“I wanna bless their socks off,” says Ann Marie Doverspike, the persistently perky born-again California mom who moved in with the Eglys, “Jews with horses” in rural Maryland, on Fox’s Trading Spouses last night. I gave up on reality TV three Survivors ago, but when the teaser announced, “Faith will be tested,” I made sure to clear my schedule to see whether the Doverspikes—”a 50s family living in the new millennium”—imposed their moral values on the helpless Eglys. It promised to put a personal face on the growing (but not universal) Jewish apprehension over the Christian right. Expecting the worst of the country and the show, I tuned in to see the face of the enemy.
Sure enough, Ann Marie drags her already exhausted, staunchly liberal new family all over Washington looking for a Bush-Cheney T-shirt. Though she does lecture John Egly about teaching his daughters about “purity,” I didn’t expect her to be so likable, projecting more good will than missionary zeal. Instead, it’s Stephanie Egly who came off as closed-minded and unpleasant, as she “suffers through” the Doverspike family trip to a Colonial theme park and a morning prayer circle. As much as the editors of Trading Spouses try to keep things balanced, it’s hard to come away not feeling like Stephanie’s the villain, or that the Eglys are dysfunctional because they’re Jewish.
The show never got half as inflammatory as the preview promised. No one tried to convert anyone, religiously or politically, but no one learned anything, either. The closest anyone comes to cross-cultural dialogue is when Stephanie Egly prepares a traditional feast for the Doverspikes’ neighbors. If Red and Blue America are going to reconcile their differences on television, we’ll all have to do better than bagels and lox—and reality shows.