Ken Tucker
September 13, 1991 AT 04:00 AM EDT


TV Show
Current Status
In Season
Mark Decarlo
Game shows, Comedy

We gave it a C+

Let’s begin by admitting that Studs is pretty much critic-proof. If you read a review that called this bluntly titled new game show lewd, titillating, and debased, I’m sure many of you would spring to your VCRs and take immense care to set the timer to tape an entire week’s worth of Studs. I certainly did just that after reading Tom Shales’ meticulous condemnation of the show in The Washington Post last March. (”Wearily smutty,” said Shales. ”Really? Let’s try a few hours of that,” said I).

Studs is The Dating Game with massive hormone injections. Its premise? Two men each go on dates with three women, then all five troop onto the Studs set to analyze the quality of their social interaction. Such analysis is on the level of ”He was hairy, sweaty, and hot, hot, hot!” and ”My ideal man would have long hair, beautiful eyes, and a nice small butt.”

After much ribald laughter from the studio audience, each man announces which woman he’d like to date again; the women have made a similar selection before the show begins. If the woman he chooses has also chosen him, bingo — they win a ”dream date,” to a studly haven like Maui or the Bahamas.

This ain’t Jeopardy!, folks. Given the show’s distinct lack of verbal wit, one must assume that what lures viewers to Studs is its visual spectacle: Most of the women wear extremely short skirts and very high heels; many of the men wear tight-fitting T-shirts under chic double-breasted jackets. Fashion trends can be gleaned through dedicated viewing, such as the fact that lots of guys are growing their hair past their shoulders again, and combing it over to one side in a look that somehow combines latter-day Neil Young with early-period Veronica Lake.

Studs panelists all seem to be in their early 20s, and everyone’s body is in excellent shape — except, perhaps, that of host Mark DeCarlo, whose figure is impossible to discern in the fashionably baggy clothes he wears. DeCarlo wears suits so boxy that if you tipped him over, Cheerios might spill out of his head.

DeCarlo is a game-show veteran of an unusual sort — he’s never been a host before, but he is Sale of the Century‘s all-time winner as a player. He’s also a graduate of the Second City comedy troupe and has mastered the cool, winking, hey-I-know-this-is-junk-but-someone’s-gotta-host-it demeanor that allows viewers who feel guilty about watching Studs to share his amiable attitude of superior irony.

You can watch Studs just to ogle and snicker, to marvel at how willing young folks are these days to deal with social interaction as if it were as simple as buying a car. ”He didn’t have the features I wanted,” sniffed one woman recently, rejecting a perfectly good, assembly-line model of a man. ”No facial hair — I hate facial hair on a man,” said another woman, as one of her former dates scratched ruefully at a carefully cultivated three-day growth of beard.

Thinking people are obliged, I suppose, to be depressed by the meat-market odor that wafts through the screen during Studs, and to be appalled when DeCarlo asks each woman to describe her ideal man and they hear that standards of male beauty among 20-year-old women in America these days run to the fervently invoked Patrick Swayze and Steven Seagal. But come on — were you expecting these babes to say they yearn to snorkel with Woody Allen or Ted Koppel? ”How can anyone so smart be so nice?” a woman rhetorically asked one of her potential studs. Based on a phone conversation she’d had with this fellow before their date, her expectations had been that he’d be ”some intellectual guy you can’t relate with.” Hmmm, so ”smart” plus ”nice” equals ”dull”? Sheesh.

An intriguing double standard operates on Studs. The show’s male contestants seem to be restrained in their comments lest they come off as brutishly sexist (”The chemistry wasn’t there” is a guy’s most common euphemism for ”No thanks, baby”). But Studs is truly interested in having women articulate their sexual desires — or, at least, articulate them as precisely as TV syndication standards will permit. ”Tight jeans, tight butt — hold me back!” hooted a no-nonsense female contestant on one show.

The other way in which the show transcends Love Connection-style coyness is that Studs makes it clear that sexual activity might take place on these initial dates and follows through with an implied acknowledgment of the AIDS epidemic, even if the warning is couched in the form of jokes. ”Which of these guys is most likely to wear designer condoms?” DeCarlo recently asked the women. To watch Studs is to be reassured that America practices safe sex, and practices it a lot.

But to watch a full half hour of Studs is also to be bored — the same five contestants are on for the entire show, and they’re rarely funny or eloquent enough to entertain you for 30 minutes. As novelty programming, however, it’s catching on. First broadcast in Los Angeles and Washington in March, Studs is now seen in 16 big cities and is a burgeoning ratings success in many of them. As a result, Studs will be pushing its genial smut nationwide after the first of the year. What can I say? If you want to be titillated, this is the place to go. C+

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