I never got into The Bachelor. Maybe it was the network-style overproduction, maybe it was the desire to throw Chris Harrison out a window every time he came onscreen, maybe it was just the waiting a week between shows or its general soulless terribleness, who knows. You don’t really need a reason not to watch a reality dating show. “Why not watch these coiffed sociopaths attempt to improvise a rom-com? Well, because (*gestures to everything*).”
For all these reasons it’s surprising to find myself becoming mildly obsessed with Netflix’s new dating show, er, social experiment, Love Is Blind. The premise is simple… well, sort of simple. It’s logistically sophisticated, morally indefensible, and objectively insane. They take a group of single people and have them go on “dates” with each other that take place solely inside “pods” where they aren’t allowed to see each other. If two have fallen in love by the end of 10 days, they can get engaged to be married and then see each other.
We might as well do the shorthand thing because it’s very easy: Love Is Blind is basically like if you put The Bachelor, The Dating Game, Married At First Sight, 90 Day Fiancée, Climbing For Dollars, and the forever smudged line between public and private personae in a blender. It’s an effort not to use the word “dystopian” when describing it, and yet it comes from the same age-old reality TV formula of putting hot dummies with issues into a jar, shaking it up, and watching them fight.
It’s produced by Kinetic Content, who also gave us the aforementioned Married at First Sight, the Little Women franchise (apparently Real Housewives with little people) and, according to their website, something called “Man Vs. Child: Chef Showdown” (damn, I need to watch more TV). I appreciate entertainment that doesn’t aspire much beyond a medieval jester farce. We’re all medieval kings on the couch, the Kims Jong Il of our own living rooms. Humiliate yourselves for my pleasure!
Why do I so enjoy watching this show? Partly it’s the structure — no commercials, and with episodes released in three-episode chunks every week, so you can both binge and anticipate. But partly because there’s so little pretense that the production actually cares about the characters. It begins with the usual big crop of types — the short guy, the sassy size queen, the virgin with the weird face — but most of the cast get one or two interview soundbites and maybe a brief segment where they perform as a sounding board for one of the principals before disappearing forever.
Anyone who didn’t fall in love in a sight-proof booth within the 10 allotted days has been edited out. One guy’s sole contribution to the show was saying “I can tell that you’re African-American,” to a female principal who made a “this guy sucks” face to the camera, Jim-from-The-Office style. That’s life: sometimes you’re the hero, sometimes you’re the villain, and sometimes you’re the peasant who gets a cameo hucking a tomato at Cersei.
The show never makes this culling explicit, nor do they bother explaining the logistics of how any of the dates were requested, allotted, or scheduled. It’s all taken as a matter of course, as if someone took the trouble of pre-fast forwarding all the boring parts. The characters (contestants?) all have hilarious vague job chyrons, like “regional manager” and “content creator.”
I guess we should talk about the characters. There’s Barnett, who goes only by his last name (according to the official show bios his first name is “Matt”). He describes himself as “a bit of a player.” It seems like there are much better ways of sleeping with multiple women than going on a reality show, but hey. Barnett seduced three different female contestants, mostly by talking to them as if their engagement had already happened and they had to plan for their life together. That’s an old sales technique, talking to a lead as if the deal has already been made.
There’s Cameron, a tall, handsome AI engineer who used to be a fireman for seven years (I would like more information on this) who talks in a flat monotone and seems more and more like a human chatbot as the show goes on. Cameron eventually gets with Lauren, a 32-year-old “content creator” who has never dated a white man before.
There’s Amber, 26, a cocktail waitress/ex-military tank mechanic who says she has trouble getting guys to take her seriously because of her looks (generous) who occasionally slips into southern rapper affectations, gratingly. She nonetheless managed to win Barnett (oh sorry, yes we’re doing spoilers here) over both LC, who seemed to normal for the show, and Jessica, a 34-year-old with a baby voice who got engaged to Mark, 24, as a back-up plan, and then immediately friend-zoned him when he turned out to be shorter than she imagined. The characters never make you feel bad for wanting to watch them humiliate themselves, which is another reality TV staple.
Finally (for our purposes anyway) there are Carlton, 34, a bisexual pastor’s son and Diamond Jack, 28, a contestant whose bio I initially misread as “professional basketball player” only to find out that it was actually “professional basketball dancer.” Which raises a number of questions on its own. Must a dancer specialize in just one sport? Have there been crossover dancers, like Bo Jackson? Anyway, Carlton and Diamond get engaged, and Carlton immediately tells her she has a huge bombshell he needs to drop on her. She’s like, “Okay…” and then Carlton cries and throws his baseball cap. He reveals that he’s bisexual and she says “okay…” and then he’s like “Oh my God why are you making such a huge deal of this!” and they immediately have a blowout fight by the pool in Playa Del Carmen, which is an amazing place to have a blowout fight. He goes onto insult her hair, which is something you can’t come back from.
Love Is Blind is amazing. It’s awful. It’s probably faker and more manufactured than it seems. It is, quite overtly, trash. It makes the briefest feint at a theme, of subverting dating app norms or whatever before plunging headfirst into every silly reality show trope of love and strife. There’s the most ethereal wisp of a point in the idea that today’s dating apps are too shallow, before the show manages to make sight-unseen marriage seem somehow even more shallow, like two people deciding to spend a life together seemingly based solely on both being fans of the Chicago Cubs. Love Is Blind is like The Lobster come to life.
I don’t want to get too “in today’s troubled times…” about a dumb dating show, but at a time when all our disagreements seem not only polarized and intellectualized but above all consequential, it’s especially escapist to watch dopey fame whores get into drag out verbal brawls over practically nothing. In an age of must-see TV! this is some TV that you absolutely do not need to see.
Or maybe I’ve finally just become one with the monoculture. It feels… fine, mostly? The next three-episode chunk of Love Is Blind hits Thursday, with a finale the following Thursday.