Just when you thought reality TV had delved into all the foibles of human behaviour, Channel 4 came up with this… or rather imported it from Denmark, via the US and Australia.
'Married at First Sight' has been heralded by Channel 4 as a unique social experiment to see if technology, expert psychology, genetic mapping, a token priest and a whopping great TV camera could succeed where all other mating methods had failed - and put a happy couple instantly together… FOR LIFE, with a marriage certificate to prove it, after meeting for the first time at their own wedding.
A jaw-dropping 1,500 applied to take part in the show, and what was striking at first was just how normal all the successful six candidates were. Twitter collectively squealed in disbelief at this – “Who’s that desperate??!!” – but it made sense with the statistics quoted, more than 15 million adults living as singles in the UK, dating websites more popular than ever, but 42% of marriages ending in divorce. We’re still hungry for romance, it seems, just not so good at making it stick.
In the blurb for the show, filmmakers kept trumpeting the need for this kind of experiment, in a nation where latest stats claim 42% of marriages end in divorce. And, yes, we know that certain nations see this kind of set-up as completely the norm, with happy long marriages and big family outcomes to show for it.
And, as the programme followed the rituals of preparing for a wedding - shedding pretty tears over the dress, admitting to nerves - you could be forgiven for thinking this was all the usual harmless stuff of which reality TV is increasingly made.
But, as the show went on, the lie became more and more disturbing. Certainly, a study of contemporary courtship and marriage is warranted, but it is precisely because of this type of sensationalist 'factual' entertainment that such aspects of our culture have been diluted in their significance, and marriage just one more thing that has become disposable… replace-don’t-repair… #next.
Why would anyone watching think a wedding filmed for TV is anything more than an excuse for a big party, a big kiss, a big selfie and a big promise that nobody actually has to keep, right? It's only telly, after all.
We will wait to see in two more episodes whether any of the couples make it through… a whole TV series, that is, not the winding path of life. Marriage is more important than three jolly capers through these quasi-couples' knicker-drawers can ever make it. Channel 4 can't have it both ways. Make a show like this by all means, but don't call it a unique social experiment, just serve it up with Honey Boo Boo and the rest, claim the ratings, the advertising revenue and be done.
'Married At First Sight' continues next week. Episode 1 is available on 4onDemand.