First Dates Ireland: Bad Romance rather than Endless Love
Empty showboaters and deliberately mismatched couples have turned it into a social media spectacle
Eoin and Tara: a rare heart-tingling story from First Dates Ireland. Photograph: RTÉ
There’s something comforting about the denial involved in watching reality TV. Most shows these days are as slick and scripted as a standard soap opera and follow a strict formula. There’s a reason why no-one listens to the spoilsport announcers telling everyone before the start of Made in Chelsea that some scenes are “created for your enjoyment” or the way everyone blatantly ignores the fact that the timelines and continuity in Keeping Up with the Kardashians come undone when you see the sisters’ hair change colour and length in every second scene.
The suspension of disbelief, the unique satisfaction, empathy or catharsis we experience when we see Gemma and Arg break up for the thousandth time, Kim Kardashian clatter her sister in the face with a Louis Vuitton bag or Mark Francis not being able to comprehend the common usage of a “mug”, is all part of the predictable joy of reality telly.
When a show’s transparent machinations become shamelessly obvious, it can leave the viewer feeling manipulated and not to mention patronised
As an audience we are aware that it can’t all be fly-on-the-wall factual because who has the time to hold those fancy pointless dinners the Made in Chelsea crew have every time a toff returns from summering on the savannah or who really believes that Mateo from Irish First Dates actually works in the Gibson Hotel? These contrivances can be cosy and familiar, but when a show’s transparent machinations become shamelessly obvious, it can leave the viewer feeling manipulated and not to mention patronised.
Sometimes this occurs when a show has become stale, like when The X Factor’s humiliation schtick became a cliché – after a decade of cruelty, crafty Cowell tried to spice things up by having acts scouted before the show’s auditions – removing any chance of an Andy the Binman against-all-odds success story. What viewers they have left are now painfully aware that it’s a competition made up of those who can afford headshots, media training and who once wrote an album track for Little Mix. The X Factor is a closed pop-shop for semi-professionals whose “journey” has already begun.
Prodding and preening
Similarly, the Irish incarnation of First Dates suffers the same fate. Having slowly been wooed by the UK version with its selection of shy would-be romances featuring entirely ordinary folk whose conversations sound like an abandoned Victoria Wood sketch; the Irish adaptation is infected with a jarring amount of unnecessary prodding and preening.
The heart-tingling story of Eoin and Tara is a rarity to be found in amongst entire episodes devoted to empty showboaters desperately seeking celebrity/notoriety and couples that are so deliberately mismatched for noticeable over-the-top comic effect they make the famed Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley coupling look positively conventional. With these “dates” taking up most of the show, it loses the common touch and gentle unpredictability of its originator and has transmogrified into a social media spectacle.
Nobody expects every date to end in fevered bliss or a series that’s truly, madly, blandly Irish where everyone is “grand” and just wants to be friends (who they will then immediately ghost) but there are far too many set-ups in this particular series that end up as a punchline to an unfunny joke.
First Dates is now a dodgy provincial play about singledom with a brash cast willing to throw themselves at the mercy of the glare of the cameras because perhaps those who are sincerely looking for love aren’t brave enough to endure romance via reality telly where the fictionalised fact trumps the truth.