Cinematic shots of Paris, the phrase “sexist singles,” a hot air balloon date, a hot tub, men threatening each other, tears: Yes, the Freeform dating reality show Love Trip: Paris has all of the legally required elements of a dating reality TV show.
On first glance, it seems like Emily in Paris meets The Bachelor, perhaps. But Love Trip: Paris is far more subversive than its description suggests: “four American girls, unlucky in love in their own country, move into a penthouse in the middle of Paris to find a floor of French suitors waiting to date them.”
Okay, “subversive” may be going too far. Love Trip: Paris (Freeform, Tuesdays at 9) is still a dating reality TV show, where people live in a fantasy bubble and fall for each other quickly.
But it is a dating reality show that actually seems to reflect the inner lives of its 20-something cast members, instead of the antiquated ideas about dating and romance projected onto them by old Hollywood.
Twenty-one years after The Bachelor’s premiere, most shows still just remix its format: a man, a gaggle of women fighting for him, an engagement. They’re mired in ancient gender roles; even The Bachelorette, which gives a woman control over her own journey, remains regressive by taking that control from her in the end, when she doesn’t get to choose who to propose to. The men do that, because it’s impossible for the show’s producers to imagine a world in which women have agency in their relationships.
Attempts to stray from this format to be inclusive or progressive tend to be even worse, starting with the first gay dating show, Bravo’s Boy Meets Boy, which had a bunch of straight men pretending to be gay for the LOLs, all the way to Netflix’s hit Love is Blind, which pretends to be enlightened but is ultimately shallow.
The core of Love Trip: Paris is still very much the swirling molten lava of modern reality TV dating shows: cocktail parties, group events, one-on-one dates, suitors getting sent home and new ones arriving.
People fall for each other absurdly fast; there is petty drama over perceived slights. As narrator Matt Rogers—this Matt Rogers, not the American Idol one—says in the first few minutes, “The locations are foreign, but it’s the same old drama.”
It is decidedly not the same old show, though, and captivated me in a way I did not expect.
The four women of Love Trip: Paris live together in a luxurious Parisian apartment building. Eight suitors also live in the building, and are periodically replaced by the women who don’t see any possibility with them. It’s not clear where all this is headed—proposals?—but for now, they’re just flirting and dating.
While the cocktail party interactions are fleeting, the early one-on-one dates are reminiscent of those on the fantastic Dating Around, with some full conversations.
All of the cast have phones, and are able to text each other afterwords, just like they’d do in real life. (Showrunner Susan House told me in an interview that the production had an app built for the show, so what we’re seeing on-screen is not made-for-TV, and allows for more true-to-life interaction.)
After they all hang out, the four women can regroup, sitting on the floor of their apartment, drinking wine, and chatting about their options. So, too, can the group of suitors.
Hearing them process their options with each other, instead of with a host or just in confessional interviews with a producer, is a welcome change, as is their ability to text each other.
The women’s conversations aren’t superficial, either. They chat about who they’re interested in, and who they might let go. They identify green flags, like a suitor who’s in therapy.
One of the women, Caroline, says, “My therapist has done a fantastic job on me, like, no cap. She reads me for filth every week, and I live for it.” Another of the show’s stars, Lacey, says, “I’m kind of addicted to growth.”
Wait: reality TV stars who’ve been in therapy rather than going on a reality TV show instead of therapy? And who think it’s healthy for potential love interests to also be in therapy? It’s quite remarkable.
“They’re not trying to fit in this typical female protagonist box that we have seen in other dating shows,” Susan House told me. “Maybe in other shows, as a woman, sometimes you’re sweeping your neuroses under the rug, or you’re pretending that’s [something] you’re trying to get past. These girls are like: This is my issue, and I’m working on it. I’m talking to my therapist, I gotta do this. That’s what’s great about this generation: They just own their feelings. They own their issues. They’re happy to talk it through.”
A queer dating show that doesn’t need to announce it
That’s not all that separates Love Trip: Paris from its predecessors: it’s as close to a queer dating show as we’ve come since MTV’s Are You The One: Come One, Come All, yet it never announces itself as that, and it’s neither as competitive nor as horny as that MTV show.
How the four stars and the suitors identify is not treated as some kind of grand announcement, nor is there any surprise nor shock from anyone on screen.
It’s just another piece of information, another aspect of their personality, when Rose says she’s looking for a husband; or Caroline says she’s “genderqueer, genderfluid, but I’m ready to find a woman”; or Josielyn describes herself as a “post-op trans woman”; or Lacey reveals she’s “very open” and “sexually fluid.”
The group of suitors are a mix of men and women, a straight man here, a “100 percent lesbian” there. One man talks about how his previous girlfriend was trans. Another wants an open relationship.
All of this diversity makes for far more interesting dating scenarios, and thus entertainment. Reality TV drama ahead!
By comparison, the expository lectures about sex and gender on CBS’s Survivor seem like someone desperately trying to explain an iPhone’s Face ID to their dying great-grandmother. It’s refreshing to just have people be themselves, rather than having it explained to us.
I’m certainly not arguing for sexuality to be tucked away and hidden from people that it scares, which is happening across the United States right now, with fascist politicians trying to erase LGBTQ+ people and a coordinated “sweeping and ferocious attack” against trans people.
Love Trip: Paris certainly does not hide anything, and gender identity even becomes a key part of an early argument.
But the Freeform show also doesn’t treat sexuality and gender identity like a magical new unicorn that’s just appeared and has to be explained to everyone watching. The people living this fantasy—and, presumably, those who will be watching it—already get it.
If you want a sense of how unbothered Gen Z is by the looseness of sexuality and gender identity, even while craving the same kind of connection that many of us do, Love Trip: Paris is an excellent text.
Unburdened by the tiresome anxiety about gender roles that infects other dating shows, it’s free to let its cast live their fantasy dating lives in Paris, hooking up or flipping out, crying or kissing. Whether the four women find true love or just build their Instagram followers, I’m glad to be on the journey with them.
Love Trip: Paris
A dating reality show I’ve seen that actually seems to reflect the inner lives of its 20-something cast members, instead of the antiquated ideas about dating. A–
What works for me:
- A dating show that’s a fantasy while still reflecting reality
- The casual, between-dates interaction between the well-cast women and suitors
- The cinematography
What could be better:
- More casual interaction between the women and their suitors, rather than just produced events and dates
- A better sense of the endgame: Is this just about dating, or will there be some kind of forced decision?