A ’90s boy band star. A streaming service. LED-lighted personal pods. A deep well of underlying sadness. What do all of these things have in common? “Love Is Blind,” an addictive and slightly dystopian reality show on Netflix.
The series, which is running as a three-week event, with the finale dropping on Feb. 27, is framed as a marriage-focused social experiment. A group of men and a group of women are placed in a living facility, kept in separate quarters and left to speed date over the course of 10 days. They sit in those living room pods in which they can hear each other and speak for hours but not see each other. The ones who make matches get engaged, sight unseen, and finally meet each other face to face. The engaged couples then get shipped off to a romantic vacation in Mexico and then back to Atlanta, where they move in, meet the parents and (ostensibly!) walk down the aisle into a legal marriage just four weeks after meeting.
Hosted ― and we use this word lightly because they appear maybe five times in the first nine episodes ― by Nick Lachey (the former lead singer in 98 Degrees) and his wife, Vanessa, “Love Is Blind” is framed as almost radical, a way to shake up the swipe-heavy, transactional world of dating apps in favor of something more real and true. “Everyone wants to be loved for who they are, not for their looks, their race, their background or their income,” says Vanessa to all of the contestants toward the beginning of the show.
But whether “Love Is Blind” is actually successful at achieving what it purportedly sets out to is... questionable at best. HuffPost reporters Emma Gray and Leigh Blickley discuss.
The Bottom Line
“Love Is Blind” is highly addictive and highly troubling. Enter the pod with caution.
A Netflix Reality
Leigh Blickley: As of late, Netflix has been diving into the lifestyle world with series like “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” “Queer Eye” and “The Great British Baking Show,” among many, many others. But in 2020, it seems the streaming service is truly digging its own path in the reality TV realm with successes like “The Circle” and now “Love Is Blind,” an outlandish and somewhat trashy dating show that has me both very concerned and absolutely entranced. Emma, it’s time to dive into this Lachey-led experiment.
Emma Gray: Leigh, what the hell are Nick and Vanessa Lachey even doing on this show? What purpose do they serve? Just ... WHY? Honestly, although I devoured each offering of “Love Is Blind” in one day, “Why?” is a question I found myself asking a lot. On the one hand, I think that Netflix has been highly successful in its quest to make a name in the world of reality television. All of the Netflix reality shows ― including “Love Is Blind” ― have been highly watchable, and I think that the format of releasing the episodes in batches really works! On the other hand, “Love Is Blind” presents itself as somehow deep and authentic, which makes it sadder and harder to watch than “The Bachelor,” its most obvious network TV counterpart.
One thing that made “The Circle” such a delight was the casting. How do you think that “Love Is Blind” did on that front?
LB: My take on this is if you’re going the whole “love is blind” route, cast people who aren’t conventionally attractive? Each one of the contestants is good looking, and that frustrated me. We also needed more diversity ― body type, race, age. (We saw that with “The Circle,” and it was great!) I wanted to see people fall in love with someone they never would’ve chosen in real life due to societal standards. That’s not to say you want people to “regret” who they propose to; it’s to say that if the whole goal of this experiment is to test the idea of physical versus emotional attraction, then we want to see how deep that concept can go. I needed more of a range of couples to truly appreciate and understand what the show claims it wants to say about love.
EG: Here’s the thing, Leigh: Love isn’t blind. (Also, the meaning of “love is blind,” as written by Shakespeare, is not that love has nothing to do with looks, it’s that love makes you blind to someone’s faults. But I digress.) There is a certain appeal to setting up a dating show, in the long tradition of “The Dating Game,” that forces people to step back and consider someone’s personality and tone and history and ability to hold a conversation outside of the immediate snap judgments that our brains inevitably make when we see someone’s face (or a photo of someone’s face). It’s important to question our ingrained ideas about beauty, desire and attractiveness, and the ways that race and class and sexuality play into that. However, as you stated, “Love Is Blind” doesn’t quite do this, especially because every one of the contestants fits into the mold of conventional attractiveness (thin, gender-conforming, etc.). I also think that it obscures the very real role that physical attraction plays in long-term relationships ― at least at the beginning. You can love someone, love talking to them, and find them fascinating and sensitive and wonderful. But if you don’t want to be physically intimate, that person might just be your friend. I resent the way that “Love Is Blind” treats an inability to bridge that gap as a moral failing on the part of the two women who struggle with it.
LB: Right. Both Jessica and Kelly struggle to be intimate with their partners due to their self-professed “types.” Jessica ― a pretty, blond, 34-year-old tech associate ― just can’t get over the fact that her fiancé, Mark ― a 24-year-old personal trainer of Mexican descent ― is 10 years younger. She also doesn’t like that he’s shorter than most of the men she’s dated. And health coach Kelly, who initially seems head over heels in love with architectural lighting consultant Kenny, doesn’t want to sleep with him until they know for sure that this. is. it. (I, personally, respect her choice, as this experiment is obviously very complicated.) But later on in the season, Kelly admits in her confessional that Kenny doesn’t physically match up with the type of man she goes after ― she likes darker-haired guys ― and she’s struggling to get past that. Maybe they’re just “best friends,” she contemplates.
