‘First Dates’ has an op­ti­mism that’s miss­ing from more jaded TV pro­grammes, it’s ac­tu­ally try­ing to help peo­ple find love, and some­times it suc­ceeds

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE -

Ifondly re­call the day the al­go­rithm chose for me a wife. It’s amaz­ing what Face­book can do nowa­days, with just your pur­chas­ing data, med­i­cal records and browser his­tory as a guide. Yes, Ms TV Reviewer may just be a mirror im­age of me but with a gi­gan­tic bow on her head, like Ms Pac-Man, but we are very happy. So it’s sur­pris­ing to me that peo­ple use old-fash­ioned forms of courtship at all any more, things such as Tin­der, “leav­ing the house” and dat­ing shows such as First Dates. Even from its ti­tle you can tell that First Dates (Tues­day, RTÉ2) has an op­ti­mism miss­ing from more jaded tele­vi­sion pro­grammes, such as Di­vorce Court Fra­cas, Me and My Cats and Darling, I Would Like to In­tro­duce You to My New Ten­nis Friend, Geoff. (Full dis­clo­sure: I may have made up th­ese shows.)

For starters, it’s more nat­u­ral­is­tic than other dat­ing shows. This is be­cause we’ve gone right through the phase of re­al­ity tele­vi­sion where ev­ery­one wanted to be fa­mous. Now we’re at the point where we want tele­vi­sion to solve our prob­lems – our fi­nan­cial is­sues, our ren­o­va­tions, our love lives, our gout. “Fix us!” we de­mand of our tele­vi­sion screens, or Ryan Tubridy when we grab him by the shoul­ders on the street. “Make us bet­ter!”

So the peo­ple on First Dates are ac­tu­ally look­ing for love, and we the view­ers, the no-non­sense nar­ra­tor and the restaurant staff an­a­lyse them like Stasi agents as they dine in the Sex­i­to­rium of the Gib­son Ho­tel. (Full dis­clo­sure: the restaurant at the Gib­son Ho­tel is not called the Sex­i­to­rium.)

This week’s prospec­tive lovers in­clude An­drew, who has an ex­plo­sive hair­style and who sug­gests that if cloning were an op­tion he would date him­self. (Mil­len­ni­als, eh?) His ac­tual date, Harry, has dif­fer­ently apoc­a­lyp­tic visions. “The worst thing that can hap­pen on a date is that they kill you,” he says brightly. If this ac­tu­ally hap­pened on First Dates, the RTÉ bud­get re­stric­tions would prob­a­bly mean they’d still air it.

An­drew tells Harry that he likes sur­prises (prob­a­bly not mur­der), and he con­jures up an ex­am­ple. “[Some­one says] we’re go­ing to the beach, but they bring me to the zoo,” he says, prov­ing, I guess, that what we want in a lover isn’t nec­es­sar­ily what we want from Dublin Bus.

An­drew is from Louth, and Harry asks with won­der if he lives in a hous­ing es­tate. He’s heard that ev­ery­one lives in hous­ing es­tates in Louth. A hous­ing es­tate seems like the most ex­otic thing in the world to Harry. It leaves me with the im­pres­sion that he lives in a gi­ant peach or a huge shoe, but sadly we never get to his liv­ing ar­range­ments. In­stead he dis­cusses pet own­er­ship, of which he dis­ap­proves. I can see why. “Do you lick your dog?” he asks An­drew, who looks un­der­stand­ably per­plexed.

There are other cou­ples to spy on. There’s the fash­ion blog­ger Law­son and the Amer­i­can evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian Krista, al­ready feel­ing like an old maid at the age of 24. There’s the sooth­ing-voiced Long­ford psy­chol­o­gist Sarah, who “works in ter­ror­ism” (frankly, it’s political cor­rect­ness gone mad hav­ing her on the show), and the Teu­tonic rule-fol­lower An­dreas, who dar­ingly shares a dessert with her de­spite the menu not spec­i­fy­ing that shar­ing is an op­tion. (An­dreas, I think, was ar­rested for this af­ter the cred­its rolled.)

And then there’s Denise, who seeks “good craic”, and Stephen, who’s tired of be­ing laughed at by women in bars. Stephen or­ders oys­ters from the blue-suited maitre d’, Ma­teo, who sug­gests the same meal to Denise. “It will get you into the same mood,” says Ma­teo, all but rub­bing his legs and adding, “Hubba-hubba, vroom-vroom!” to the end of the sen­tence. Stephen has, it turns out, never eaten oys­ters be­fore and ends up spit­ting his mas­ti­cated mol­lusc out, much like a mid­dle-aged in­fant. Denise laughs, but this is tech­ni­cally a restaurant, not a bar, so Stephen hangs in there. He is, to be fair, good craic.

