The Undateables

On the surface, this seemed like another thinly veiled Channel 4 point-and-gawp freak show.

But instead of a body horror celebration with a ridiculous title that would make it sound like a lesser known Stieg Larsson book (The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off, anyone?), the trailers for this one painted an image of a show that was going to be more about watching a group of telly defined misfits falling flat on their collective faces trying to find love.

As you can no doubt imagine, I had my fingernails sharpened and my typing fingers ready to carve it to shreds.

But what I actually got was a sense of pleasant surprise. And what we all got was an hour of heart-warming television about what we all like to watch best – people. For me, anyway, the best television programmes have human stories at their heart and this was what this was about. It wasn’t about endurance or overcoming adversity;  it was a little peek into the lives of people that aren’t usually on our televisions and was all the more refreshing for it.

This week, we witnessed three individuals looking for love through Searchmate, a dating agency with a 70% success rate. Searchmate are actively seeking members with disabilities or those that have found it hard to date in the past.

Tonight, we met Richard, Luke and Penny. Richard has Aspergers syndrome, Luke has Tourettes Syndrome and Penny has a condition causing restricted growth and fragile bones. However, the programme didn’t linger over their disabilities for long, so neither will I. What it did do though, was portray their stories of dating, and for the men at least, how their condition affected those dates.

At first, Richard found it hard to be flexible about the kind of woman that he would like to meet, but there was a satisfying arc to his story in that he did learn to be more flexible if it meant more dates. Luke struggled to control his verbal tics but found his date very understanding, even of his Muse tattoo and Penny didn’t like her date much but learned that she could go on one, and seemed satisfied with that.

There were a few uncomfortable moments, however. Richard’s first date with his female mirror image fell completely flat for both of them, ending with him eating her chips and her running out of the door. Richard’s ‘Practice date’ with his mother was necessary but straight out of Psycho.

The section where Luke’s date was 40 minutes late as he got increasingly agitated was some of the most uncomfortable viewing I have ever encountered this side of The Apprentice boardroom and Penny’s obvious distain for her date was so palpable she may as well have been wearing a t-shirt with “Piss off” on it.

It wasn’t much fun for him, but it made for amazing television.

What was refreshing about the Undateables was even though it was advertised as a show about people with disabilities going on dates; it was a show about people going on dates.

Dating programmes have been a staple of our nation’s viewing since Blind Date hit our screens in 1985, and for good reason: it’s nice to see people get together. Even on Take Me Out.

The Undateables reminded us that it’s always nice to see someone begin their journey, however tentative that may be.

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The Undateables is on Channel 4, Tuesdays at 9pm. You can catch up on 4od here

Follow Helen on Twitter: @MissHC80

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About Helen Cairns
Trashy, Lazy, Scottish, Likely to be found dead under a pile of books and/or caramel Kit Kat wrappers. Good stuff - Moody music, crap telly, books that could never be described as literature, celebrity obsession.

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