Netflix’s Love Is Blind Is One of the Most Uncomfortable Reality Shows of All Time

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Netflix&#8217;s <i>Love Is Blind</i> Is One of the Most Uncomfortable Reality Shows of All Time

For those that have never watched it, the premise of Netflix’s Love Is Blind can probably be ascertained from the title: Contestants meet one another, chat, flirt, and fall in love all without seeing what their prospective partner looks like. It’s only after they get engaged that they’re actually allowed to see their fiance’s appearance, and the entire second half of the season of the show is dedicated to the ramifications of this structure. “Is love really blind?” asks husband and wife show hosts Nick and Vanessa Lachey, presenters who are barely involved with the process outside of reminding the contestants of the plot description.

That said, despite this “How will EVERYDAY people find happiness in WACKY situations?” setup, Love Is Blind excels in highlighting a kind of reality show misery that blurs together the intentions of itself, its participants, and its genre.

Comparisons to ABC’s long-running The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are inevitable, as those two shows remain the titans of their genre and contain many of the elements that typify it: Careful editing, bombastically inserted musical cues, a general lacquer of artifice, etc. How Love Is Blind diverges from this is in what it decides to include. For the most part, The Bachelor steers clear of any real distress. Its army of wannabe social media influencer candidates are rarely allowed to spiral into any potential public relations disasters. Instead, problems are limited to finger-pointing and accusations of not being there “for the right reasons,” a vague status that only holds weight in a constructed universe where finding a spouse on a reality show is the most important thing in life.

Love Is Blind, on the other hand, steers into the skid. It’s certainly a product of the current streaming service wave of reality shows, shows that can be manufactured cheaply, distributed consistently, and binged quickly to fill up a queue. However, it reeks of a different time, one from around a decade ago; in a Teen Mom and Jersey Shore delirium channels like MTV opted to mine for ultimate drama, where the results were based on meltdowns rather than victorious fission. Engaged and Underage, Friendzone, Catfish—all are discordant rebukes of the kind of corn-fed values of The Bachelor, itself a funhouse mirror of human connection.

As such, Love Is Blind at least appears to have more “reality” than its peers. The happiness between couples, especially after they meet up, seems earned in a way that other “we put two people together under wild circumstances” formats deny their participants. It also prompts a kind of harshness that desecrates the traditions of the prime time dating show. In Season 1, a woman dissatisfied with her physical connection to her partner asks him if he ever wonders why she’s never called him the best she’s ever had in bed. In something like The Bachelor, this would be unthinkable—of course, they’d all be the best she’s ever had. These entrepreneur types are potential fairy tale princes with active Instagram accounts, and anything less than a Sunday sermon approach to evaluating lovemaking would ruin the illusion.

Love Is Blind is rife with these kinds of exchanges (though rarely do they sting as much), ones that lay bare the couple’s insecurities and turn them into cliffhanger episode teases. Of course, concerned communication between two people in a relationship it’s not revolutionary; real life couples talk all the time about their emotional needs, their clashing and intersecting habits, and their, well, “feelings.” In Season 2, one contestant constantly admonishes his partner for not outwardly expressing affection through words, hurt by the way compliments were replaced by aloof teasing.

It’s something that might be very relatable to someone, but it’s not exactly personable. Just like the contestants learning about one another behind the glass, we never see the real people, but rather their anxieties swirling within the reality show scaffolding that Love Is Blind can’t escape. We see the shadowy outline of someone through the curtains, but they never open. As such, any recurring problems that the show does have linger contemptuously.

The contestant who isn’t physically attracted to his partner, the one who made and later apologized for fatphobic comments, is molded into a reality TV villain. There are real issues at work in a show that introduces plus-size women and then whittles its focus down to the most conventionally attractive of them when its title is “love is blind.” These two things coincide and simultaneously bubble openly and under the surface, with Love Is Blind’s gimmick serving to prop them up without question.

Recently, The Bachelor and its related programs have made attempts to ratchet up the drama through genuine unease. This often comes in the form of a man revealing to his heartbroken partner that he made the wrong decision in choosing her and actually loves someone else, but the windswept finale blankets all of this trauma in Hallmark card sentiment. It was all for the best, you see, and look at that! ABC has decided that the dishonored would-be bride will star as The Bachelorette, where she will choose between dozens of well-coiffed men with similarly muscular American values.

Perhaps one day, Love Is Blind will reach that point, evolving in the way that all reality shows seem to. The early seasons of The Real World often felt like a curious Gen X dive into how values conflict when you’re stuck in a house with strangers. Twenty years later, and it manifests in cartoonish roommates being pulled apart in fistfights. Bachelor in Paradise, a spinoff that slots failed contestants of the main two shows together on a tropical beach, seems to speedrun through the concept of the series itself. It’s The Bachelor, if you like fast forwarding between makeout sessions. There’s a very good chance that, five years from now, we’ll be watching Love Is Blind: Seeing Is Believing or whatever, where people that participated in the show “unsuccessfully” now collectively grasp for a second chance but, like, in bathing suits in Cancun.

Until then, Love Is Blind will likely remain confused, addictive television. Its palpability crashes against the rocks of its contrivance, a “reality show” that leaves us wondering how those two words even apply.

Daniel Dockery is Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. You can follow him on Twitter.

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