"Dating Around" gives reality dating shows a fresh perspective. (Image via The Ringer)
"Dating Around" gives reality dating shows a fresh perspective. (Image via The Ringer)

‘Dating Around’ Offers a Fresh Take on Reality Dating Shows

It puts 'The Bachelor' to shame.
February 28, 2019
8 mins read

For those who are sick of the drama and unrealistic nature of reality dating shows, you’re in luck: on Valentine’s Day, Netflix premiered an original dating series called “Dating Around.” If you enjoy the dramatic antics of shows like “Bachelor in Paradise,” you’ll probably still enjoy this toned-down dating series (which is not without its own share of drama). The dating show features six episodes that follow six different people on their own, separate journeys to find love in New York City.

In the television world, dating has been treated like a game since “The Dating Game,” the very first reality dating show, premiered in 1965. Ever since then, a plethora of shows like “The Bachelor” have ruled reality TV. Although these show might not be forward-thinking, there is an addicting element to them, just like a game show.

At the end of a series like “The Bachelor,” the prize is a relationship, however unrealistic that may be. Other dating shows involve prize money, which prompts viewers to question how genuine those who choose to go on the show actually are. Since “Dating Around” has no promises at the end and no incentives besides finding a romantic partner, it feels very real.

Because there is an array of dating shows airing on television, networks have to do things differently to get views. From “Chains of Love” to “Dating in the Dark,” these shows create gimmicks that offer, at best, a cultural critique on dating life and the media. Even “The Bachelor,” the longest-standing and most-popular dating series that features a happy ending for many seasons, is completely unrealistic. Although dating can be difficult, at least the person you are dating is not dragging along dozens of other prospective significant others (or at least I hope not!).

“Dating Around” feels fresh and realistic — because that’s exactly what it is. There are no secret conspiracy theories, no shocking twists and no premature marriage proposals. The stars of the show are regular people of all genders, ages, sexualities and occupations trying to navigate the dating world. There are awkward moments, uncomfortable silences and cringey mansplainers, but there are also the sweet, emotional moments on the show that make watching worthwhile.

The way “Dating Around” is filmed is confusing at first, but proves to be a pretty genius way of depicting the monotony of dating. Although the protagonist of the show attends multiple dates with different people, they wear the same outfit in the same setting, which causes the show to run seamlessly from one date to the next.

Even the conversations between them and their date match up; a simple question such as “Where do you live?” will spark a montage of answers from each date. One date even repeats the same joke to each of his suitors (and no, it wasn’t funnier the sixth time). The effect is uncanny; it seems as though the dates have found a hole in the universe and entered an alternate reality.

At the end of the night, the main subject may meet up for a second date with one of their suitors, but they don’t necessarily have to. Sometimes, there’s simply no connection, but there’s also no pressure to create one. The beauty of “Dating Around” is that it depicts what actually happens in the dating world. People chew loudly, interrupt each other, ask forward questions and laugh with food in their mouths. There are no producers on set fixing hair and makeup, and no cheesiness. Although the interactions are not always pleasant, they’re genuine.

“Dating Around” is also refreshing because of the individuals it features on the show. Many typical dating shows only represent conventionally attractive, white, young, thin, heterosexual men and women. In the real world, most individuals fall outside these binaries, and it gets boring watching essentially the same people going on dates over and over again.

In only six episodes, “Dating Around” features individuals from multiple races and nationalities, a widower nearing old age, lesbians and gay men. Viewers of the show are bound to relate to at least one of the main subjects, or at least find their experiences relatable.

The reason “Dating Around” draws viewers in is because it features what most reality dating shows miss: real human connections. It draws attention to the little things that other shows often ignore in the face of dramatics. Even on one of the show’s most dramatic episodes, when an Indian woman named Gurki had her date accuse her of lying to men, insult her culture as well as her family. It was dealt with the way that anyone might deal with such a situation. There was shock, confusion, anger and even tears, but the show didn’t capitalize on the dramatics. Instead, Gurki was depicted as a woman who could hold her own, was confident with herself and her choices; the focus was on her, not her obnoxious date.

Seeing as each episode is just under 30 minutes long, “Dating Around” is a show you can binge-watch in one sitting, and it provides easy watching compared to more energy-draining television. Viewers find themselves rooting for their favorites, even if it means they don’t end up with anyone. At the end of each episode, there are no prizes or rewards, just a slim chance at a second date. Even though not all of the dates work out, friendships are created, which is in some ways more valuable than finding a romantic partner.

Although this season was filmed in New York City, it will be interesting to see if future seasons take place in new areas. The show is already so diverse, but knowing Netflix originals, it could become even more groundbreaking if renewed for another season. Viewers will laugh, cringe and cry while watching the series, which offers a critique on dating culture, among other things.

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