When it comes to reality dating shows, I’m an old-fashioned girl. Give me a Honeymoon Suite, a few dozen helicopters, geysers of champagne, and as many near fist fights as you can fit into an hour time slot — that’s just romance!
This Valentine’s Day, however, Netflix’s first stab at the dating game, titled Dating Around, attempts to sell all of us on a new approach to the tried-and-true format, by replacing the typical Bachelor-esque rotation of suitors and lavish date cards with an intimate look at one-on-one meet ups in New York City. Netflix’s mission to take “an honest and compelling look at the real world of dating” is clear. And they achieve it… to a point.
Dating Around welcomes you into its world of “will they or won’t they” through a different lens than its genre predecessors. Rather than seeing dates play out one after another, we witness one bachelor or bachelorette go on five identical dates, edited to be seen concurrently. Each contestant meets their possible match at the same bar, at the same table, etc. The main difference is — pause for orchestral flourish — their connection.
The ensuing get-to-know-you exchanges are packaged with gorgeous cinematography straight out of an indie romcom, twinkly lights, and a handful of (probably very expensive) top 40 hits. Somewhere between a nightlife docuseries and a Zales commerical, Dating Around first appears as a realistic, personal, vaguely boring, but very pretty glimpse into real-world romance. Then things get fun.
The difficulty in creating a truly heartwarming dating show doesn’t come so much from the people being watched as it comes from the people who are watching. While all of the niceties were indeed quite nice, I couldn’t help but root for the dramatic storming outs and cringe-inducing missteps needed to spice up each episode. And oh boy, did Dating Around deliver.
No, we don’t get any ludicrous limousine arrivals or ambulance light cliffhangers à la The Bachelor, but there are plenty of awkward moments designed to pull you into the drama. Major highlights: a tense moments of condescension around some shots, an extremely confusing joke involving an amputee frog, and a man telling his date “no one could ever trust her” after meeting her an hour before. I repeat: an hour before.
Dating Around is commendable for attempting to subvert the genre’s more trite tropes as well as delivering a noticeably more diverse contestant pool — the six-part series features older couples as well as a gay bachelor and lesbian bachelorette.
But, at the end of the night, it offers up what we’re all really here for and (spoiler alert) it’s no final rose.
Dating Around is streaming now on Netflix.