The Bi Life: new dating show is challenging bisexual misconceptions
E!’s new show is a refreshing alternative to Love Island’s cheap cocktail of hormones
Courtney Act and The Bi Life cast. Photograph: E!
Love Island, for all its escapist relief will always be a problematic fave. With its considerable lack of diversity, body fascism and its adherence to heteronormative sexual orientation, it’s an 18-30 holiday presented for tabloid titillation.
With every passing year as its popularity grows, so too do the groans of despair at the idea of another summer without any kind of on-screen diversification or representation, stuck with the usual glut of glamour models and gym bros who use “gay” as a pejorative term while sucking down on their obligatory protein shake.
Love Island producers keep teasing an LGBTQ version of the show that never arrives but this year E! have swooped in with their new show The Bi Life to offer an alternative to the cheap cocktail of hormones served by ITV.
The Bi Life sees nine bisexual singletons housed in a villa in Barcelona, who instead of dating each other (eschewing the caustic rivalry of Love Island) seek romance outside the group. Presented by Celebrity Big Brother winner Shane Jenek, who also appears as drag alter-ego Courtney Act, the focus is on challenging perceptions of sexuality and establishing a show where fluidity is not exhibited as something “other” or unconventional but a way of life for many.
By having the contestants date outside the group, it fosters an atmosphere of encouragement and trust; there are no vicious side-eyes over the swimming pool, no anxiety surrounding “new arrivals” or concerns about everyone coupling up.
When ebullient, professional swimmer Michael heads off on his first date, the others gather around a TV on the veranda to watch him, cooing with kindness and reassurance as he gingerly discusses his dating inexperience.
Later the girls head off alone to talk about the hostility they have faced when coming out to family or acquaintances. Over pitchers of sangria, they bemoan how their bisexuality has been dismissed as some kind of indecision, a fear of identifying as gay or the old chestnut of appearing “greedy”. There are teary confessions about their concerns for their younger, school-attending siblings being bullied and the conflict they have within the gay community.
These conversations offer something different, something more insightful and relatable than the mediocre Machiavellian plotting of “pieing off” someone or professing faux-loyalty around the firepit.
All this earnestness may make the show sound like a po-faced Channel 4 documentary but The Bi Life has its share of drama and sexy singleton shenanigans, mostly centred on the forthright Daisie, who dominates the first episode. Whereas the other contestants are content to discover a different side to themselves on this “journey”, challenging themselves by entertaining the idea of dating outside of their usual type or comfort zone, Daisie has no intentions of doing so, dismissing any notion of changing up her preferred consort.
She chooses beefy Australian Adam for her first date, much to Shane’s delight, as he reckons the builder looks as though he’d “Bang like a dunny door in the wind”. Although the initial date goes well, when invited to the singles mixer later the next night, Daisie confronts him and accuses him of having a wandering eye in a scene so badly acted and engineered it wouldn’t have even made it into this season of Made in Chelsea.
Although it falls foul to some clunky created scenes, there is a refreshing reality and honesty to the show that makes it compelling viewing. It may not possess the trashy, addictive conventions of its contemporaries but this thoroughly modern, naturalistic search for love has more heart than most.
The Bi Life continues Thursdays 9pm on E!