Television already boasts a crop of (mostly reality) shows about finding love—think The Bachelor, Catfish, and Millionaire Matchmaker. But Dates takes a scripted approach to looking at dating, specifically of the online variety. The series, which hails from the U.K., courtesy of Skins creator Bryan Elsley, tackles one couple per episode who are embarking on their first date after meeting on a dating site.
Let’s just start with the intro, which feels like it’d be playing before an abduction on the streets of London, where Dates is set. Or it’d be a lead-in to a Dateline special about a woman who was killed after going on a date with someone she met on Craigslist. The opener gives off an eerie vibe, but the lyrics to Hannah Peel’s “Chloe” talk about walking through life as strangers and never really getting to know one another. But once you get passed the creepy intro, that’s what Dates dives into: the difficulties that come with getting to know another person.
The series begins with the expected struggles that occur when two people connect online before meeting in real life—lying about one’s name, age, job, etc.—before exposing the person across the table as just that, a real person. The singles quickly jump beyond a mutual love of running or the Rolling Stones and learn about one another’s fears, family drama, and the emotional baggage one acquires while living life. These scenes showing human vulnerability are as painfully awkward to watch as when two strangers dance around the check or one goes in for an unwelcomed kiss.
In the first half hour, we meet Mia/Celeste (Oona Chaplin) who isn’t sure she even wants to go on a date with David (Will Mellor), since he’s wearing a tie with jeans. So she lies about who she is, but isn’t happy when David dismisses her in favor of dining alone and flirting with the 19-year-old waitress. Mia’s first impression is that of an overly confident woman who’s used to getting her way and thinks she has something to teach men. But then the two get to talking, and when David admits he’s a widowed father of four, Mia breaks down and bails. It’s uncomfortable yet refreshing to see the true messiness of a first date play out, since it is universally relatable. Everyone has depth and a story to tell, we all just go about showing it differently.
The second set of daters, Jenny (Sheridan Smith) and Nick (Neil Maskell), dive deep into talk of their exes, Jenny having been engaged and David a divorcee. This situation begs the question: Can a relationship flourish if one, or both, people in it have an ex on the brain? Or is it best to be open about one’s romantic past before embarking on a new relationship?
The first two episodes touch on many other conundrums faced by all daters, regardless of how they met, like when to bring up the fact that you’ve been engaged/married/have children, how to politely take a call during dinner, and how to properly compliment your date. “I just can’t stand all that forced modesty crap,” David says to Jenny. “Tell a woman she’s beautiful, she says she’s fat. You say ‘You got nice legs,’ she says, ‘They’re tree trunks.’”
Dates is dark, but real. Going into a first date, we all expect the worst while hoping for the best. Whether your date is exploring his or her sexuality, has a case of kleptomania, or works in a not-so-glamorous profession, the drama proves it’s how the daters react to the things they don’t love about their potential significant other that’ll define their futures together. The series more so focuses on individuals and how they interact with each other, rather than a magical night in the Fantasy Suite or winning a Master Date.
Each single woman or man has a different motive for trying online dating, which slowly unfolds throughout the date, and while each episode is intended to stand on its own, some of the characters will seemingly play small roles in the other’s lives, just like a Garry Marshall film. And based on the titles of future episodes, the season also features some of the characters we’ve already met. After all, first dates are rarely a success.
What did you think of our first date with Dates? Will you be returning for a second?
Dates airs at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.