Halfway through a marathon viewing of the worst show on TV, Paternity Court, I realized that the smug superiority I felt toward everyone on the show was hypocrisy. No, I've never been pregnant and not known who the father was. No, I haven't had to contest the paternity of a baby daddy. And no, I've never had an affair with my sister's husband. But I do have a biological father out there that I've never met, and he's never given my mother a dime. I could, conceivably, go before Judge Lauren Lake and state my case against the man. It's a bit late for him to step up, but at least I would get an all-expenses-paid trip to L.A. That has to be what is going through the mind of anyone stupid enough to appear on this show.
When I say that this is the worst show on TV, loyal readers know that really means something, especially since I love most bad TV. But Paternity Court is ridiculously awful and exploitative. It's a hybrid of court TV shows and Maury, combining the drama of zygote identification with a particle board courtroom set. It debuted last year and was renewed for a second season, having reportedly been picked up by 90 percent of television markets.
Speaking of percentages, they say only 40 percent of America believes in evolution, which of course means that 60 percent of us are total dumbasses. With those odds, there will never be a shortage of people for the producers to choose from. Meet the Bauer/Jenkins v. Riley case. Ms. Riley has a 7-month-old son who looks like Nosferatu; a homely little thing who apparently no man wants to claim. She had previously been on the show and had two dudes tested, her husband at the time and some other guy. Neither turned out to be the father. Ruh-roh.
She came back for another episode with two more sperm donors, one of whom was the fiancee of her best friend. He sat to the left of the judge, his Men's Wearhouse suit about five sizes too big, jaw slack and eyes dead. “She's just a slut,” he declared, pointing out that (a) he was drunk and (b) she kissed him first. Luckily for both, he turned out not to be the father. No, that prize went to the other guy, who had earlier declared he wanted nothing to do with her ever again, unless of course he was little Ryson's daddy (yes, you read that right, pronounced “ricin”), in which case he would step up and be a man. All par for the course on these shows.
What sets Paternity Court apart, however, is its ridiculous attempts to actually behave like a court. There's, like, totes-legitimite charts and stuff, to plot the possible legitimacy. Entire calendars are rolled out before the judge and audience, all color-coded depending on which person the woman slept with on which day. Blue for Jared, red for Andre, green for Todd. Sometimes the plaintiff goes up to her chart with a pointer and further explains things. It's like if George Orwell created a reality TV satire called 2014. Yes, America, we have come to this. It's our answer to Jarndyce and Jarndyce from Bleak House — trash TV disguised as law that keeps replicating itself to keep the ratings machine in motion.
The thing about these bottom-of-the-barrel shows is that they all have to have a Final Thought a la Jerry Springer; they have to act like there is meaning and depth at the end of the episode. For Paternity Court, this means that by finding out who the father of a child is, families can now “move forward” and repair their fractured lives. The judge makes a point of following up with people, which must be how she looks herself in the mirror every morning. The show is apparently taped right next to the Judge Judy set, but none of no-nonsense Sheindlin has rubbed off on Lake. That's fine though, because 60 percent of America will totally dig this show anyway.
As Judy says, beauty fades, but stupid is forever.