“Rock of Love” Is the Only Dating Show Worth Rewatching
Some aspects of the Bret Michaels VH1 show haven't aged well, but every rose has its thorn
My wife and I were one of those lucky couples who unknowingly conceived a child approximately nine months before the first pandemic since The Spanish Flu. Quarantined for months with a screaming child (who we love dearly) we sought out a show that would quell the persistent anxiety of both coronavirus and first-time parenthood. That’s how Rock of Love came back into my life after a 14-year hiatus.
Despite the circumstances, this refreshed viewing of Bret Michaels’s trials and tribulations as a desirable sexual partner convinced me that what I was watching was more than a dating show. Rock of Love is an encapsulation of a simpler time in television when seemingly anyone could get their own cleverly named TV show on VH1.
The biggest problems with rewatching these old TV shows are the inescapable moments of blatant homophobia, transphobia and fatphobia that pockmark any mildly dated TV show. As my journey towards enlightenment continues, my opinion of Rock of Love is my newest controversial opinion worth investigating. I think it holds up nicely, but I’m ready to ask the question: Is Rock of Love as rewatchable as I think? I hopped on the phone with former contestant/Talk of Love host Lacey Sculls and writer, performer and host of the Rock of Love rewatch podcast Sexy Unique Podcast: Insatiable Bitch Goddesses Lara Marie Schoenhals to chat about what it’s like to watch the 2007 dating show in 2021.
“I decided to revisit Rock of Love because I was in quarantine,” Schoenhals says. “It was kind of like the second phase of quarantine where COVID calmed down a little bit and then ramped back up in the winter. I just really wanted to go back to something that felt comforting and funny with no regard for what was currently happening in the world. And the thing that hit the sweet spot for me was old VH1 shows.”
Sexy Unique Podcast began as a way for Schoenhals to cover what she’s deemed “the most important tragicomedy of our time: Vanderpump Rules,” but soon pivoted to dive into what she considers “a blursed chunk of nauseating American fun,” aka Rock of Love.
“The stakes are lower than The Bachelor because The Bachelor really sticks to the pretense that these people are going to find everlasting love,” she adds. “And I think part of the buy-in on watching something like Rock of Love or I Love New York or Flavor of Love is, like … it’s probably not going to work out.”
There’s more to Insatiable Bitch Goddesses than snarky commentary on the terrible fashion, hair extensions and Ed Hardy gear of this 2007 time capsule; Schoenhals — along with recurring guest Carey O’Donnell — dig into the soul of Rock of Love, analyzing Michaels’s irreconcilable horniness and persistent gay panic.
“I think what’s changed for me the most is Bret Michaels,” Schoenhals says. “He is more repellent now than the first time around. I was never a huge Poison-head or anything, but I wasn’t as grossed out by him; I just thought he was kind of a funny character.”
When it comes to the rewatchability of Rock of Love and whether the badly aged moments ruin its legacy, Schoenals is surprisingly forgiving.
“It’s a time capsule of early 2000s culture, sensibility and fashions,” she says. “It’s a chance to double down on nostalgia — you get the fun of being transported back to the early aughts and the opportunity to see how this past-his-prime, former sex symbol is being presented to the world with a wink and a smile.”
There was one Rock of Love icon who really fooled me when I first watched the show: Lacey Sculls. I hated her. I thought she was rude and brash and totally unlikable. What kind of grown woman pulls another grown woman into a pool? Turns out she just knew how to play the game. Now, 17 years later, Sculls hosts Talk of Love, giving a behind-the-scenes look at the show from her perspective while offering some light criticism.
“I think that this show is actually still doing okay at meeting today’s post-Me Too standards,” she says. “We just have a more culturally sensitive society — rightfully so — because people were pretty awful to each other back in the day. There are definitely issues throughout the shows, slut-shaming, transphobic statements and that sort of thing. I think people raise an eyebrow to that, but I will say, I think they did a pretty good job of coming right up to the line of like inappropriateness. Especially with the sexual stuff without actually stepping over — which is really pretty good and pretty hard to do.”
For me, Rock of Love was an outlier; an island of entertainment broken off the TV landscape that remains the same almost two decades later. It took itself way too seriously and not at all seriously all at once. You could watch women dive face-first onto a Slip ‘N Slide with a fully cooked hot dog and then watch a full emotional breakdown in the very same episode. It was crass and silly and vulgar, but god it was fun.
“The thing about the ‘of Love’ shows is they were able to successfully maintain that comedic factor,” Sculls adds. “It was always funny, even if the girls were screaming at each other.”
For me, the humor is what makes Rock of Love a rewatchable show. You have a real guy going after real women with — as Schoenhals said — a wink and a nod. Bret Michaels knew what he was doing; Rock of Love wasn’t a platform for change or launching pad for a Poison reunion, but rather a silly show born during a silly time in television. As with any reality TV show of the past, you have to just remember what reality TV was like back then.
“You [were] watching something that you shouldn’t have been watching,” says Schoenhals, “and those gave us the most revealing and human moments.”
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