Kicking off Channel 4’s Mating Season (‘a series of programmes on modern dating in the 21st century’) is Dates, a series of nine one-off dramas, each episode of which will see two singletons moving a step further on their quest for love.
Tonight’s opening episode, ‘David and Mia’, began with David (Will Mellor) sitting alone at a table in a restaurant, suspecting that he had been stood up by Celeste, the woman he met on a dating website. However, it transpires that Celeste (Oona Chaplin) saw David in the flesh and decided against proceeding with the date. She soon changes her mind, though, when she leaves the restaurant but spots David flirting with a waitress, prompting her to storm back in and reprimand him. Her jealousy having been exposed, she decides to sit and talk with her date and over the course of the dinner, we discover that Celeste’s real name is Mia and David, a trucker from Yorkshire, is a widower, having married his childhood sweetheart, to whom he has four children.
Sadly, despite a kiss, the evening ends badly with Mia driving off in a taxi and leaving David maddened in the street.
In the words of Lysander, the course of true love never did run smooth.
I thought Dates was brilliant – it may have been a slow burner but the pace allowed us to gauge the time that it took for David and Mia’s exchange to finally become amicable, and perhaps even tinged with fondness.
The two-hander style of the episode, and the series as a whole, works very well as it means that we focus only on these two characters and understand their history and emotions more. Even when a third person comes in (such as the waitress or a friend on the phone) they act as foils for the protagonists’ chemistry – or lack of, as was often the case with David and Mia.
It was interesting to watch these two characters’ attitudes change as their date progressed. At the beginning of the episode we met two characters who were conceited and both had palpable reservations about the date but gradually became more humble – before reverting to being conceited again.
The juxtaposition of David and Mia is what made Dates particularly enjoyable. While he was just a nervous first-timer, she was a jealous and arrogant regular on the dating scene. Also, the readiness with which they revealed information about themselves provided a contrast between them both: David managed to find it in himself to divulge his marriage to his late, and clearly missed, wife but we discovered very little about Mia, therefore making her very difficult to warm to as the only evident character traits were her aforementioned jealousy and arrogance. This may change, however, when she returns with a new date in Wednesday’s episode.
There was a fragility to David – his nerves about returning to dating, and using a relatively new method, were obvious and made him endearing and sympathetic. Mia on the other hand seldom seemed anything other than bitter and dismissive of others’ feelings, giving her an air of unpleasantness.
The clashing of David and Mia’s personalities made it somewhat inevitable that their time together would end badly and I have to say that I admire Bryan Elsley for not following the conventions of romantic drama and allowing the two central characters to ‘live happily ever after’, as it were. Audiences are used to relationships in love stories being tumultuous initially, but working out rather well in the end. Elsley wisely doesn’t do this – firstly because it would be unauthentic but also because it would make for quite a boring series. Imagine sitting down for the next few weeks and watching previously feuding couples becoming all loved-up just before the credits roll. It would be sickening, wouldn’t it? Of course, we expect some of the dates to go well but we wouldn’t want to watch one night after night, would we?
I cannot wait to watch the rest of Dates. Bryan Elsley’s decision to have episodes feature new and familiar characters on their various dates is excellent and one which will provide a great deal of both happiness and sadness over the coming weeks.
Dates will be on over the next few weeks at 10:00pm on Channel 4
What did you think of Dates? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer.
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