Love is Blind, Netflix’s new dating series, is a gorgeous Frankenstein of a reality show assembled from two decades of romance reality shows: the competition and love triangles of The Bachelor and Bachelorette; the fantasy and isolation of Temptation Island; 90 Day Fiance’s struggles to make a relationship work; Married at First Sight’s marriages to strangers, though with weddings at the end instead of the beginning. And all of this is grounded in The Circle and the connections people created without knowing who, exactly, they’re talking to.
This makes Love is Blind the zenith of relationship reality television, especially in the way it ends up as cautionary tale about these kinds of shows. When relationships form in “pods” inside a place called the “facility,” it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that the 10 episodes become more like a thriller that tips into horror. By the end, at least one person will be running through the woods in full wedding attire, slipping in the mud, screaming and crying.
I’m not sure Love is Blind intends to expose the absurdity of marriage-focused reality TV—and the damage that expectations, patriarchal traditions, and relationship tropes can do to people and their attempts to connect. Perhaps Netflix viewers will be charmed at the moments where I was truly horrified. But I am sure that Love is Blind is honest about the challenges of relationships, especially those formed on reality television shows.
The show starts as The Circle meets The Bachelor mansion: two separate spaces house men and women, and they go on opposite-sex dates by meeting in small pods, where they talk through a wall.
At first, there are too many people to keep track of, but the focus quickly narrows to a few people and couples. It’s fun to watch how quickly some of them connect, and how quickly others don’t. Some flirt through the wall, others go off into intellectual and emotional territory. The editing cleverly cuts between all these interactions, and their time in the house with their new same-sex friends.
The pod conversations lead to some genuine connection, and also to some interesting dynamics: individuals fall for several people, and there’s some mild competition and jealously that starts to develop and pays off over the course of the season.
The show and the single people talk about dating while being free of perceptions and physical attraction, but let us be honest: they are all extremely, conventionally attractive. Looking around at the other men or women, I can’t imagine any of them are worried about talking to someone who’s ugly.
The couples that emerge from the pods include one with a 10-year age difference, and one interracial couple. But there’s still stereotyping and generalizing that occurs through the wall. (One man insists that the woman he’s talking to sounds black, for example.)
This initial interaction is a joy to watch and so strong that I found myself resenting the inevitable, which begins to arrive at the end of the first episode: they’re suppose to leave the pods as engaged couples, so they can get married in less than a month.
Why? Why must we rush this? Why must yet another TV show pretend that it makes sense to marry someone you’ve known for days?
Of course, this is appealing: the popularity of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, 90 Day Fiance, Love After Lockup, and Married at First Sight doesn’t wane in the face of repeated evidence of their failures to produce lasting relationships. (Love is Blind is an original format that comes from Kinetic Content, the producers of Married at First Sight.)
Adding the weight of impending engagements and actual, legal marriages makes for more pressure and stress and entertaining television—the stakes can’t be higher on a relationship show—but by the time people start proposing, about 50 minutes in to the first episode, it just feels silly.
The show almost lost me when the new couples start talking about their lifelong devotion to each other, even though they’ve just been talking through a wall for a couple days. I don’t doubt that this is genuine, especially since they have nothing to do all day but date in this weird way, but that doesn’t make it any less absurd.
Still, Love is Blind races ahead, and by the end of the first episode, people are professing their love and proposing. And that’s when it becomes more of a horror movie—one I was glad I didn’t stop watching.
Love is Blind sends couples from pods to the altar
These early relationships have been on screen for so little time that when, upon meeting for the first time a few days into this experiment, one person said to another, “I’m never going to let you go” and “I’m going to take care of you,” it’s both laughable and frightening.
Even The Bachelor/ette earn the relationships by developing them over time; Love is Blind races forward, because we have a vacation to go on, and apartments to move into, and parents to meet, and dresses to buy.
“If we get married, then, you know, that’s it for me,” one person says. “Me too,” says the other person, and the first person replies: “We have to make it work.”
Well, actually, you don’t, you lovable ding-dongs, because this is completely nuts. The show finds these kinds of moments to be romantic—judging by the smartly chosen music cues and the way it marinates in the moment—but I just laughed. (To see if I’m an aberration here in finding these kinds of flash romances to be, well, romantic, I did an unscientific poll.)
While Love is Blind barrels ahead, its participants do often acknowledge the absurdity—even if that evidence and skepticism is no match for the gravitational pull of their desires to be engaged and married.
