed dogs, and would share hot toddies and plan where they’d go for dinner that night. Knees would touch under the table, and a spark would ignite.

Sigh. Cody knew it was more likely he’d be splashed by slush from an SUV traveling too fast on the downward slope of Stone Way and would instantly freeze in place. Or maybe he would run into a man with a dog. A Rottweiler. A hungry cur intent on tasting human flesh. Another sigh. Nothing like his fantasies ever happened in real life.

The third thing that happened that morning was that Cody’s best friend, Matt Connelly, called. Matt’s call coming on a Saturday morning was as common as the Seattle snow was rare. Matt always phoned on weekend mornings, both to see if Cody was available for a movie or pub crawl and because his younger friend liked to live vicariously through Cody. He idealized Cody’s series of hookups and thought them the height of excitement. He openly envied Cody the number of men he ended up in bed with. “You stud! You horndog!” he would tease, his eyes glowing with barely concealed admiration. This in spite of the fact that Cody had told Matt, time and again, that his choice would have been to spend all those nights with one special man, rather than hordes, but fate or luck or Cupid or whoever the hell was in charge was obviously sleeping on the job.

He snatched his iPhone off the nightstand and pressed the screen to cease its Katy Perry “Peacock” ring tone. “Yeah?”

Matt didn’t waste any time. “So? Did you meet anyone last night?”

Cody stared at the snow falling outside, and then his gaze drifted over to the pillow on his bed, the one graced with the lime green Post-it. “Nah. It was really dead out there. I came home early, watched a couple episodes of Shameless on On Demand, and fell asleep.”

“C’mon, man, you’re slippin’ in your old age!”

“May I remind you that I am only twenty-eight?”

“Twenty-nine in July.” Matt snickered. “Thirty in, really, just a few months. Thirty….” Matt’s voice trailed off, as though the number indicated someone as ancient as Methuselah.

Before Matt had a chance to press him on the why-nots of his situation and force him to make up even more, Cody went on the offensive. “What about you? Did you get lucky?”

Matt offered only several seconds of silence as his reply.

Cody wondered if he was being mean. Matt rarely got lucky. He was the opposite of Cody: short where he was tall, a bit dumpy where Cody was wiry and roped with muscle, bespectacled while Cody still had 20/20 vision and nothing to hide his dark chocolate orbs. Matt was already balding, where Cody had thick, unruly light brown hair flecked with gold. Men loved to run their fingers through it, yet they never seemed to want to do it a second time.

Cody changed the subject away from his “luck” of the night before. “So you see what it’s doing outside? Incredible! The city will shut down,” Cody said.

“You think we’ll get a snow day out of this?” Matt wondered.

Both of them taught at the same school: Elliott Bay High in Belltown, near downtown. Matt taught geometry, algebra, and beginning calculus, while Cody tried to interest his students in folks like Faulkner, Hemingway, Shakespeare, and Yeats in his literature courses and give them ways to remember what a dangling modifier or gerund were in his composition classes.

Cody shrugged. “Doubt it. You know how it goes. It’ll probably warm up this afternoon, turn to rain, and this will all be gone by tonight. You hear a forecast?”

“Nope.”

“Me neither.” Cody gazed longingly out the window. He really did want to get out there and walk in the stillness he knew accompanied heavy snow. He thought he’d come right to the point. He liked Matt a lot, but he wanted to get on with his day. “So, you just calling to talk about the weather?” he asked, with a laugh he hoped softened the impact of his question, which even Cody knew sounded rude.

“No. I wasn’t just calling to talk about the weather,” Matt whined.

Then he surprised Cody, who was expecting an invitation to dinner at World of Beer on Capitol Hill and then a staggering walk over to one of their favorite hangouts—C.C. Attle’s (cold beer, room temperature men). Matt, God bless him, always did have the capacity to astonish. Maybe that was one reason their friendship continued to grow and deepen since their first meeting in the teacher’s lounge a couple of years ago.

“You ever heard of a TV show called Husband Hunters?” Matt asked.

Cody let a short bark of a laugh escape. “Dude. It’s House Hunters. On HGTV, like, a thousand times a day.”

“No, no. There’s really a show called Husband Hunters. It’s on the gay channel. Haven’t you even heard of it? It’s the new gay show, even more popular than Drag Race. Where have you been?”

“Husband hunting?” Cody asked.

“Exactly. And how’s that working out for you?”

Cody paced his studio apartment and thought his friend Matt wasn’t as clueless as he had assumed about Cody’s romantic situation. “So far, my wish to be desired by many, won by few has gotten twisted around so it’s ass backwards.”

Matt obviously had to think about that for a moment. When he put it all together, he laughed. Not for the first time Cody thought of how his friend’s laughter too strongly resembled a donkey’s bray.

“Anyway,” Matt went on. “This show is kind of like your House Hunters in that it showcases someone looking for something and gives us three scenarios to watch and help them decide. Except instead of houses, it’s husbands!” Matt shrieked this last with something like delight—or lunacy.

“You’re kidding.” Cody rolled his eyes. He walked over to his kitchenette and began pulling out the makings for his breakfast: a couple of eggs, a loaf of Dave’s Spelt bread. “Is there a reason you brought this up? I can’t imagine anything more horrible. They actually get people to go on this show?” Cody sighed. “Whatever happened to romance?”

