Swipe right on these shows for more dating drama
If ‘Indian Matchmaking’ has left you wanting more real-life romance, here is a selection of reality shows that have largely flown under the radar
Finding love is tough enough. How much tougher must it be if you have cameras following you around? Dating is naturally performative, so imagine doing it when you know your every move is being recorded and—let’s be realistic here—fitted into a narrative even as the recording is taking place. Reality shows have honed this narrative-creation into a fine art, and most of their appeal lies in this largely formulaic nature. Now, reality dating is making a big comeback on screens, largely thanks to Netflix’s current obsession with the genre (which even led to the unfortunate and universally panned What The Love! With Karan Johar). Here are some reality dating shows that break new ground while staying within the mould.
Love On The Spectrum
In the comments section of the YouTube video of this show’s trailer, viewer Chloe Fletcher writes: “I’m on the spectrum and have struggled in every way from relationships to jobs to understanding neurotypical people. The world needs more autism friendly shows. I love how this proves autistic people can feel love. I also love how this doesn’t stereotype autism…." Another viewer, K. Annie, writes: “I’m kinda over us autistic people being used as heartwarming stories for non-autistic people, so to see so many on the spectrum find hope and delight in this show is wonderful. These are our stories. They are meant for us first and foremost." It’s rare to find such testimony for dating reality shows, which are generally engineered to evoke schadenfreude rather than empathy, but this Australian show about the dating lives of individuals on the autism spectrum is truly feel-good, giving us a glimpse into their full lives and personalities.
Streaming on: Netflix
Before Netflix took the lead in creating the season’s most talked-about dating reality shows, it produced Dating Around, a low-key show that won’t show up on too many people’s recommendation lists, yet it’s not only watchable but sometimes so efficient in its storytelling that it almost feels scripted. Dating Around is set in real locations in American cities and is funny and honest, more Queer Eye than Beauty And The Geek—though not quite as wholesome as the former or quite as funny as the latter. In each episode, one single person goes on five blind dates with the aim of choosing the one person they would go on a second date with—yes, that’s it, just a second date, a subversion of the happily-ever-after myth most dating reality TV is built on. The best thing about the show, however, is the diversity: in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation and age. In contrast to most dating shows, which are severely heteronormative, many of the primary participants meet at least one person of the same sex, even if they themselves are not explicitly gay or non-binary. It truly is 21st century dating.
Streaming on: Netflix
You wouldn’t know if you didn’t go looking but this Japanese show has acquired a bit of a cult following since it first premiered on Japanese television in 2012 (it subsequently became a Netflix original). If Seinfeld is the “show about nothing", Terrace House is a show where nothing much happens as the residents of the eponymous Terrace House, six strangers who meet on set and start living in the house, just go about their ordinary lives. There’s none of the manufactured hi-jinks of American reality shows and very little drama and confrontation; instead, the show is imbued with a sense of friendship and solidarity. All that, however, came crashing down earlier this year with the suicide of Hana Kimura, a pro-wrestler who had joined the cast of the show for its latest season, titled Tokyo 2019-2020. Kimura had faced a social media backlash when she joined and this intensified after she had an argument with a housemate. The show is currently on hiatus, and the creators have not announced if they will air the rest of the season. A pity, because this is one show that seemed to have passed the Turing test of self-awareness and would often invoke a sense of irony about the time-honoured manipulation of reality TV.
Streaming on: Netflix
Million Dollar Matchmaker
Watch out, Sima Taparia, the million-dollar matchmaker is here, and her judginess will beat yours any day. In order to include at least one true-blue cringe-watch reality show on this list, I watched a full episode of Million Dollar Matchmaker, with my jaw consistently hitting the floor. I chose the second-season episode featuring an Indian-origin woman, Devina Kaur, founder of a lifestyle brand and author of an embrace-your-sex-needs self-help book called Too Fat, Too Loud, Too Ambitious: A Sexy Brilliant Handbook, who came out of an unhappy marriage and hit the dating game with unabashed gusto. Within the first 5 minutes of their meeting, matchmaker Patti Stanger tells Kaur she has an illness, which she immediately diagnoses as “Sex ADD" (Attention Deficit Disorder). Here’s the twist: Kaur reacts with anger initially but is soon seen sniffling into a tissue and murmuring, “I want true love." Now isn’t that what we watch reality TV for?
Streaming on: Prime Video