Love is in the air (and it’s not even February yet). Dating games have been ratings winners ever since Blind Date hit our screens in 1985 with “Miss Cilla Blaaaacckk”.  Compared to the Americans we were late starters as The Dating Game (the show Blind Date was based on) had been on air since 1965.  Here we are catching up with a trio of dating shows currently on our screens.

Take Me Out is Blind Date for the Tinder generation.  It’s speed dating on…well…speed.  The show starts with 30 single (we assume) girls parading onto the stage like a well-orchestrated Hen Party.  You get the feeling that some nightclub in the North is missing a lot of its clientele on the night that they record this show.  A single man is then introduced via a lift.  He then parades around a bit and the girls make a snap decision on whether they want to take things further.  I’m not sure if it’s the industrial nature of the lift but it did make me think that in battery farming this is how they’d introduce the cock into a hen coop (insert your own jokes here).

The show revolves around snap decisions.  The girls turn their lights out when they first see him; after seeing a 30 second VT of him; after he does a party piece etc.  At first I was trying to get my head around the gender politics of this show.  The bloke has potentially 30 mates to chose from (result! one nil to the bloke); but the girls decide whether they want to date the bloke (one all); but ultimately the bloke decides who he goes out with (two one to the bloke) by running around turning the lights out on the girls’ podium right in front of their faces (a hundred-one to the bloke).  Yep, the blokes really have the power in this game I’m afraid.  
If they do go on a date they go to Fernando’s (which is nothing to do with the Brotherhood of Man.  If you don’t get that topical reference, just Google it kids).  We then have the familiar “did they hit it off?” film and it’s like we are back in Blind Date territory.  Proceedings are overseen by Paddy “let the clichés see the catchphrase” McGuiness.   Its strength is that it has a universal family appeal.  The younger generation watch it as a genuine dating show while you can hear the older generation muttering “I wouldn’t let my daughter go out wearing that” and “What an idiot” (or stronger).

Channel 4, being Channel 4, takes a more measured approach to dating.  First Dates is Big Brothermeets Blind Date.  Paternoster Chop House next to St Paul’s in London is transformed into a gourmet TV studio as we eavesdrop on a restaurant full of blind dates that have been set up by the producers. 

In a similar vein to Take Me Out the contributors all come from central casting.  There was a Ricky Martin wannabe (but Ed Miliband look alike) Gary who was on a date with Ukulele playing Nicole; Coryn  from Manchester who looked like she was going to have Liam from Yorkshire for dinner (and his beard for dessert and the beard oil for a digestif); high heel  wearing Paolo who was just a bit too camp for Daniel; and Bella & Bertie the posh couple who seemed to have  no inhibitions as we discovered that Bella had coated her latex dress in lube to make it shine.  Mr Sheen does the same job Bella (so it says on a web site I have just visited.  Now how do I clear my browsing history?).
But the standout couple were Jo and Gus.  Jo was a forty something divorcee who in her own words was “delicate” after a string of relationships with younger men which didn’t end well. Carpenter Gus was her date and turned up 2 hours late. (Typical workman.  She was lucky he actually finished the date on time and didn’t charge her double than his estimate.)   Once they got over the awkward conversation about sticking doors (well what would you talk to a carpenter about?) they appeared to hit it off really well.  That was until the post date interview when Gus revealed that he had a lovely time, but Jo was not the person for him.  Cue Jo getting up and leaving.  Nothing says awkward more than the sound of high heels walking out of the room followed by a door slam. 

The strength of this programme is that you really do want the couples to get together as we learn so much about them.  If emotions were running high on First Dates then they were sky high on The Undateables.  This is a classic case of the title not doing justice to the programme.  At first sight it feels like it’s going to be a “lets gawp at the people with learning difficulties/autism/Down’s syndrome and Tourettes when they try and find love”.   What it actually is, is a loving programme about the ups and downs that people who have these conditions have to endure when they try to find a soulmate.

We spent a lot of time with Alex and Eloise, a couple in their early twenties who both have autism.  If First Dates led to some awkward moments, then this relationship was full of them.   Alex was trying to persuade Eloise to join him on a Pedalo and later on a Segway.  The prospect petrified Eloise who took a lot of persuasion.  Once in the boat/on the Segway she was transformed.  It would appear this sudden switch of emotions is quite common in people with Autism. 

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In the case of the younger couples, parents were on hand as chaperones and we saw the hopes and fears that the parents had for their off spring as they attempted to live full adult lives.   If you cried at Jo’s departure in First Dates then you will root with all your heart for Alex and Eloise, Ray and Jeanette and Sam and Chloe.  Something I can’t really say about the contestants on Take Me Out as they head off to Fernando’s.

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