Dating Around isn’t your typical dating show. As a seasoned dating show viewer I initially found it off-putting. There are no voice overs, introductions, or off-side interviews. Instead, visual queues and body language are key to figuring out what’s going on inside a person’s head.
The show’s premise is simple. A single person goes on five blind dates. At their culmination, they must choose who they’d like to see again. At first, it’s confusing to keep track of the dates as seamless edits lead one conversation into the next. But by episode 3 I became immersed in the show’s flow. Most dating shows usually contain scenes which are highly scripted or orchestrated. In Dating Around, however, the excitement and blandness of dating receive equal treatment. Issues such as culture clash and creepiness are not glossed over either. The show seizes a rare opportunity to face the ugly parts of dating head on.
My first thoughts of this show were Made In Chelsea meets Master of None. The cinematography and stunning people mirrors the former British reality show only this time we’re situated in New York City. The reality of dating in the world’s hippest city recalls Aziz Ansari’s dark comedy. How many chic dinners and cocktails can one person sit through before losing the ability to feign interest? Spoiler: Some people don’t make it to five.
The daters on the show are generally young, successful in their careers, fashionable, good looking and cool. Episode 4 with 60 something Leonard was a refresher from this backdrop. It’s not a realistic representation of average people but this is not a valid complaint of reality TV. What is realistic is the awkwardness and it can get pretty awkward. There’s disagreements galore as well as full fledged arguments. There’s also plenty of unreciprocated attraction. In Leonard’s episode, there’s a moment after failing to let down a woman gently that he turns out the car window and sighs, “I hate this shit.” It’s these very real moments that make this show so enjoyable to watch.
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There are six episodes in total at about twenty five minutes each. The skilled editing allows the viewer to digest as much information as possible. Questions are generally answered by all five daters in succession. Like a speed date, it’s fast paced and urgent. But all the right questions are answered with little time left for pointless waffle. In Jennifer Gannon’s piece on First Dates Ireland she makes the point that the show’s participants are deliberately unsuited to create a “social media spectacle.” While clashes do occur in Dating Around, it is not to the extent or purpose that they do in shows like First Dates. Any disagreement in the Netflix original show is generally utilised to highlight an important issue in dating.
An excellent example of this occurs on Gurki’s date. As a divorced Indian woman she maintains she felt a lot of pressure to get married . This was an expectation in her religion. Her marriage ultimately fell apart as her intentions were not right. Gurki’s reasoning didn’t sit down well with one of her dates, Justin. He confronts her aggressively: “You ruined eight years of your life. You lied to him and yourself. You agreed to spend the rest of your life with friends and family, and it was a complete lie. How could I ever trust you? How would anyone ever trust you?” It’s the ultimate culture clash and one of the most awkward scenes of the series without doubt. Similarly, a date between Sarah and John ends awkwardly when John won’t stop making sex jokes. She makes the decision to end the date prematurely leaving John baffled and immune to the impact of his words. These scenes are difficult to watch but they’re important in teaching dating etiquette and common manners.
The pool of people on the show is diverse with various ages, ethnicities and sexualities represented. While the cast is an absolute mix I would argue that the content as a whole is not. As far as pure entertainment purposes, it’s a little mundane at times. It’s easy to see who’s going to hit it off quite early. This means that your forced to sit through several dates that you know aren’t going to lead anywhere. In a way this reflects the effort to paint an honest picture of dating but it would be nice if they mixed it up a little. It’s even voiced by one dater who argues that active dates such as attending penguin feeding time at the zoo can be more fun than the traditional dinner and drinks. I agree!
Ultimately, what it comes down to is what you want from your reality TV experience. If you want to watch sculpted twenty somethings attempt to break watermelons with their butts then Love Island is your friend. But if something more charming and subtle is your thing, then you should give Dating Around a chance.