Generation Dating: The real love affair is the friendship between Tony (81) and Isabel (22)

TV review: Virgin Media’s new dating show proves friendship can blossom in unlikely places

Nobody would accuse Ireland of being a powerhouse of cutting-edge television. One milieu at which we indisputably excel, however, is the bonkers dating show. Whether it's Pulling With My Parents or 2020's socially-distanced Love Is In The Air, the industry here has never been found wanting when it comes to outré coupling-up formats. You could say it was our national specialty were that slot not already taken by property telly featuring Dermot Bannon and/or Hugh Wallace (they are presumably working towards a team-up movie… potentially called Bannon v Wallace: Dormer of Justice)

Latest off the production line is Generation Dating (Virgin Media One, 9pm). But this series is different in that it really isn't a dating show at all. In part one, it's a celebration of friendship across the decades between Tony Dunne (81) from the Liberties in Dublin, and Isabel Fernandes (22) from Cork City.

Their unforced chemistry has a soothing quality, like Sudocrem applied to the soul

Tony is a widower who feels he should move forward with life following the death, from Alzheimer’s, of his wife of more than 40 years. And Isabel is looking for a girlfriend having relocated to Dublin to take a job as a social housing officer.

The idea is that Tony and Isabel each sets up a date for the other. And this box is ticked at the end of the instalment, as Tony has dinner with Rhona (whom Isabel encountered at a local church) and Isabel goes for a bite with Casey (after Tony finds Casey at a trendy art event).

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Each has chosen well and the two dates are reasonably successful – and certainly not at all toe-curling in style of the First Dates Ireland. And yet the real love affair is the platonic one between Tony and Isabel, two strangers from wildly divergent Irelands who nonetheless discover they have a great deal in common.

Tony grew up in tenement poverty and only later discovered that the woman he believed his mother was in fact his aunt (his mother having died when he was a baby). And Isabel, whose father is from Goa in India and of Portuguese heritage, was the only-mixed race child in her neighbourhood. So neither had a straightforward childhood and it is something they bond over.

Both are easy going and enjoy one another’s company. And their unforced chemistry has a soothing quality, like Sudocrem applied to the soul. Tony and Rhona decide not to move on after their dinner while Isabel and Casey arrange to go for a drink. But it’s Tony and Isabel you truly want to see spend time together at the end of an episode that reminds us friendship can blossom in the least likely of places.