(CNN)Fox was an early architect of the tawdriest forms of reality TV, and appears eager to dredge up its renegade roots with “Labor of Love.” It’s an attention-grabbing concept — a 41-year-old woman looking for a guy with whom she can have a baby — that becomes less fertile after the introductions.
The announcement of “Labor of Love” was notably greeted with tittering that Fox was reaching back to its exploitative bad old days, for those who can remember when the network pioneered envelope-pushing shows in the 1990s — like “Temptation Island,” “When Animals Attack” and “World’s Scariest Police Chases” — that one rival executive compared to snuff films.
The actual execution, however, is a bit more familiar and sedate — really just standard TV-dating fare, at a moment when Netflix has invaded that space with programs like “Love is Blind” and “Too Hot to Handle.” The show does arrive at a moment tailor made for escapism, with Fox wrapping up its silly sing-along “The Masked Singer” this week and launching another splashy competition, “Ultimate Tag,” on its back.
Hosted by “Sex and the City’s” Kristin Davis, “Labor of Love’s” bachelorette (oops, prospective mom) is Kristy Katzmann, who says she’s willing “to go it alone” in terms of having a child, but would prefer to share the experience with someone.
“Labor of Love” peaks a little early, when the 15 suitors — age 36 to 46 — are handed specimen cups almost immediately after the first cocktail party, for precisely the reason one might expect given Kristy’s priorities. (One of the men is given a first-place award for having the most “active swimmers.”)
Beyond that, “Labor” is really just a conventional dating show, with a few modest wrinkles tailored to the premise. The guys reside in a place dubbed the “Father Hood,” for example, while Kristy’s signature line in dismissing candidates is “I don’t see us starting a family together.”
Inevitably, the appeal of these shows owes something to the casting, and quirks like a funeral home director who expresses his “fear of dying alone.” The show is also a bit more self-consciously middle-aged than the average 20-something dating program, although when one of the guys says, “At my age, I can’t wait to have children,” well, let’s just say he clearly hasn’t attended many parties in Hollywood.
“Labor of Love” does add a small degree of urgency to the proceedings, given that the emphasis goes beyond finding a soulmate to actually jumping directly to having kids.
Fox has demonstrated through the years that the network isn’t above stooping to conquer. Once you get past that premise though, when it comes to standing apart from all the shows that feel a whole lot like it — even the trashier ones — “Labor of Love” is, pardon the expression, swimming upstream.
“Labor of Love” premieres May 21 at 9 p.m. on Fox.