The days of Cilla Black happily cooing dating candidates onto little stools are well and truly over. Reality TV has always courted romantic contrivance, whether that’s dropping alcohol into the pressure cooker of a Big Brother series, or following glamorous couples around racetracks and swimming pools, vaguely hoping for someone to check an adulterous text message.
In the 2010’s, however, we’re submitted to an avalanche of dating programmes claiming to tug our heartstrings or make us cringe behind the sofa. Some of them are the genuine article – light, fun, and filled with moments of reflection. Others are stinkier than an unloved cheese board. Here are the elements that separate the diamonds from the rough:
When you have reams and reams of film to sift through, it’s impossible to know instantly which bits will end up on the cutting room floor. Most directors and TV producers don’t know how a show will look until it’s in the editing room, being spliced together with supposed attention to the rhythms of a scene.
Dating programmes, like any slice of ‘real-life’ broadcasting, can be edited to change the perceived reactions of their participants. How many times have we seen one half of a pairing sip their wine discontentedly, removed from the context of the conversation they’re having? The best shows let meet-ups build naturally, from awkward small-talk to full-blown smooching, and everything in-between. They let us see the small indications of a hot match without ramming it down our throats.
Ahhhhh, the VT… The chance for a dater to show what they’re like in the real world, devoid of sparkly tooth polish. This category includes those inter-date sections where future matches worry about what they’ll do when facing the other person, what clothes to wear, how miserable their 3am pickup lines have become.
Some nice background information, you might think. But when Paul from Ormskirk is huffing into the camera, lecturing on his gym routine from a bench press, you’d rather wish he’d just shut up and get to the restaurant. The same goes for stories of heartbreak that milk the ITV piano music discography; everyone has a bad time, at some point, so let’s move swiftly on.
Concepts that don’t overreach
Fair enough, there have already been some cracking shows that simply present regular people, in a public place, doing the normal dating ritual, like a séance conjuring manners past. We smile and laugh and remind ourselves how much we’re all alike etc. etc. It’s a great feeling, acceptance: TV is brilliant at showing how special it is to be an average citizen.
When things take a turn for the bizarre, however, it’s increasingly difficult to find anyone relatable. Sexy Beasts is one of the weirdest spins on a dating concept: put everyone in horrible animal prosthetics, so they don’t know what the other looks like. Or the genius/mental Danish programme, Married at First Site, which asked complete strangers to wed based on their biological traits. Some concepts stray too far into ridiculousness – we’re not saying they’re all bad, but a viewer’s ground gets shakier the more you distance dating from reality.
For professional love birds like us, there’s much joy to be had in the dating dynamite exploding from our screens. Even an awful, amateurish show has some value, like seeing someone fall off a cliff and not being able to save them.
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