As the original and most successful dating show, it’s impossible to launch a new iteration of the matchmaker format without garnering comparisons to The Bachelor franchise. Of course, many others have left their mark on our culture throughout the years (Temptation Island, Rock of Love, Dating Naked), but the producers of The Bachelor have been able to keep theirs going the longest because they’re really good at what they do. They know that you need characters you’re invested in, which is why they pick leads who have appeared on seasons past. They know they need to control the environment in which their cast exists, and push people emotionally to heighten the drama. They know they need to edit their hours of footage to make it look a lot more interesting than it actually is.
The Bachelor and Bachelorette are deeply structured shows, ones that have shifted only slightly over their many seasons. You’d think because of that, updates on that structure—like the ones attempted by FOX’s Coupled, which premiered on Tuesday night—would feel fresh. Instead, Coupled ends up feeling even more hackneyed, working with a patchwork of techniques from different shows that have come before it, its audience unaccustomed to them the way they are with The Bachelor’s tropes. Coupled (executive produced by Survivor and Shark Tank’s Mark Burnett) has been marketed as show for the modern women, one that puts the power in their hands as to whom they want to date. Twelve women enjoy the “Caribbean Islands,” as men are individually helicoptered in (to much excitement, alá Bachelor in Paradise) for them to meet. They each have a brief meeting with the man in question, and then, out of his eyesight, choose whether to walk left (a rejection) or right, to meet him at a tiki bar where they can continue to chat with him. (Get it, it’s like Tinder.) Here’s a brief exchange two individuals had during one of these meetings:
Man Alex: Says he performs “hip hop, reggae, alternative” music.
Woman Alex: “All my social media stuff is “alexrapz” with a z, because I’m like, obsessed with rap.”
Once at the bar, the man in question will see who’s decided they want to talk to him more, and from those women, he’ll pick two to stay at a “villa” with. After some time at the villa, he’ll decide who he wants to keep dating, as the other women he’s rejected or who didn’t choose him wait back at their “bungalows” for new men to ‘copter in. “Y’all know how relationships go: power can shift quickly,” host Terrence J says.
Well, we also know how reality TV goes: attention does shift quickly. It’s unclear how Coupled is going to shake out when it comes to certain relationships and characters; at the end of Episode 1, Alex had picked a woman to keep dating, and we’d been introduced to Imani, a black man who said of one woman (wearing white), “All that white on, like a tall glass of milk. Should put a little chocolate in there.” (The cast is definitely a more casually diverse group of hotties than we’re normally used to seeing.)
But in an attempt to make their fake dating scenario more realistic to current dating norms, Coupled has also awkwardly brought texting into the drama, albeit in the fakest way possible. (“The women and men are armed with cell phones throughout the series, giving the audience a front row seat to the real drama, as their text conversations pop up on screen,” a press release reads.)
The first episode of basically any show is typically a little lackluster; once the season progresses, it may become more interesting, though any truly interesting drama was barely hinted at during the season preview (one girl cries, another says a variation of the classic line “I’m not here to make friends”). But generally, Coupled seems far too staid to be a good dating show, which is just to say that its producers don’t seem ruthless enough to make it a true competitor in the very one-sided battle of love-based reality TV shows. And this is one relationship that already has a bad omen; the season premiere had very weak ratings. In this way, Coupled accidentally learned the message it was trying to depict for relationships: the reality TV world is hard—and the winners will be ruthless.
Images via FOX.