New dating show, then. Come on, we can do this. Come on! I know, I know. There have been a lot of dating shows in the past year. No, yeah, I get it. Always exactly the same. Neon light in the makeup room. Cameras embedded in every part of the beach house. Lingering shots of people scrubbing their face in the shower. Slowed-down acoustic cover of a dance song. A fast-forward drone shot of the sea! Someone who is 19 years old and ready to settle down! A low-depth swimming pool and plentiful facilities to sleep outside! The slow, gnawing feeling of claustrophobia! I know. But the BBC has decided BBC Three has to be a real channel again, and so they need a Love Island-lite dating show, and we have to go through this dance again. I’m just as unhappy about it as you are.
I’ll go through this quickly because I’m tired: Love in the Flesh (Wednesday, 10pm, BBC Three) is the curiously goth-titled new dating format that is just Love Island but not quite as Love Island-y. Love Island has irreparably damaged the TV landscape for years now, and will continue to for about the next five. Post-Love Island, we have the weaponised horniness of Too Hot to Handle, the hoodwinkery of Ready to Mingle, we have a landscape where Love Is Blind is allowed to happen, and I would even argue that the ancient format of Married at First Sight had a Love Island-adjacent uplift. By the year 2032, it’s estimated one in two people in Britain will have worn a beltpack mic and made a to-camera confession that they “fancy one of their fellow islanders”. It is now deeply unlikely you will make it to the grave without going on a dating show invented by a streaming giant and saying “so what are you thinking?” to someone who is squinting in the sun but refuses to get up and find some sunglasses.
Anyway, Love in the Flesh. Five couples who have all spoken on apps or Instagram but have never met up in real life … meet up in real life. There is a beach house, there are bottles of champagne, there are single beds and Zara McDermott is there. You would think this feels like a fairly weak hook: that once the couples actually meet (some have been speaking for three months; some for five years) they establish almost instantly whether they have chemistry or not and then that is that. But that wouldn’t make for a TV show, would it? So instead, they are condemned to share this huge beachside mansion, constantly pulling one another aside for a chat, going on little set-piece picnic dates and having their “relationships” “challenged”.
This is more a failure of format than execution. Fundamentally, there is possibly something almost interesting about seeing two people who have shared extensive back-and-forths and video calls and photographs and late-night chats finally meet to see how it translates – a very long-anticipated first date, if you like. If they did a version of this that was “First Dates, but they’ve already swapped a couple of nudes” then it would kind of work. But because everything needs to be in an anodyne mansion on a sunny island now, the final shape of Love in the Flesh jars against the initial seed of it: it is not very interesting to see these people have or not have chemistry in this environment. Even if they did have chemistry, the sun and the tedium and the constant TV-ness of it would beat it out of them. So essentially you’re just watching 24-year-olds not really talk to one another, in Greece.
There is almost some redemption in here. The casting isn’t quite up to the slick reality TV debutant level of other shows – there are a couple of people here who have Love Island bodies and Love Island faces but inside something about them is rogue, weird, freakish, and seeing them in this setting among other people who are just hoping this gets them 100k Instagram followers and a free gym membership is strange and fraught. McDermott – a Love Island graduate herself – is a refreshingly odd pick as well: none of the contestants are particularly dazzled by her as a famous entity, so she’s able to perch on the edge of the sofa with them, gossip as they gossip, and speak to them more as peers and equals than someone with cue cards issuing instructions from a producer. Still, it’s not very good. Shall we meet here again for the next one in, what, two weeks? Maybe three weeks?