Af­ter over­hear­ing a dis­cus­sion be­tween the be­suited culchie-pride ac­tivist Eoin and the stu­dent nurse Tara, the bearded bar­man, Ethan, asks Ma­teo does he know what “road frontage” means. “Is it a sex­ual thing?” asks Ma­teo, and Ethan ex­plains that “road frontage” is, in fact, the amount of house­build­ing land a coun­try fam­ily might have fac­ing a road.

So “yes” is the an­swer to Ma­teo’s ques­tion. It’s to­tally a sex­ual thing. We’ve all had filthy fan­tasies in­volv­ing road frontage.

Eoin and Tara are by far the sweet­est cou­ple of the night. The con­ver­sa­tions on First Dates are of­ten un­guarded and hon­est. Tara lost her part­ner to sud­den-death syn­drome sev­eral years ago, and Eoin’s heart­felt re­sponse to her story be­lies any no­tion that he’s any­thing other than a lovely, funny man. At the end of the night, in the awk­ward bit where the pro­duc­ers make them sit to­gether to say whether they’re go­ing to meet again, they ar­range an­other date. Tara, Eoin de­clares, is day­cent. (I’m al­lowed to use this pro­nun­ci­a­tion be­cause of my culchie roots.) There’s a sim­i­lar happy out­come for oys­ter-chug­ging Stephen and Denise. Poor Sarah gets a re­jec­tion from An­dreas, who is prob­a­bly still reel­ing from her reck­lessly lax at­ti­tude to dessert own­er­ship.

The vil­lain this week is Harry, who com­mits the big­gest First Dates faux pas of all: mak­ing An­drew say he’d like a sec­ond date be­fore then re­ject­ing him. Harry says he couldn’t pos­si­bly go out with An­drew be­cause An­drew con­versed ami­ably with the wait­ress. Harry is as ap­palled by An­drew talk­ing to a wait­ress as he is amazed by the idea of hous­ing es­tates in Louth. So An­drew is left by him­self, which is, luck­ily, his dream date. And Harry re­turns to the moon to pon­der Earth, where peo­ple live in hous­ing es­tates and talk to wait­resses and the events of your love life are nar­rated like you’re in a David At­ten­bor­ough doc­u­men­tary.

Can I have tusks?

I’m al­ways slightly troubled by the com­pet­i­tive health show Op­er­a­tion Trans­for­ma­tion (Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, RTÉ One). First, I’m struck by a lack of am­bi­tion in the trans­for­ma­tive de­sires of the par­tic­i­pants. I mean, no one comes out and says, “For my trans­for­ma­tion, I’d like wheels,” or, “Give me an ex­tra arm,” or, “Can I have tusks?” They all just want to be transformed into a smaller per­son.

Also, I find the pro­gramme’s yearly evo­lu­tion into a coun­try­wide mass move­ment slightly ter­ri­fy­ing. “To hell with your fas­cist thin­scape!” I shout in­stinc­tively while dig­ging into a stale se­lec­tion box. But, like First Dates,

Op­er­a­tion Trans­for­ma­tion is of­ten mov­ing in the way it al­lows us in­sights into peo­ple’s lives. The tone is com­pas­sion­ate, not judg­men­tal. There are, af­ter all, un­der­stand­able rea­sons why has­sled, busy peo­ple such as Garda David Cryan, look­ing af­ter a child with cere­bral palsy, might have let his own health slide. So, in the ab­sence of the sort of tax-heavy, ser­vice­based health­care so­lu­tions this rav­ing so­cial­ist would like to see, Op­er­a­tion Trans­for­ma­tion is a well-mean­ing en­ter­prise.

Give ev­ery­one in the coun­try a panel of four celebrity ex­perts and a big com­edy weigh­ing scales and we’ll be grand.

‘‘ We’ve gone right through the phase of re­al­ity tele­vi­sion where ev­ery­one wanted to be fa­mous. Now we’re at the point where we want TV to solve our prob­lems – our fi­nan­cial is­sues, our ren­o­va­tions, our love lives, our gout. “Fix us!” we de­mand of our tele­vi­sion screens

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