Netflix’s Dating Around shows the light at the end of the tunnel of monotonous dating

With all its tepid chat and awkward Lyft journeys, Dating Around is so dialled down, it feels decaffeinated in comparison to all the wild dating shows on TV nowadays, says Annie Lord

Friday 19 June 2020 09:43
Justin and Assata on Dating Around.
Justin and Assata on Dating Around.

“Do you know why they make that glass like that?” Ernesto asks Heather as she’s handed a porn star martini in the shallow, broad bowl of a coupe glass. She doesn’t answer. He continues: “Louis XIV liked breasts so he wanted to make it so when he grabbed the cup it was like grabbing a breast.” You get the feeling Ernesto brings up this juicy factoid on a lot of dates he goes on. It’s cheeky enough not to be boring, but banal enough not to offend – guaranteed to squeeze a laugh or a light gasp from those who hear it. In fact, I think I heard this once on a first date, although the guy I was with specified that it was Marie Antoinette’s left boob.

Ernesto and Heather appear on episode three of Netflix’s second season of Dating Around, a show that understands the repetitive monotony of finding love. From the pseudo-science of Love is Blind, to the gamified horniness of Too Hot to Handle, the streaming giant has premiered a number of truly neurotic dating shows over the past few years. With all its tepid “do you have any hobbies?” chat and awkward Lyft journeys, Dating Around is so dialled down, it feels decaffeinated in comparison. There are none of First Dates’ emotional pieces to camera where some bald man discusses what bravery it took to get a wig. Nor is there a Love Island-style sarcastic narrator pointing out the idiocy of contestants who announce that Barcelona is in Italy or Brexit is about trees. Instead, there's just one person dating five people, one after another, until they pick the person they want to go on a second date with.

Making use of an MTV Hills-style high gloss aesthetic, the only novel element of the formula is that the editing cuts across all five dates as they progress throughout the night. So you see Heather meet Ernesto outside the restaurant, then Truman, then Lawrence, then Montrell, then Deavhon. Then you see her at the bar with Ernesto, then Truman, then Lawrence, then Montrell, then Deavhon. Then they sit down for food, then they go for drinks, then they get a taxi home. The main character wears the same outfit and goes to the same restaurant every time, which helps to create a texture of simultaneity, as though each date were occurring in alternate realities, one of which they choose to dwell in for longer.

Having the dates cut and spliced together, you get to see how many times people ask the same questions and equally, how many times they provide the same responses. It’s impressive how many men will convert to Christianity when faced with a hot woman. Assata says grace and Justin bows his head with her, confirming: “I feel it and I appreciate that.” When the gnocchi arrives, Stephanie makes the sign of the cross while Ben nervously mirrors her hand movements. Men will also pivot to vegetarianism in the same circumstances. Everyone mentions something about the “soul” of their home city, how they want to find a partner who is passionate, or who makes them laugh. People of colour share anecdotes about race – “Do you get Asian flush? Cause you’re like, really tan” – while queer people share stories about coming out. Men seem to think it’s hilarious when women drink alcohol. “Oh, she’s ready to party!” says Justin when Ann orders a tequila. “Get the woman a whisky,” says Truman after Heather asks for – surprise – a whisky. Then there are the people who say things others would deem inappropriate, like the brunette who asks Justin, completely unprovoked: “Are you lower-middle-class?”

The intercut scenes, though annoying at first, allow you to observe how the main character reacts to each person in different ways. A lower back sits comfortably under one hand but wriggles out from underneath another. “Shall we get another drink?” is a yes for some people and an “I’ve got to get up for work early tomorrow” for others. Deva turns and looks out the window of a taxi with Truman. But with Maria, she curves around to face her, battling with the seatbelt for more give. Then they kiss until their gloss has faded and there's nothing on their lips but skin. The luxurious Durex ad graphics only heighten the awkwardness when it’s not going well, allowing you to see the clumsiness of human error against a flawless colour-corrected backdrop.

Maria and Deva on Dating Around

Sometimes, the main daters don’t pick who you want them to be with. Justin should have gone for Lilly, whose opening gambit included a story about the time her ass was left “stinging” after she recorded a mukbang with an extra, extra spicy ramen. Instead, he goes with someone a little more PG-13.

The best episodes are the ones where daters make the right choice. Heather waits on a crowded back street fiddling with the sleeve of her grey jumper. When Ernesto walks around the corner, my heart melts like one of those Cadbury desserts you put in the microwave. Together they dance to the saxophones of a New Orleans jazz band marching through the city. He twirls her around and she steps in just as he steps out, lips are tensed shut to prevent an embarrassing smile breaking through, his hand holds her rolling hips.

Ernesto’s anecdote about Louis XIV isn’t even true. Coupe glasses were around in England way before he became king. But as it turns out, some bad jokes are worth humouring.

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