“It’s only been five days! Oh my god I’ve had meals in my refrigerator for longer than that—that’s crazy,” one woman says. She adds, “It’s just scary. It’s just frightening.” Yes, yes it is.
It’s a shame that engagements and marriages are the checkpoints instead of just, you know, dating. I would have been all in on that show, too, just watching people meet in pods and then explore their connection in real life.
I was so over this that by episode three I started fast-forwarding through the engagements and first meetings because it was so grating and silly to watch so much performative heterosexuality. There’s an alleged romantic gesture at the end of episode two that, if someone attempted to give that to me, I would have snuck out of the pod and run away.
When Love is Blind leaves the pods, it abandons some of the cast, and we end up following just six couples. We’re with them at a resort in Mexico, and then back home in Atlanta, where everyone lives, though they move into neutral apartments that are all in the same building so the couples can interact and/or introduce problems into each other’s lives. Eventually, they visit each other’s real homes, meet parents, and shop for wedding attire.
Throughout all this, the show shifts from romantic moments to far more unsettling interactions. The woman in the most dysfunctional relationship puts on a wedding dress and declares that her doubts have evaporated. Other couples fight, mostly verbally. And there are a lot of highly unnerving things people say to each other:
- “I want her to have my babies—our babies”
- “No guy is that emotionally available”
- “You said yes!”
- “I can’t lose a love like this”
- “Why can’t you just seduce me?”
- “Put on the dress I laid out for you”
- “She needs a rock, she needs a crutch, and I can be that for her”
It’s in these moments—and in Love is Blind’s frequently shocking revelations about individuals or a couple’s relationship—that the show becomes most instructive, highlighting how people’s insecurities, fears, and expectations create problem after problem.
Even though shows like Dating Around and First Dates have expanded the dating pool beyond straight white people in their 20s and 30s, Love is Blind is very conventional: straight people, women waiting for the men to propose to them. Everyone just accepts the narrative they’ve been spoon-fed since birth, like that there’s a “perfect person” waiting for them. I struggled to keep the bile down when some of the men talk about who’d make a “good wife.”
A few of the participants wander outside the lines. There is one man, Carlton, who has been in relationships with both men and women—he doesn’t give himself a label—but the way he talks about accepting himself doesn’t align with the way he acts, and he reveals that he is participating in this experiment for the most blunt of stereotypical reasons: because he wants a wife, since women are more nurturing then men. Then he decides to not say anything about his sexuality for fear of being rejected, which he internalizes and then becomes disturbingly possessive.
Love is Blind mostly avoids sensationalizing its most sensational moments. The finale does gather everyone together for weddings, which is where couples decide if they actually want to get married—during the actual wedding ceremony, in front of an officiant, which is usually the best time to decide if you want to marry someone.
That finale, “The Weddings,” won’t arrive until Feb. 27. Netflix is trickling out this series like it did with The Circle’s staggered release schedule: Thursday, the first five episodes come out, covering the pods and the vacation; then, on Feb. 20, the next four, which follow their lives in Atlanta; followed the next week by the finale.
I’ve seen all 10 episodes, and it’s mostly a propulsive watch, though it drags in a few places, and pads its finale with unnecessary recaps, just like The Circle did.
Everything is filmed beautifully, from the way the camera skims across the tops of the pods as people chat to interviews at the couples’ retreat at a resort in Mexico, where participants talk to the camera in the natural environment (in bed, or on the back of a boat). The cameras are sometimes right there, in the bedroom with a couple, while other times it’s shot from a distance, with objects in the foreground blurring and covering some of the frame.
Nick and Vanessa Lachey are technically the hosts, but they are mostly absent, and when they do show up, it’s just to throw out some romance clichés and then disappear. (They’re not even in the finale.) Also absent is any sense of producers’ heavy hand: it’s produced, of course, but it feels more like we’re peeking through windows rather than watching The Bachelor’s puppet show.
As ludicrous as I found their initial engagements to be, Love Is Blind’s couples surprised me over the course of 10 episodes: with the genuine connections that some of them built; the way some of them purposefully jumped on landmines and blew their own relationship up; and with what they ultimately decided to do. The show doesn’t prove the claim in its title, but it does provide bountiful evidence that love, on reality TV and in life, can’t thrive when it’s buried under expectations from society or a television show.