Before the emergence of “The Bachelor” as a venerable schlock-culture institution, before the advent of any sort of matrimonial reality show that might inspire a satire like “Unreal,” before the special-event salaciousness and spectacular moral violence of “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?,” there was the syndicated sensation “Blind Date.” My roommate and I would nightly feast to this program, which was hosted by the affable and precise Roger Lodge, over pizza, on a Zenith decked with rabbit ears.
Between 1999 and 2006, the original “Blind Date” secreted fourteen hundred and forty episodes. There were two segments to each episode; there were two complete strangers on a date in each segment. This was an anthology of pitched woo and swapped spit, performed in honest and vulgar American manners, by tender pioneers in the burgeoning craft of onscreen self-commodification. As I recall, a typical date might involve the players practicing watercolors, or more likely body painting, then breaking both bread and codes of tasteful conduct over dinner, and then repairing to the hot tub. All the while, the screen would burble with graphics—cartoonish thought bubbles, chyron-height color commentary, subtext translated in subtitles—which shaped each date into a pulp narrative by way of commenting on it. Heckling the daters with annotations, the show managed to talk its trash and have it, too.
In November, a revival of “Blind Date” débuted, with the comedian Nikki Glaser as its presenter and voice-over jester. The series, reëntering a changed world, is thirsty to stay contemporary. The daters are far more polished than their generational elders, because they know how to act natural on camera, or how to act unnatural in a way that comes naturally. There is an emphasis on matchups that are all-inclusive, queer-friendly, body-positive. A press release says that the next airing will feature “the first out transgender woman in ‘Blind Date’ history,” and I expect the show to treat her with the same amount of respect as everyone else, which is not very much. I flipped on an episode at random and found myself chaperoning Chelsea (“30, realtor”) on her rendezvous with David (“47, hotel manager”). When producers nudge her to explain why she wanted to be on the show, Chelsea says, “I’m on a blind date today because Patty from ‘Millionaire Matchmaker’ wouldn’t call me back.” Glaser and the graphics team go to work mocking her as a bimbo and him as a man-bunned creep. “David is bringing a full-on dirty-old-man vibe, and, against all odds, Chelsea seems into it,” Glaser says. “Love makes no effing sense.”
“Love Is Blind,” on Netflix, is the logical flowering of a “Blind Date” model in a “Bachelor” world. An instant classic among quickie-wedding reality shows, it’s like “The Dating Game”—the foundational Chuck Barris text of sight-unseen matchmaking—extrapolated into a conceptual space that combines vibes from “90 Day Fiancé,” on TLC, and “The Lobster,” by Yorgos Lanthimos. The hook of “Love Is Blind” is that these contestants court over the course of about a business week, each without knowing what the other looks like, then meet face to face, then get married about four weeks later. It enhanced my appreciation of “Love Is Blind” to learn that its creators also make “Married at First Sight,” on Lifetime. On that one, a matchmaking panel (a relationship expert, a sociologist, a pastor brandishing marriage-counselling credentials) sets up heterosexual couples to be introduced at the altar; eight weeks later, the couples decide whether or not to divorce. It’s a reliable recipe for cart-before-the-horse disasters. When I read that “Married at First Sight” reports a seventy-two-per-cent divorce rate, I admired the figure as impressively low.
The premise of “Love Is Blind” is promoted as a utopian innovation. “Your relationship will begin by forming an intimate bond with nothing to distract you,” a co-host, Nick Lachey, says. No social-media stalking, no Hinge-avatar superficiality. The contestants join Nick and his lovely wife, Vanessa, in referring to the setup as an “experiment,” and to the set as a “facility”; the program’s forebears seem to include not only “Big Brother” but also B. F. Skinner.
体育投注平台At the core of the facility are two rows of small rooms called “pods,” which are paired off at partitions, through which strangers share their hopes and dreams and pleasant banalities. The skylight of each pod is in the shape of a long octagon, the silhouette of an emerald-cut engagement ring. In the overhead view, we gaze through the skylights like a God who somewhat regrets having wrought humanity and yet is about to binge the whole season.
Six couples emerge from the pods and embark on a getting-to-know-you jaunt to Cancún, in advance of setting up house in a suitably bland apartment complex in Atlanta. The stars are Cameron and Lauren. Cameron is a white guy in a navy suit. His field is computer science, so he sounds persuasive when dimplishly discussing how the experiment removes confounding variables from the mating game. Lauren is a black woman whose work as a “content creator” requires a colorful assortment of bodycon dresses. She voices the kind of sanity and self-awareness that makes the show palatable and even interesting, as when expressing incredulity at the whole thing. The scene of the big reveal, in which he is visibly nervous about what she will look like and she is visibly smoking hot, is deftly edited. Cameron and Lauren worry about facing challenges as an interracial couple, a theme that the show approaches with respect and without seriousness. “Love Is Blind” spends much effort teasing Cameron’s first meeting with Lauren’s father, as if some charged moment might transpire. The old man merely gives Cameron a protective inspection, like Spencer Tracy frisking Sidney Poitier with gruffness.
There’s an amazing tonal volatility to “Love Is Blind.” Slabs of crass exploitation abut moments of deep sentiment. There are touching scenes of human vulnerability and harrowing sequences of people lying to themselves at length. Vast idiocies of human behavior provoke moments of thoughtful reflection. The warped glass of the show magnifies universal quirks of human behavior into light comic grotesques. Some of these fiancés, who do adore saying the word “fiancé,” are openly immersed in on-the-job training for reality-TV stardom. At various moments, the show warrants comparison to an unfortunate improv exercise, a better “S.N.L.” sketch, a decent bikini comedy, a Cassavetes screaming match, a treasure trove of raw anthropological data, and a cry for help. The errors of production and execution, as when producers force these people to picnic on an unseasonably cold day, are bracing. The sixth episode features the greatest moment in the moving-picture history of wholesale-priced Merlot: Jessica, a regional manager, readjusts her grudging snuggle with fiancé Mark, a fitness instructor to whom she is not attracted, so that she can her share her glass of wine with her golden retriever. The season finale includes a shot of a bride sprinting down a country road in her gown, booking it like a track star, tresses and train rippling as she flees.
That “Love Is Blind” is morally offensive to human dignity is key to its artistic success. One sees the clear potential to build it into a significant franchise. I’m imagining future seasons, and a “Black Mirror” crossover episode, and an expansion of the formula into a speed-dating service whereby single people, dating blind, grope for meaning in the darkness.