As you mentioned, though, the phrase “love is blind” is about a whole lot more than looks. “Love is blinding” is the more accurate way to think about it. So what the show fails to present is the truth: You want to emotionally connect with someone and also, hopefully, have sex with them. It’s not about one thing or the other. You need both to sustain a relationship, at least in my mind. You can’t force a romance, or marriage in this case, just because one of those connections is there.
But Emma, how do you feel about the way the show is formatted? Do you think more pod time was necessary to truly showcase these relationships?
EG: Yes, you read my mind. I get that some viewers might find the pod part to be a bit dull ― after all, what they can do visually when people are isolated is limited. But the show was sold in the trailer based on the pods! This is what makes “Love Is Blind” different from, say, “Married at First Sight.” Reading interviews after the show began airing, I learned that the contestants would be in the pods for upwards of 10 hours a day and that there was no time limit on how long they could stay speaking to one person. But in the world of the show, those talks were incredibly truncated and no passage of time except for days was ever indicated. So it felt really extra insane when people were proposing after five days ― especially because what we had seen of their “connections” was mostly limited to platitudes. We only saw a few surface-level mentions of race, and Mark mentions his immigrant parents, but, like “The Bachelor,” “Love Is Blind” mostly skates over religious differences and political differences. It seemed like a real missed opportunity to me! My vote for Season 2 is more pod time ― at least more than one episode.
LB: Great point on religion and politics. As we know from life ― and our time recapping “The Bachelor” on “Here to Make Friends” ― relationships suffer when viewpoints don’t align.
EG: And yet... I binged the hell out of “Love Is Blind.” Why do you think it worked in terms of watchability? Was it enjoyable or just messy and we couldn’t look away?
The Overall Draw
LB: A bit of both? I also watched all nine of the released episodes, and I must say, like Netflix did with “The Circle,” those cliffhanger endings kept me wanting more. Duh! I had to see these couples meet in person! I also had to know how Diamond and Carlton’s volatile fight about his bisexuality would end. That said, I definitely found myself tuning out the segments on couples I didn’t really care about ― Giannina and Damian, Amber and Barnett ― and absorbing scenes with the pairings who spoke more to the conceit of the show ― Lauren and Cameron, Jessica and Mark. And I also root for Kelly and Kenny because their relationship is very sweet.
I found myself extremely annoyed by the petty fighting (“Why don’t you seduce me!”) and enthralled by the deep discussions on how family dynamics might affect their relationships (“My dad is very vocal about keeping the Black family structure strong”). So, I’m a responsible TV viewer. Right, Emma?
EG: Yes! I affirm you! “Love Is Blind” is gripping because it’s so voyeuristic. It taps into the thing that all good dating shows tap into: a base desire for love and partnership, and the wish that those things could be somewhat simple and formulaic. “Love Is Blind” posits that the problem is just that we’re so disconnected from each other, so the solution must be putting people who really, really want love into a very heightened situation where they have only conversation and no outside, screen-based distractions. But, as anyone who has dated knows, love and attraction are messy and complicated, and even if you date seriously and blissfully for a month, and even if you make it to a legal commitment, there are no guarantees.
LB: That touches on an important draw for me, which was that all of these people dated each other! We see another layer of that messy, complicated side with Jessica, who fell for Barnett in the pods, was turned down and went with her second choice, Mark. (She claims he was always her first choice, but we see your agenda, Jessica.) The whole polyamory thing is compelling in that sense. We, as viewers, see Jessica grappling with her feelings for Mark while also contemplating a relationship with Barnett after she sees him in the flesh. Barnett, however, knew Jessica wasn’t his person long before he proposed to Amber.
The fact that these people have to continue to interact as friends after the pods is noteworthy, and I wanted more? The manic, drunken interactions between Jessica and Barnett are peak scared-of-commitment dating life.
EG: So, basically what we’re saying is that “Love Is Blind” is a tonal, pacing, messaging mess, and yet it also has some deeply compelling — if sort of sad — moments. And we haven’t even gotten to the weddings yet! Sigh.
So... Should You Watch It?
LB: Cue 98 Degrees’ “I Do (Cherish You).”
If you like “Love Island,” “Temptation Island,” “90 Day Fiancé,” “Married at First Sight,” “The Bachelor,” etc., etc., etc., what are you waiting for? But time is money. Invest cautiously.
EG: If you’re into dating shows that are gripping but run the risk of leaving you feeling a little empty and icky inside, go for it. (I am one of those people!) Otherwise, maybe skip.
“Love Is Blind” is now streaming on Netflix.