The Bottom Line
- Stars Ken Marino, Michael Ian Black, Janet Varney, Abigail Spencer, Noureen DeWulf, Natasha Leggero, Malin Akerman, Deanna Russo
- Created by Erica Oyama, Ken Marino
- Airs Mondays at 10 p.m. EST starting February 25, 2013, on E!
Like The Bachelor, Burning Love features one hunky guy, firefighter Mark Orlando (Ken Marino, who also directed all the episodes) looking to pick a fiancée from among 16 desperate women. The contestants live together in a gaudy mansion, go on absurd dates, fight with each other and pretend that they’re all there to find true love. Creators (and real-life husband and wife) Marino and Erica Oyama (who wrote all the episodes) do an excellent job of capturing the tone and style of shows like The Bachelor, from the visual style and the music cues to the character types and the absurd activities.
While Abominable Pictures shows like Childrens Hospital and NTSF:SD:SUV start out as genre parodies before branching out into a whole range of comedic avenues, Burning Love sticks closely to the genre it’s satirizing, and that focus allows it to really explore the comedic possibilities of reality dating shows. If you watched just a minute or two of Burning Love and weren’t familiar with the stars, you might even mistake it for one of the shows it’s making fun of. Oyama and Marino have clearly studied their source material, and while the parody is often biting, it also has a certain level of affection to it (onetime Bachelor star Jake Pavelka makes a guest appearance in the first season).
Oyama and Marino have also assembled a cast full of comedy all-stars who can elicit maximum laughs from brief moments, including a number of Marino’s collaborators on shows like The State (Michael Ian Black, Kerri Kenney-Silver), Childrens Hospital (Malin Akerman, Beth Dover) and Party Down (Adam Scott, Kristen Bell, Ryan Hansen). Marino is perfect as the vapid, clueless Mark, and Black has the ideal mix of smarm and faux-sincerity as host Bill Tundle. June Diane Raphael (whose character has gone on to be the star of the second season online), Abigail Spencer and Beth Dover capture the unique desperation of women who appear on these kinds of shows, while Kristen Bell, Malin Akerman and Ken Jeong offer up uniquely odd characters who fit effectively within the framework of the reality-series parody. This is a show that can hire Jennifer Aniston as a guest star and have her character unseen inside a panda suit for nearly her entire appearance.
As the season progresses, the dedication to the formula means that Burning Love has to follow the familiar beats of The Bachelor, and sometimes the comedy takes a backseat to the plotting. But with episodes this short (the original webisodes are around 10 minutes each), the show moves quickly from one plot point to another, and Oyama and Marino capture all the important touchstones of a season of The Bachelor in much less time, and with many more jokes. Even with Yahoo! behind it, the web version of Burning Love only reached a small audience, so E! is doing a great favor for anyone who didn’t catch this very funny show online.