Tom Shales – Washington Post

Based on the title and the profuse promos that NBC has been airing, “Momma’s Boys” might not sound like a bold step for reality programming, but it is. The problem: deciding whether it’s a bold step up — or down. Perhaps it is merely a bold step sideways, but whatever, “Momma’s Boys” is truly and sometimes horrifically fascinating, a deluxe example of sumptuous trash

that takes the concept of “guilty pleasure” to a new extreme. Whom will this appeal to? Only everybody.

Executive-produced by self-proclaimed wonderboy Ryan Seacrest, “Momma’s Boys” has, like most reality shows, a primal sort of premise, with enough gimmicks to

allow for maximum manipulation. The show gets off to a roaring start with tonight’s premiere; sparks fly, tempers flare and eyes fill with tears. Everything that makes alterlife worth alterliving in the alterworld of reality TV is represented and overdone.

The setup, rife with prurient possibilities: Thirty-two attractive women are sequestered in the typical lush and lavish reality-show mansion (this one in Santa Barbara, Calif.) along with three single men in their 20s, each an admitted “momma’s boy” — with at least one of them, age 25, still living at home with mom. From among the women, the men will chose a romantic ideal, with the very important caveat that mom is right there under the same roof, and is anything but reticent about expressing opinions. Perhaps because this is Southern California, the median attractiveness level of the women is very, very high. One contestant says with a bit of a blush that she was Penthouse magazine’s Pet of the Year for 2008. Blondes abound, and bounteous breasts bob about in bikinis.

The show does not lack for visual stimulation. What elevates it way over the top, however, is the presence of a nightmare momma from hell who not only reveals her true colors but also flies them in a flag. Each mother and son made an introductory video for the women to watch prior to the moms’ arrival. One of them, mother to a young man named

Jojo, comes right to the point when describing the girl she wants for sonny-boy: No blacks, no Asians, no Jews, no Muslims, and nothing on the order of a “fat-butt girl.” Momma, who herself looks like a wide pink planet when she arrives at the mansion, declares: “It has to be a white girl . . . just like me. Just like Momma . . . A nice Catholic girl who’s not from a divorced family.” Casting an eye toward a blonde who wept copiously when, earlier, she discovered a broken heel on one of her shoes, a contestant with the exotic name of Misty Alli says of the racist mom, “Even the dumbest people knew how ignorant this was.” In its way, this serves as a good argument for not excluding Jojo’s mom from the show — virtually everyone will recognize her rantings for what they are.

The young women plan to play it cool when this momma arrives and to pretend they haven’t seen the video, in effect giving the mom a chance to sound like something other than a bigot. One of the contestants can’t contain her anger, however, and when she lashes out at Momma, mean old Momma lashes right back. She defends her remarks and then some. She’s amazing, in a loathsome sort of way.

All the mothers are generous with praise for their sons and, by implication, for how they raised them. “He has a great body, he really does,” says the mother of a contestant named Michael. Jojo’s mom is naturally even more effusive: “My son is gorgeous, he’s perfect — good teeth, great personality. . . . Everybody loves him.” She confesses that she’ll sometimes try to scare off a girl she considers undesirable by telling her that Jojo is gay.

If you wrote this character into a movie or play, would anybody believe it?

Reality shows rise or fall on the strength of the casting, the chemistry among contestants, and on this level, “Momma’s Boys” hits a bull’s-eye. The

contestants are like characters in an old Hollywood movie who represent a whole range of human foibles and strengths. There’s even a girl with a librarian

sort of look, thin and shy, and when she takes off her glasses, viewers might want to say, “Miss Jones, you’re beautiful!” — as in many a movie from

yesteryear. Nobody does say it — not tonight, anyway — but don’t rule it out. There’s not much that can be ruled out as the show continues through the weeks ahead. As on the other reality shows of this ilk, there’s an elimination ritual at the ends of many episodes in which one or more contestants are sent home. In roughly edited scenes from a future such segment, there’s enough weeping and wailing for a year’s worth of daytime soaps. We know it’s exhibitionistic, voyeuristic, calculated and sometimes cruel, but at this point, who would have it any other way?

“Momma’s Boys” has something for nearly everybody: men, women, mothers, fathers, hetero- and homosexuals, people who are single and married and divorced —

everybody who’s up for a good, or bad, Freudian-Oedipal romp. Will you hate yourself in the morning? To para phrase an old Rodney Dangerfield joke, you may

hate yourself tonight! But somehow, it’ll be worth it.

Momma’s Boys (one hour) debuts tonight at 10 on Channel 4.