True Romance? Are We Witnessing the Death of the TV Dating Show?

Zahra Barri envisions the death of Shallow (Un)Reality Dating Shows and marks the onset of Deep Raw and Real relationship TV

Maybe its because February, the month of love just passed, or the fact that I’m going through a catastrophic break up that I’ve decided to review and analyse the cultural phenomenon that is the TV Reality Dating Show. Now, I’m not talking about (un)reality dating shows like ITV’s Love Island that only expose the superficialities of love vis a vis pecs, prosecs and Factor 50. Nor am I talking about Channel 4’s First Dates, which, unlike the latter, may well feature contestants with larger BMIs than a Ryvita but still lack a certain emotional depth. There seems to be an underlying frivolity and fickleness to people’s quest for love in such dating shows. It’s almost as if they’ve applied not to find connection but celebrity.

Take, for example on First Dates, with so many contestants requesting that their date has ‘good banter’ rather than stimulating conversation. Bizarrely, no one is ever specific about what good banter actually means to them, but the date always proceeds with interactions akin to this one:

Girl: Do you like cheese?

Boy: Yeah, love cheese,

Girl: Oh my god babes! We both love cheese!

Both: Clinks glasses

According to that banter-filled conversation, I have potential romantic connections with my post man and bikini waxer and although both have seen my letter box …

Let’s be fair dating shows have had their day. It’s far more interesting to see how couples stay together than get together. Whilst Married at First Sight attempts to analyse the later stages of getting together, the show is filmed over a period of 16 weeks not 16 years and they don’t even get legally married (this fact for me was the spoiler equivalent of getting told that Bruce Willis is dead in The Sixth Sense). The weddings are literally just all for show, no legal documents are signed which on reflection with the divorce rate so high is probably something we should all do when we marry our partners. I mean who would know, how many weddings have you been to where you’ve literally seen them sign their life away? How many weddings have you been to where any of the guests have asked to see the wedding certificate before they ask to see the wine list? Think of all the decree absolute vodkas we’d be saving!

I used to really love Married at First Sight. Even had a cute pet name for it — “‘How Desperate Are You Not to End Up Alone’ is on!” I’d eagerly shout to my then boyfriend. But I watched the recent series and found myself only watching the first couple of episodes and then shortcutting the whole experience by simply googling whether or not they stayed together. Spoiler Alert: No one ever does unless they’ve been offered joint sponsorship deals for His ’N’ Her’s protein powder. Who knew the couples are only turned on when the cameras are?

So, it was really great to see the BBC have dropped two whole series of HBO’s Couples Therapy into the i-player app. For me, Couples Therapy brought up fond memories of my Mum and Dad’s Date Nights. In its’ essence its a show where real life couples with real life problems who have been married, in real life,’ for donkeys’, tell a qualified therapist the full extent of just how annoying they find each other. It’s a breath of fresh air, there’s not a bikini or a hair extension in sight and there’s no shallow banter about cheese. Just raw, real talk.

It was alarming just how raw the conversations got. Where Love Island covers sexual attraction and intimacy on a purely superficial, materialistic level, Couples Counselling shows us what it means when a couple are so past the honeymoon part it’s not even a period anymore; it’s in its’ menopause. Not to be missed is breakout star, Mau (who I nicknamed Me-ow for his quite frankly salacious sexual appetite) which his poor partner Annie could barely keep up with. I can almost smell the Wellman Instagram Sponsorship Deals.

But it’s the Sex and the City spin off And Just Like That use of a very unwell man that also gained my interest this Valentines’ month for its ‘realness’. By ‘very unwell man’ I am referring to the death of the infamous Big character as a starting point for the new series. This stark bit of realism was not only poignant but an excellent narrative device to ensure that the crux of the original show (watching Carrie navigate the dating world) lived on even if her friendship with Kim Cattrall didn’t.

The show has been getting overwhelmingly bad reviews mainly because of its constant reference to the woke culture that we now find ourselves flirting with and if you’re on Twitter all day, not just flirting with in a full-time relationship with. I strongly disagree with such disdain towards And Just Like That commenting on woke culture. The show has a glorious sense of irony, it manages to straddle the line between sending up woke culture whilst also remaining woke. This frankness in combination to its’ Kill Big storyline gave me the much-needed realism that I want from a relationship show this February. To me true romance is realness not roses. And Couples Therapy and And Just Like That provide more of it then any other reality dating show ever can. So don’t merely get lovestruck this February, let your crush run so deep it becomes not merely a fling, but a True Romance.

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Zahra Barri

Zahra Barri

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> Egyptian/Irish Stand Up, raised in Saudi > Follow for funny takes on Feminism, Islam & her pop culture > Comedy Novel Runner Up Comedy Women in Print 2020