Mud is the drug on Love in the Country (RTÉ 2, Monday, 9.30pm), a new dating series which starts with the intriguing premise that people in the muckier reaches of rural Ireland might be interested in romantic relationships. Arriving a week after Virgin Media’s Grá ar a Trá, it can be seen as part of a new vogue on Irish television – a trend away from the reliable genre of property telly and towards a different strain of reality shows where pheromones replace square footage.
The presenter is Anna Geary, the former Cork GAA star and, until recently, a coach on Ireland’s Fittest Family. Love in the Country represents a fresh chapter for her, where she pivots from the sports field to mainstream entertainment.
She seems relaxed in the new setting as she heads to Roscommon to meet Alannah, a 20-year-old student and sheep farmer. Then it’s off to west Cork, where Rob, a 32-year-old pharmacist and farmer, is likewise looking for love. “Anyone working in rural Ireland – it is quite difficult to meet someone,” he says. “A lot of the girls have moved away.”
Love in the Country would have you believe – as many in RTÉ surely do – that the Irish countryside exists at the end of creation itself, and it is impossible for anyone who lives there to forge a romantic connection. To that end, Alannah and Rob have put the message out that they’re open to dating and proceed to receive letters from potential suitors.
The letters certainly grab the attention. One keen chap has sent Alannah a selfie in which he isn’t wearing much above the trouser line. Rob, meanwhile, has to contend with an image in which his face has been doctored. “There’s a lot of photo-shopping going on, with my head on top of the tractor,” he comments.
Geary is enthusiastic throughout – which is probably just as well considering the cringe-inducing format. A number of shortlisted candidates meet Alannah and Rob at a hotel. Each is then “interviewed” by our duo of singletons in a round of speed dating. Next, three finalists travel with Rob and Alannah to their country dwellings. It’s not Blind Date, that’s for sure.
The candidates are well-intentioned and often shy. “I’m not going to lie. It was either this or the ‘lonely hearts’ section of the Farmers Journal,” one jests. A crueller show would have had fun at their expense. However, Love in the Country resists that temptation and makes for wholesome viewing.
Alannah narrows her selection down to Ben, Scott and Brian – the three most quietly spoken of the men to whom she is introduced. Rob opts for the charming trio of Aisling, Avril and Lucia. All seem grounded – even Lucia, who enjoys astrology.
Not much happens but that is not necessarily a negative. Dating today is a blur of swipes and likes. With the affable Geary wearing the captain’s armband, the series takes a more humane course. We’ll have to wait for future episodes to discover who makes the cut, dating-wise.
For now, it’s the gentle pacing that sets Love in the Country apart.