TV Viewpoint: First Dates Ireland and Soulmates

Love was all around in The Gibson Hotel while people found their soulmates to mixed results on Amazon Prime

FIRST Dates Ireland returned last Thursday evening on RTE Two, just in time to get loved up couples and single hopefuls alike in the mood for Valentine’s Day. Even with the mask wearing and oversized tables-for-two ensuring a two-metre distance between the courting couples, it was largely business as usual in the First Dates restaurant at Dublin’s Gibson Hotel.

There was a good variety of potential couples to root for, including Tracy and Rob, two well-matched tea lovers in their twenties who bonded over music, and Tim and Rory, who didn’t feel that all-important spark, but decided to become friends.

But the couple that stole the hearts of the nation had to be Shane and Avril, two 35-year-olds intent on finding love. Shane arrived with the support of his sister, who gave him a pep talk to assure him that now was the time to dip his toe into the dating world again, for the first time in over a decade.

First Dates Ireland – Tracy and Rob

Fourteen years ago he suffered a brain injury after a fall and had to embark on a long journey towards adapting to walking, talking and functioning in the assault-course that is society again. Avril is a single mother keen for romantic companionship, and the pair seemed to hit it off straight away.

Two kindred spirits, they both listened to each other, offered understanding words and encouragement to each other, and were unanimous in their decision to see each other again. At the end of the programme it was revealed that they are still together, a success story to bring a tear to anyone’s eye.

But perhaps what was most interesting about this series of First Dates is the fly-on-the-wall insight into how a restaurant can be safely run during a pandemic. Apart from the dating couples there are background diners to add a bit of colour to the space, all, we are assured, couples, families or housemates dining within their own bubbles.

The bar and serving staff wear masks, as do the diners and daters, until they’re seated. Nervousness, excitement or a few drinks can fluster or can incite carelessness, but in a controlled environment with staff to gently monitor behaviour, the environment seems largely to be a safe space.

The closest quarters were between punters propped up at the bar and the barman, but it’s possible that masks were allowed to be removed because they weren’t exceeding the 15-minute time window. The barman, it has to be said, kept his on at all times.

In these uncertain times it was nice to see socialising going on, connections being made, and friendships forged. Hope is the thing with feathers; maybe Cupid’s wings will fly him in the direction of more expectant couples in next week’s instalment.

Soulmates is the new Black Mirror-esque TV show that you’ll see quite a bit about online and in papers, but you might not actually be able to track down. Even if you subscribe to Amazon Prime, the streaming service it’s airing on.

Amazon Prime is notorious for not doing itself any favours in competing with Netflix. New movies and television shows either made directly for the streaming service, or bought by it for exclusive streaming rights in Europe, are given next to no promotion.

Soulmates, now on Amazon Prime in Ireland and The UK

Anyway, Soulmates arrived with Amazon’s typical lack of fanfare last week, 6 standalone episodes under the same umbrella premise. It’s 15 years from now and the “soulmate gene” has been discovered and isolated (or something; the science is skirted over rapidly).

In episode one a wife grapples with taking the test to discover who her soulmate may be; episode two deals with revenge and four is a comedic caper. Like in a creative writing class when everyone is given the same prompt, each story turns out to be a different genre, adopting varying tones.

Some approaches are more successful than others; the noir-ish second episode ran out of steam at the end, and although episode 5 was sweet and wholesome, despite taking place within a death cult, it didn’t quite work overall.

It’s already been commissioned for a second season, so it will be interesting to see how far the concept can be pushed.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 17 02 21

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