Based on the blog post I published last month about my favourite reality television shows on finding love, it should come as no surprise that the new Netflix show Dating Around caught my eye.
During each thirty minute episode, one person goes on 5 first dates. All the dates throughout the six episode season are broken up into three parts: Drinks, Dinner, and After Hours. Conversation is the main item on the menu. There aren’t rounds of miniature golf or a movie screen to distract from awkward moments or lacklustre chemistry.
If you watched Next on MTV in the early aughts, the concept is familiar. However, where Next was over the top and included a rule where the main dater could shout out “next” when they wanted a date to end, Dating Around unfolds more realistically. It feels like watching contemplative vignettes instead of highly produced scenes.
“It feels like watching contemplative vignettes instead of highly produced scenes.”
What helps with Dating Around’s sincerity is how it embraces its limited scope (i.e., a 30 minute Netflix reality show). It has found more quiet experiences to capture within that frame, making sensationalization or melodrama unnecessary.
That is, similar to how people tend not to learn all the deep, important things about someone on a first date, this reality show only provides a glimpse into who participants are. The scripted conversations and talking points are not annoyingly contrived or boring because they are relatable. Who among us hasn’t Googled “first date topics” and recycled jokes and quirky anecdotes?
For that reason, as a viewer, I don’t feel shortchanged with the lack of depth. That isn’t to say we don’t learn monumental and character defining things in those moments (look at Gurki’s date in episode two with Justin).
“Who among us hasn’t Googled ‘first date topics’ and recycled jokes and quirky anecdotes for different first dates?”
I’m also drawn to this show because I almost forget the presence of production and the cameras. The camera doesn’t feel like it’s leering at the couples, waiting for them to burst with an uncharacteristic emotion. And since participants don’t reveal too much about themselves, I don’t feel like I’m eavesdropping on private moments.
There is a scene in episode four where the main dater, Leonard, wearily sighs and collapses across the seat after his date leaves the Lyft. We don’t get a monologue or prompts from producers for him to reflect and talk through the date. We know what we’re seeing. Some of us understand it. But those feelings, the specific ones that Leonard experiences, are his own. There isn’t a need to articulate them and drag them into the light for viewers.
Dating Around isn’t revelatory or unique, but it provides a kind lens I’ve been missing from my reality TV roster. There is a sensitivity to how they present the complexities of dating.
“Dating Around…provides a kind lens that I’ve been missing from my reality TV roster.”
We don’t get to dissect participants because the episodes are too short, and we’re only given the briefest of epilogues. We don’t get any social media handles; however, I’m sure if I did some very basic Googling I’d discover that and more. But with many reality TV shows about finding love giving me so much and sometimes too much, I find myself content with things fading to black.