Is Dinner Date perfect teatime telly?

Could ITV's early evening show, in which strangers cook each other meals in the hope of winning a date, steal Come Dine With Me's crown?

Teatime telly doesn't usually offer much in the way of excitement. It's a weird mish-mash of inane quiz shows, programmes that steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the existence of the housing crisis and, on Channel 4, the billionth series of Come Dine With Me. However, there is one glowing beacon of hope tucked away in the schedules, and that's ITV's Dinner Date.

Over the course of its second series, Dinner Date has slowly captured my heart. On paper there isn't much separating it from Coach Trip, or Four In A Bed, or any of the other CDWM copyists that have sprung up all over the place recently. On paper it's just another sarcastically-narrated show about strangers being flung together in an unnatural situation. On paper it should be terrible. But it isn't. I've found myself watching Dinner Date as often as possible. If I can't watch the original transmission, I'll try to catch the weekend repeats. To my eternal shame, I've even watched episodes online.

The format isn't even particularly ingenious. A contestant visits the homes of three potential romantic interests and judges them on their ability to cook and not be too distressingly weird over the course of a single evening. If there's a spark of chemistry, they go on a date. If there isn't, they eat a lonely microwave meal for one from a tray perched on their lap. That's all there is to it – but somehow it works brilliantly.

Perhaps it's the dating aspect that pushes Dinner Date above the competition. It automatically gives the show an element of viewer interaction that its early evening rivals don't have – you invariably find yourself wailing, "Not number three! Her eyes are too far apart!" or "Don't pick number two! He looks like he keeps clumps of his mother's hair in his pockets!" at the screen. Even better, the contestants don't have a studio audience to hide behind here, so most dates end up being a perfectly realised exercise in sustained awkwardness. It's just two people in a room judging each other, often in silence, until one of them can breathlessly grasp upon an opportunity to escape in a taxi.

This happens a lot, because Dinner Date does a nice sideline in low-key oddballs. There was the man who couldn't stop sweating or repeating his date's name to himself. The chap who enjoyed rollerskating in the most unpleasantly revealing bicycle shorts known to man. The guy who thought of himself as a happy-go-lucky, mad person – but was described by his dates as crashingly dull. It's not a perfect show by any means – the voiceover hasn't settled on a consistent tone, for instance – but in terms of making you want to peel your own skin off, there isn't much that can touch it.

Dinner Date fulfills the needs of teatime telly perfectly. It isn't quite as swish as primetime but, since it isn't about an old lady selling things out of her loft, it's got slightly more heft than most daytime fare. It's not too clever, but it's not too stupid. And, more than anything, it feels inclusive. Everyone can take something from it, even if it's just the realisation that dating is terrifying and you're probably better off dying alone.

So does dinner date have you running home from work early? Maybe you still cling to Deal Or No Deal or Escape To The Country for your teatime kicks or still dream of the Come Dine With Me glory days. Leave your thoughts below.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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