“The Internet,” Matt replied without missing a beat. “It’s a new day, as Miss Nina Simone once sang. Men get their manmeat digitally now. Soon Amazon will have drones delivering studs to your front door.”

“Whatever.” Cody was getting tired of the conversation. “You want to go out tonight or what?”

“Cody!” Matt complained. “You didn’t let me tell you the best part! Husband Hunters is right here in Seattle… today! They’re doing a talent search for some Pacific Northwest episodes.”

“And this affects me how?” Cody filled a pan with water, threw in some white vinegar and a little kosher salt, and set it on the stove to come to a simmer for his poached eggs.

“We can try out. Are you dense?” Matt went on, a little breathless with excitement. “What with the snow, there won’t even be as much competition. With your hotness and my wit, we’ll both be shoo-ins.”

Cody laughed. “You’re kidding me, right? What about the school?”

“You think they’d mind? Have you noticed that our principal is a legally wed leather daddy?”

Cody chuckled. “Only in Seattle….” He set two pieces of bread in the toaster and checked the water again for signs of boiling. A watched pot…. “You feel free to trot on down to the auditions, but this is nothing I want any part in. It’s gross.” Cody scratched the top of his head. “What do you have to do to audition, anyway? Kiss guys?”

Matt laughed. “One can hope. Come on, Cody. It’ll be fun. And you never know. It could change your life.”

“So could a car accident.”

Matt blew out a big sigh. “Don’t be a spoilsport. You know you can’t resist my charms. The casting call is being held at the Westin downtown. What time should I pick you up? My four-wheel drive will plow right through this shit.”

“I’m not going. It’s undignified.” Cody cracked the two eggs into separate ramekins.

“Dignity is overrated. What time should I pick you up?” Matt repeated.

“Didn’t you hear me? I’m not doing it!” Cody pushed the bread down in the toaster.

“Look. You may not think I’ve noticed, but I know you want to find that special someone, that soul mate character. I’ve seen how you moon over Pete at school.”

Pete was a biology teacher who bore an amazing resemblance to Colin Farrell. He had just married his sweetheart of eleven years, Johan. The couple was seldom apart. It was sickening. Except it wasn’t. It was sweet and gave Cody a glimmer of hope that somehow, somewhere, someday there was a man out there for him. Cody’s heart gave a little lurch. He knew it was true. He wanted what Pete and Johan had.

Matt went on, “So why not just try this? The truth is neither of us will probably make the cut. But it’ll be fun to go to the tryouts, see who else turns up. And who knows? The man of your dreams may be twitchin’ down at the Westin, looking for the same thing you are.”

Cody had to begrudgingly admit Matt had a point. “Okay,” he said, defeated. “But after? We go to Terra Plata for appetizers and lots of Bloody Marys. And you’re buying.”

“Deal. If it’ll get you there.”

“Is that it, then?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll pick you up at one. The casting call starts at two.”

“Okay, good-bye. My water’s boiling.”

“Your water broke?”

“Oh, shut up!” Cody was about to hang up when Matt shouted into the phone.

“One more thing!”

“What?” Cody slid his eggs into the boiling water, covered the pan with a lid, then took it off the heat and set the timer on the microwave for four minutes.

“You need to fill out the application online before the audition. That’s a prerequisite.”

Cody sighed. “Okay.”

Matt told him the URL for the website and hung up.

Cody jumped as his toast popped up. “Lord, what have I done?”

 

 

AFTER CODY cleaned up his breakfast dishes, he debated whether to go outside or address the online form for Husband Hunters. A quick look out the window tipped the scales in the application’s favor because the lovely, fluffy snow from early that morning was already morphing into something ugly: icy sleet. Like needles, it tapped against his windows. He knew if he went out now, he would not be in a magical world of silent white but quickly drenched and bitterly cold.

So, ridiculous as it seemed, he opted for sitting down at his computer and bringing up the Husband Hunters online talent application.

When he located the website devoted to Husband Hunters, he very logically thought he should check out what the show was about before getting himself in any deeper than he already was. After all, he could always call Matt and tell him to count him out if he saw any red flags.

But there was nothing. If anything, as Cody browsed through photos of handsome contestants and slide shows of groom-on-groom action (at weddings!), Cody couldn’t repress the smile that crept up on him. Nor could he ignore the warm feeling the photos caused to rise up, tingling, within him. He identified the sensation as hope.

The show itself didn’t really seem like such a bad idea, anyway, Cody thought as he read the “About HH” sections, the testimonials, and the prior episode descriptions. At least if you believed the cleverly worded hype, you’d see that the show’s aim was to unite people in love. The fact that they were not in love when they filled out the very application Cody was about to complete was beside the point. Somehow the show provided a backdrop, an opportunity, for a couple to meet and fall for each other.

The cynic in Cody mocked him. “The aim of the show is to sell advertising, doofus. TV shows, by their very nature, are nothing more than filler space between commercials. And these guys on the show? Conceited jerks who want to get their mugs on the tube, nothing more. Ten to one they are not husband material.”

Cody shook his head and brought up the editable form entitled “Husband Hunters Contestant Application.” He argued back to the cynic within him that his point of view lacked even the tiniest speck of romance. And that perhaps Cody had listened to that bitter voice for far too long. Perhaps that was why he was still alone, with not even one serious relationship to look back on with nostalgia.

His fingers began to fly over the keyboard.