Netflix's new dating show has a unique premise — singles meet and get engaged without ever seeing each other face-to-face — but it's also uniquely depressing.

By Kristen Baldwin
February 10, 2020 at 03:00 AM EST
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Elaine Benes said it best: “I will never understand people.” It’s sentiment that applies directly to the experience of viewing Love Is Blind, Netflix’s intensely tragic yet riveting new reality show in which single men and women meet, date, and get engaged without ever seeing each other face-to-face. Coming on the heels of The Circle (think Big Brother meets Catfish), Netflix seems determined to corner the market on a new reality TV subgenre: People Making Bad Decisions While Sitting Alone in Rooms.

In Love Is Blind, 30 singles descend upon a “facility” in Atlanta, where the men and women will live separately and only get together in conversation “pods,” which are separated by a frosted glass divider. After 10 days, they have a choice: Get engaged, or get the hell out of Dodge. Barely-there hosts Nick and Vanessa Lachey pop up at the beginning to explain the thinking behind this anonymous courtship concept: “Psychologists believe that emotional connection is the key to long-term marital success,” notes Nick, “not physical attraction.” So, you know, it’s science, guys. And most of the LIB participants are so disillusioned with the superficiality of modern dating, they are eager — too eager, honestly — for this “experiment” to work.

For the first handful of episodes, Love Is Blind does feel like something (relatively) new. Even though we never see the couples together — other than in occasional overhead shots of the separated “pods” — their interactions are as entertainingly cringe-y and awkward and surface-sweet as you’d hope from a reality dating show. Without giving away any details about specific couples, it’s fair to say that there’s a unique kind of fascination in watching adults navigate love triangles, breakups, and (yes) even marriage proposals while talking to a wall.

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Much like these relationships (probably), it doesn’t last. Once the proposals begin and the couples finally meet, the pod experiment evaporates, and Love Is Blind becomes just another spin on the whole Married to My 90-Day Fiancé at First Sight genre. The remaining men and women spend the four weeks before their wedding getting to know each other in the “physical world,” meeting each other’s families and learning fun new facts about their soon-to-be spouses: He still lives with roommates! She has $20,000 in student loan debt! And because none of the participants are actually blind, one woman must deal with the fact that she is low-key repulsed by the man she agreed to marry.

The good people at Kinetic Content — producers of Love Is Blind, Marriage at First Sight, and a 2017 series called (I kid you not) The Spouse House — are adept at finding people who are compellingly complex and also willing to put their need for attention above their own dignity. As LIB takes a turn into the sober, reality-is-setting-in phase of these relationships, the show becomes a kind of slow-motion soap opera disaster — the wedding countdown juxtaposed with new, troubling revelations about the couples (wait, they haven’t had sex yet?) that are peppered in at pivotal moments. Netflix plans to parcel out the episodes (1 through 5 will hit on Feb. 13; 6-9 drop on Feb. 20; and the wedding finale arrives on Feb. 27) to maximize the will-they-won’t-they suspense.

Saying yes to a marriage proposal from someone without ever having seen his or her face is nuts — but to be fair it’s probably no riskier a proposition than, say, The Bachelor, where people get engaged after eight weeks of highly-choreographed courtship featuring helicopters and Fantasy Suites. Still, there is something about Love Is Blind that feels dark, even depressing. Maybe it’s because the couples who make it to the end seem deeply, grimly committed to the idea that if they don’t get married now, they will never have another chance.

All dating shows are built on the universal desire to find a quick fix for the inescapable burden of human isolation — but at least with The Bachelor or Love Island the stakes are pleasingly low. Even if those relationships implode, it just means an Instagram model will suffer temporary embarrassment in exchange for 100,000 new followers. On Love is Blind, even the silly moments are shot through with an undercurrent of sadness. The bachelorette parties are particularly bleak, as two women get messily, distressingly drunk in an effort to avoid their very valid doubts about marrying a stranger.

And yet…I watched every episode. To Netflix’s credit, LIB is an addictive reality show, but it’s also one that will leave you feeling worse than when you started. Call it a guilty displeasure. Grade: C+

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