Inside Television: A singles show that's just my type


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

In 1978, a young woman named Cheryl agreed to appear as “bachelorette” on The Dating Game, a forerunner to our own Blind Date which aired on US television throughout the seventies and eighties.

After exchanging the usual cheeky innuendos with three male contestants, Cheryl was set up with ‘Bachelor #1’, a man with long wavy hair by the name of Rodney. When the cameras stopped rolling Cheryl declared Rodney ‘creepy’ and refused to go on a date with him. As it later transpired, ‘creepy’ was the least of her worries. Unbeknownst to the show’s producers, Rodney Alcala was a serial killer who had already murdered four women by the time of his TV appearance. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Thankfully the contestant screening process for dating shows have become more rigorous since 1978, but while the format pioneered by The Dating Game has evolved, true compatibility remains way down the average producer’s checklist. They’re still much more interested in gym-toned bodies, cheesy chat-up lines and amusing party tricks than they are in creating lasting love.

Take, for example, BBC Three’s new dating show Sexy Beasts which this Tuesday introduced us to Bethany, 21, and her three unsuitable suitors. The format takes one half-decent romantic principle - it’s what’s inside that counts - and extends it ad absurdum, by requiring daters to obscure their faces with prosthetic monster masks. Or how about Sky Living’s Dating in the Dark, which, inspired by similar thinking, located dates in a pitch-black room. To repurpose a phrase from ITV’s equally silly Take Me Out, “No lighty, no likey”.

This hopeless romantic believes the best dating shows should offer genuine dating opportunities, unavailable in everyday life. Do you remember Streetmate (it’s still on 4oD, if not), in which a bouncy Davina McCall introduced strangers who’d never approach each other otherwise? There was also Perfect Match, which thoughtfully asked the singleton’s mother, best friend and ex-boyfriend to collaborate as matchmakers. First Dates, which returned to Channel 4 for a second series this week is definitely in this nobler tradition.

It’s a dating show, but it’s also a fly-on-the-wall documentary, set in a restaurant where all the diners are couples on their very first date. As such, not only do the singles get matched, but we all get an insight into how dates go wrong. Tendency to bang on about your ex? Bad table manners? Too much dirty talk, too soon? First Dates brings all these faux pas to the fore, and still there’s hope for romance. That’s because after the show, viewers are invited to text in and request to meet any failed first-dater with whom they feel they might have a connection. So, you see, there’s someone out there for everyone this Valentine’s - and, moreover, there’s a dating show to suit all tastes too. 

And the award for most annoying television goes to...

This week several million punishment gluttons will tune in to watch the BAFTAs on BBC One and the Brits on ITV. Despite the fact that, like all televised award ceremonies, these shows will be overlong, full of smug in-jokes, and available in handy GIF-form by morning. 

It’s not that awards ceremonies aren’t fun. They’re fun for the nominees having their egos stroked, lots of fun for the host paid six figures to recycle below-par stand-up gags and buckets of fun for the industry big wigs necking free booze. In fact, the only people not having fun are the people watching it on television. It’s like turning up outside a house party you weren’t invited to, just so you can peek through the gap in the curtains. Have some self-respect and watch Dragon’s Den on BBC 2, instead.


Southland, 4oD

Nothing says “I love you, but I don’t love cheesy candlelit dinners” like a Valentine’s night crime drama marathon for two. Kick off with connoisseurs choice, Southland, an unrelentingly grim tour through the LAPD’s battle-scarred urban landscape. The fifth and final series began on More4 this Thursday.

Suspects, Demand 5

Kudos to Channel 5. Their first original drama series in eight years is a procedural purist’s dream come true. Expect no maverick cops and no messy home-lives, Suspects is just a pacy, naturalistic portrait of cop shop open for business. Fay Ripley, in particular, is excellent as the no-nonsense commanding officer, DI Bellamy.

Babylon, 4oD

Armstrong and Bain’s new police force dramedy wasn’t without its tonal mis-steps, but there were enough great actors and great lines to justify a revisit when the full series starts later this year. The question is, what did the Met’s real comms department make of their on-screen equivalent?

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Demand 5

You have to wonder about the mental health of the Law & Order:SVU writing team. Coming up with a new grisly crime week after week must take it’s toll on the psyche, yet, twelve series in, and this show is still brimming with nasty invention. Actor Christopher Meloni will be missed when he bows out at the end of this season, but you can hardly blame him for needing a break.