“Undercover Princes”: If the title makes you think of dashing Hohenzollerns trading secrets in romantic locales, think again.
For one thing, the reality dating series of this title, beginning on Tuesday on TLC, is set not in Venice or Gstaad or even London but in the chip shops and seaside pubs of Brighton, England, which looks a lot closer to “Jersey Shore” than Buckingham Palace.
And then there are the princes themselves, one each from India, Sri Lanka and South Africa, who have been taken to Brighton for this wholly staged, fairly congenial exercise and assigned the task of finding romance within three weeks. (It’s a tight deadline, but British series don’t muck about — this one, which originally ran on BBC Three, is just four episodes long. A companion series, “Undercover Princesses,” begins on Feb. 28.)
The gimmick is that the men hide their royal identities during their search because they want to be loved for themselves, not their money and titles. But who are they, exactly? (And do they have any money?)
It’s worth noting that two of them, presented to us as Prince Africa Zulu of the Onkweni Royal House in South Africa and Prince Remigius Kanagarajah of the royal family of Jaffna, in Sri Lanka, maintain Web sites with long but nebulous family trees in what look like attempts to shore up their monarchical bona fides.
Once they’ve been set loose on the party-hearty women of Brighton, the princes resemble nothing so much as junior engineers on their night off from a software development symposium. The show’s slight but steady humor — as well as its potentially distasteful subtext — lies in its depiction of these visitors from the former colonies as clueless bumpkins on the British dating scene, serially rejected, despite their energetic efforts.
How is it, Prince Remi asks, that all the women who dance with him turn out to have boyfriends when it’s time for the bar to close? Prince Africa, meanwhile, works his game, which is based on the relentless application of flattery, like, “I admire your height.”
Based on the first episode, we can already guess the moral of this story: It’s less important to be a prince than to be a prince among men. There will be no debauchery or sleazy club trolling for Prince Africa, 33, and Prince Remi, 47. As they shake their heads and walk away from their first bar, Prince Africa huffs, “Women naked on tables and dancing — this is not what we are here for.”
It’s certainly not what His Highness Manvendra Singh Gohil, the 46-year-old crown prince of Rajpipla, in India, is there for. Prince Manny, who has the clearest claim on royal status — his father was the last official maharaja of Rajpipla — also has the distinction, rare among Indian gentry, of being openly gay. This leads to some “Real World”-style tension in the house the three princes share. When Prince Manny models an outfit and asks whether he looks sexy, a nervous Prince Africa, who is already on the other side of the room, takes another two steps backward.
Prince Manny is the most successful of the three in the early going, though success means a few chaste kisses and a blunt proposition that he shyly declines. Real or not, his wide-eyed appreciation of what we’re told are his first visits to gay bars and clubs is touching.
He also might be the best bet among the three for a princely lifestyle. We’re shown images of him in front of a lavish home in India, where squadrons of retainers cook, clean and garden. We’re not told that this former palace is actually a hotel run by his parents, but still, he can probably get a nice room.
TLC, Tuesday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.
Produced by Objective Productions.”Undercover Princes”: From left, the princes Manvendra Singh Gohil, Africa Zulu and Remigius Kanagarajah, in this TLC reality show on Tuesday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.
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