The hit reality TV dating show Love Is Blind is back after two years off our screens. It was an immediate success back in 2020, with a reported 30 million households watching. The premise is fairly simple: 30 marriage-minded singles – 15 men, 15 women – are looking to meet the love of their lives. The twist is that they don’t get to see their future spouses – at all – until they have already agreed to get engaged. After the engagement, the “successful” couples fly to a tropical resort, and attempt to live together in an apartment paid for by Netflix. If they get through all of this together, the wedding day arrives in the season finale where they decide whether or not to commit to someone they’ve known for just four weeks.
The creators have taken the age-old idea of blind dating and considerably upped the ante. It’s a formula designed for maximum drama and conflict. The participants sit in pods, which are basically small living rooms, and speak through a blue wall to their potential matches, getting to know their likes and dislikes, childhood traumas – and, essentially, testing their sexual chemistry.
Depending on the perspective of the viewer, Love Is Blind is either a pastiche of every dating show to have ever existed, tediously picking the most obvious tropes, reordering them and hoping the end result is compelling; or it’s an interesting new twist on a stagnating genre of TV.
The show is supposed to be a “social experiment”, the central thesis being: is love blind? Can the emotional connection between two people be deeper when they meet, as the show incessantly puts it, “sight unseen”? Season two is in a uniquely difficult position, as it tries to live up to the hype of what came before. In retrospect, Love Is Blind’s initial success was the result of not just great production, complex participants and interesting storylines but also great timing. By the time all episodes of season one were released, the first wave of Covid was hitting British shores. And, in what felt like no time at all, we were all trapped in our own pods, communicating at a distance, trying to foster connection without any physical proximity, albeit primarily through screens and not walls. Audiences connected with the absurdity of Love Is Blind at least partially because of the context that they found themselves in.
The question for the show now, returning to a UK mercifully no longer locked down, is: does it still hold up?
The answer is: mostly. Love Is Blind stands out in this overly saturated market because it picks cast members that seem to genuinely want to find life-long partners. The emotions, the intimacy and the connections that are fostered seem authentic. And the blunders from the contestants – the emotionally manipulative comments or uncomfortable questions around women’s weight – don’t detract from the show. In fact they make it more relatable, by realistically portraying the ugly minefield of modern dating – something most of us are, to some extent, familiar with.
But there is a problem with the central premise, which might render the show obsolete. While much was made about attempts to diversify the cast this season, the series stumbled at the first hurdle. The show’s plus-sized women receive no meaningful screen time after the first episode, sidelined for cast members who fit more conventional standards of beauty. Love Is Blind makes the same mistake that every reality TV dating show does – playing it safe by showing the audience what they think it really wants. It’s also hard to ignore the flicker of regret in some of the participants’ eyes when they meet their partners for the first time. The hard-to-contain excitement of the pods is clearly replaced by a gnawing doubt once they’re confronted by the reality of their situation – but that only adds to the intrigue.
It’s a ridiculous show based on an equally ridiculous premise. It won’t ever really deliver on its main promise of creating a contained reality where dating is free from the superficial constraints of social media and dating apps. It does, however, give us a rare chance of seeing the innermost private moments of people, supposedly, falling in love in a surprisingly uninhibited way. This doesn’t mean it’s any more morally righteous than its counterparts like Love Island or The Bachelor, but it lacks much of the superficiality that characterises the rest of the genre, and is a much more enjoyable viewing experience as a result. Even if reality TV isn’t really your thing, I’d urge you to give it a go.
Here are this week’s recommendations.
I Want You Back (Amazon Prime)
It’s dating again. In this earnest and easy rom-com, Emma (Jenny Slate) and Peter (Charlie Day) – who have both been recently dumped by their partners – quickly become friends after meeting by chance and, instead of moving on, scheme together, coming up with a plan to get their exes back. Sit-com veterans Day and Slate’s natural, but decidedly platonic, chemistry makes their characters’ bond the best part of the film. After the death of the romantic comedy in the 2000s, I Want You Back – peppered with hijinks, cringe-worthy sex scenes and funny one liners – breathes a bit of life back into the genre. Hugely entertaining.
This Is Us (Amazon Prime/Disney+)
Get your tissues ready, the final season of NBC’s hit show This Is Us is here. Dissecting the lives of an ordinary family over several decades, the show masterfully cuts between the past, present and future – and has delivered emotional gut punch after gut punch while doing it. And so, after five seasons of what can only be described as emotional masochism, fans of the show are limping towards the finish line as the characters’ narrative arcs come to an end. If you’re looking to start a new cathartic series that will break your heart and restore your faith in humanity all at once, then look no further.
Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America (BBC iPlayer)
“In the first episode of this new three-part series, Louis Theroux explores the extreme and often terrifying world of the far right. The veteran documentary-maker follows the life of Nick Fuentes – a YouTuber and wannabe presidential candidate who believes that women should be stripped of the right to vote – challenging as well as observing his grotesque beliefs. Just how much real power these individuals have is debatable, but their influence over a significant number of young, mainly white men is worrying – particularly in a world where division is so often gleefully exploited. Fascinating and horrifying in equal measure, this is vintage Theroux.”
Tomini Babs, Marketing
The World For Sale – Javier Blas & Jack Farchy
“If you’re looking for a gripping read that will keep you awake at night, The World For Sale by Javier Blas and Jack Farchy is it. If you’re across stories about energy, trading houses and commodities, you’ve probably heard of them. And if you’re not, this book is an excellent primer of all the exciting and interesting bits. Ostensibly it’s a collection of stories about the shadowy and largely anonymous individuals who trade in the things we need to keep the world moving: food, metal and oil.
However much these questionable relationships and backroom business deals might unsettle you – and make no mistake, some of these stories are genuinely unsettling (and occasionally comical) – like it or not, we’re all the customers of these shady traders and high net worth wheeler dealers. The World For Sale is available in hardback, and the paperback is out on 10 March.”
Mark St Andrew, Head of ThinkIns
The Trojan Horse Affair (Serial and the New York Times)
From the creators of Serial and S-Town, The Trojan Horse Affair is the new podcast everyone’s talking about. After a mysterious letter (now known to be fake) emerged, claiming to be evidence of a conspiracy to “Islamise” Britain’s schools, British authorities went into overdrive to deal with the supposed threat. Hosts Brian Reed and Hamza Syed take us on a twisty journey through Birmingham’s school system, to find out who wrote this letter and why, revealing, in its eight parts, some troubling truths about the way British institutions treat and see British Muslims. But do they land the story?
Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
“Because of a slow drip-feed of tracks over the last year, the fifth album from indie-rock group Big Thief (and leading light Adrianne Lenker) snuck up on me slowly. Across its 20 tracks, the record moves deftly between honky-tonk fiddles (‘Spud Infinity’) to sparky guitar riffs (‘Simulation Swarm’). The band have clearly given themselves a great deal of time and creative freedom on this album – and it’s all the better for it (fun fact: the song ‘Certainty’, a personal highlight, was recorded using power from a cigarette lighter during a three-day power cut at the studio). I’ve already grabbed a ticket for their UK tour later this year – and I’d urge you to do the same. There’s no doubt this is an album to hear live.”
Phoebe Davis, Reporter
London’s Flourishing Jam scene
“The jam session: a rare moment of pause when the uninitiated can bear witness to conversations in the sublime language of music. Jam sessions are defined as impromptu performances when musicians improvise and play together, often as strangers – and London’s Jam scene is thriving. These regular events come in many forms: big popular jams like Orii Community are frequented by Thundercat and Kokoroko, intimate sessions upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s host Jazz legends, while up-and-coming events promoting diversity and inclusivity such as Peng Femme Jam and Popola Jam promise to liven and progress the scene. So if you play an instrument, get up on stage. If you don’t, just enjoy.”
Sebastian Hervas-Jones, Researcher
Our Broken Planet and Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibitions at the Natural History Museum
Last Thursday, Friends of Tortoise were treated to an early viewing of two exhibitions at the Natural History Museum before its doors opened to the public. We started off with Our Broken Planet, a demonstration of humanity’s impact on the natural world in 40 objects. It was, in parts, sobering: exhibits like the skull of a now-extinct giant auroch reminded us of humanity’s most destructive tendencies. But there were glimmers of hope in the display, too: the blue blood of the horseshoe crab, for instance, is essential for the development of vaccines, including the one used to protect us against Covid-19; and the nodules at the bottom of the ocean contain metals which could be vital for creating emission-free electric car batteries (it’s essential, of course, that these are gathered in a sustainable manner).
Then, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition. From the image of a tarantula hawk wasp dragging its hairy eight-legged prey up the side of a fridge, to the battle-scarred snow leopard crouching behind the carcass of a blue goat, the display is an immersion into a hundred different worlds – the level of patience and talent required to capture each on film is hard to comprehend.
Both Our Broken Planet and Wildlife Photographer of the Year are open to booking at the Natural History Museum. You won’t regret it.
That’s all for this week. If you have any recommendations, please do send them in to email@example.com.
Best wishes and stay safe,
Photographs Patrick Wymore/Netflix, Joe Pugliese/NBC, Dan Dewsbury/Mindhouse Productions/BBC, Orii Community/Facebook