First Dates is Channel 4’s latest attempt to spice up the rather stagnant pool of TV programs about dating. It strays away from the game show format prominent in recent shows like Take Me Out and the (frankly awful) Love Machine, and tries to keep it as simple as possible, focusing on a restaurant filled exclusively with couples on first dates. It really is all in the name.
At first glance it’s a painfully awkward concept, and it’s does not disappoint in that regard. There’s copious amounts of tension and nervous laughter, but the program only focuses on a few of the dates going on, ignoring a seemingly endless amount of couples that must just be too boring to spotlight.
That said, it is very good at presenting a huge variety of different pairings, with couples from almost every age, location, culture and sexuality making appearances over the course of the series. Quite unexpectedly, some of the older couples manage to be surprisingly touching. In particular the story of one elderly gent married to a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s threatens to spark tears. On the other end of the spectrum, repeated shots of one middle-aged couple trying to eat each others faces gets uncomfortable exceptionally quickly.
One of the more surprising aspects of the program is just how many of the couples decide to get outrageously drunk, including one pair who seemed to order a new Sambuca shot every time they were on camera. To be honest though, some of the face-to-face post-date interviews are so awkward that being intoxicated starts to look like the best approach.
First Dates is exactly what it says on the tin. At the same time woefully uncomfortable and embarrassingly gripping, the show succeeds at offering something rarely seen in dating shows: surprisingly candid footage of real first dates, complete with anxiety, tension and painfully forced laughter.