By Chris Schonberger
Updated June 19, 2007 at 11:27 PM EDT
Credit: Mitchell Haaseth

For those who missed last night’s premiere of Age of Love on NBC, here’s the pitch: It’ssort of like The Bachelor, excepthalf the girls are in their 20s (the “kittens”) — and halfare their 40s (the “cougars”). They try to make moves on Mark Philippoussis (pictured, center), a 30-year-old Aussie who was once a top-ranked professional tennis player. Assuming from the get-go that all the girls would be younger than him, Mark thought he was on a “normal dating show”— that is, until the producers executed a textbook drop shot on him and paraded out the, um, cougars. Game. Set. Match.

The first episode focused on getting to know Mark and thecougars, leaving the kittens to purr (ominously) in the background. The show crawled along with the predictably tedious introductions, annoying Apprentice-style music, and in-your-face editing (meant to play up thegenerational rifts). While the kittens donned bikini tops and frolicked with hula hoops, the cougars spent their hours doing boring, old-personactivities like reading, knitting, and washing clothes. My favorite ageidentifier occurred when the wind kicked up at the pool and a pashmina suddenlymaterialized around every cougar’s neck. (By the way, the area around the pool is insanelywindy.)

Some early revelations: None of the cougars actually looktheir age (except maybe the one who got eliminated first — Oohhh, overhead smash!), the kittens come off like MeanGirls rejects, and it’s a surprisingly tough call to say which team ispacking more silicone. So what’s the verdict? Check back after the jump for acourtside analysis of the first set.

addCredit(“Mitchell Haaseth”)

Foot Fault: Thefirst date saw Mark rappelling down the façade of a building with three ofthe cougars, and it was about as exciting as hitting groundstrokes with anoctogenarian. The premise of the date — that being afraid of heights provesyou’re old — is basically insane, particularly for reality-TV aficionados whoknow that Brooke from The Real World: Denver is the worst rappellerever.

Unforced Errors: Thelack of tennis puns in this show made no sense to me. Why would youcreate an absurd and meaningless reality-TV show concept and then showsome uncharacteristic restraint in making hilarious jokes about sweetspots, mixeddoubles, and Martina Navratilova. Host Mark Consuelos, whose teeth arewhiterthan the baseline on Wimbledon Centre Court, didmention that Mr. Philippoussis is searching for that elusive “grandslam inlove,” but that just confused me. Was he still talking tennis or had hemovedonto baseball? If so, do I want to know how that differs from a plainold homerun?

Scorecard Confusion: Thereis some seriously fuzzy math going on Ageof Lovethat constantly makes you wonder, “Hold on, does the fundamentalconcept of this entire show make any sense?” Let me break it down:”Mark in the Middle” Philippoussis is 30. If a girl is in her 20s, shecould be any age upto 30. So essentially his age. A woman in her 40s must be at least 10 years older than him. Ergo, he is not really in themiddle. QED! If NBC cared about scientific methodologies, the younger girls would be around15, the show would be called “Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number,” and the bachelorwould be R. Kelly (probably a much better show). As it stands, 40-30 makes amore compelling match. Advantage, Cougars!

Cross-court winner ofthe evening: “Can you believe she has a 20-anything year-old son, because youlook amazing!” — Kelli, 40, proved that cougars still know how to be catty asshe made sure Mark had a chance to process just how weird it is that Angela’sson is older than his last girlfriend (Alexis Barbara).

Player of the week: Jayanna,39. The only woman actually in her 30s came out with an aggressiveserve-and-volley game, serving the other cougars with a few trick shots — thedamsel in distress routine atop the building and the poolside swoop-in (aclassic cougar move) — and then displaying a lighter tough once she got close tothe net.

NBC for the NobelPeace Prize: Itseems fittingthat a network that uses an evolutionary freakshow like the peacock as its mascotwould be interested in the fundamental questions of nature, but calling theshow “the ultimate social experiment” may have been a bit over the top. And worstof all, they’re not stopping at Age. The preview for The Science of Love, airing after next week’s Age of Love,makes Monday night on NBC look like aBill Nye marathon. This bachelor will date one girl chosen by his”instincts” and another chosen by “science” (apparently, instinctsaren’t “science,”and relationship experts are “scientists”). Mark Consuelos oversees theproceedingsagain, with his teeth still looking like they’ve been soaking somewherein a chemistrylab overnight.

Hitting the ‘Net: Markhosted a thrilling live-blog during the premiere episode. He answered hard-hitting questions like “How is your knee for the Newport tourney?” and boldlyproclaimed that he doesn’t mind if a woman is not into tennis—in fact, he wouldprefer it!(?)

Did anyone else catch the show last night? Are yousetting the TiVo pass for a summer of Love, or is this new NBC lineup a doublefault? More importantly, is America a better place now that the term “cougars” has officially entered the popparlance?