Netflix’s first foray into dating shows with Dating Around piqued the interest of a dating show hater enough to want to review it.
My reality television viewing habits are quite minimal, and my dating show viewing history is quite dismal. I’ve never been able to get past one episode of any dating show I’ve tried, but when Netflix decides to do their own version of something, you have to take a look.
Each episode of Dating Around has one single person go on five blind dates and pick one match who is worthy of a second date. After awkward moments, open conversations, shameless flirting, and even some tears, Dating Around shows just how fun, and not so fun, first dates can be.
Unlike other dating shows, Dating Around isn’t ‘extra.’ Despite the glossy look of how it’s filmed, it feels much more down to earth than other dating shows. For a start, the actual dates are nothing fancy. There are no ridiculous, staged activities to force drama. Dinner and drinks at a restaurant (albeit a trendy, low-key fancy New York City type restaurant) culminates in an after hours stroll through the city.
When it comes to the actual people, of course they’re all beautiful, as you would expect in a dating show, but they’re not over the top. Even the most colorful characters are within the realm of believability, as opposed to putting on an act for the camera. One of the things that personally makes watching dating shows so unappealing is how fake the singles behave. The exaggerated personalities is more grating to me than entertaining. Until now, those kind of performances were believed to be necessary to create drama and engagement, but Dating Around shows that genuine expression and subtlety can be just as riveting.
The dramatic subtlety is also conveyed through how it’s shot. Take a look at the trailer (below). If you didn’t know it was a reality show, you’d probably think it was a scripted romantic comedy movie. The shallower depth of field makes Dating Around feel more cinematic than your regular reality dating show, which is perfect for a dating show hater. As someone who’s much more into scripted dramas, this look is a subtle way to trick the mind into making this feel less like the cheap dating shows you’ve seen 100 times already.
Dating Around also attempts to eliminate the often scripted feel of your average dating show by not having any confessionals. It’s a pro and a con. On the one hand, without any commentary, there’s never an explanation for why the subject of Netflix’s show chose the person they chose for a second date.
On the other hand, not knowing what’s going on in the minds of the daters creates a different kind of drama and suspense. By not having clear verbal communication to say how much they’re enjoying themselves, if at all, you’re at the mercy of their expressions, body language, and tone of voice. You want to stick around to the very end, because it’s not necessarily obvious who they’re going to pick for a second date.
A lack of commentary also allows you to form a less biased opinion on each person. Though the dates are meant to be from the perspective of one person, it’s also from the viewer’s perspective. By not being told what someone else thinks of the five dates, we’re watching them without being influenced, which in turns makes it possible to form our own opinions. In addition, cutting between all five dates at once is a great way to compare how each communicates and reacts in similar conversations. In a way, Dating Around puts you in the main seat, asking who you would choose.
The ambiguity of the final decision is also aided by a lack of suggestive music and editing. For the most part, music is very subtle, used more for background ambiance than to suggest a particular mood. In this way, any awkward, funny, or romantic moment feels natural and not fabricated. Likewise, the editing does its best to remain neutral. It’s easy to create tension, romantic or uncomfortable, by lingering on a shot for too long, but for the most part this doesn’t happen.
Dating Around is so different than a traditional dating show that it may not be enjoyable for someone who’s used to something like The Bachelor. It’s a very dialogue heavy show, without the whizz and bang that usually accompanies dating shows. Those who are used to a faster pace and exuberant dates and personalities might struggle to stay awake through it.
Dating Around elevates the dating show bar in such a way that even typical dating show haters could find this a worthwhile watch. Without flashy dramatics, more down-to-earth ‘characters,’ and a production quality reflective of a movie, Netflix’s first dating show successfully tries something new in an otherwise oversaturated market. It’s possible this style could alienate the average dating show viewer, but it’s also likely to attract a new audience. Unlike other dating shows, Dating Around is more reflective of what first dates are truly like: awkward, funny, antagonistic, flirty, boring, and fun. And with so many different ages, ethnicities, and personalities depicted, there’s something here for everyone.