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Reviews: Queer dating shows

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A rapid decline in quality queer content leaves us with car-crash TV like these two stunners. Reviews by Sean Cook 

There has been a dearth of new TV shows featuring queer characters lately (more on that in my article Back Into The Closet) so I’ve been forced to go car-crash tv for this review. I didn’t really know what to expect when diving into I Kissed a Boy and The Ultimatum – Queer Love. If anyone remembers Blind Date from the ‘90s (or the briefly revamped version in 2018)… these are NOT that! 

Hosted by Danni Minogue, I Kissed a Boy is Britain’s first-ever gay dating show (hard to believe in 2023) and out of the two shows is the most car-crash-lite.  

A bunch of 20/30-something gay guys head to a maceria in Italy where, after being paired up, must first lock lips, then get to know each other. A few others are then periodically thrown into the mix, tempting the couples out of their coupledom. Then at a ‘kiss-off’, the guys must decide whether they are going to stay with their original partners or couple up with someone else.  

In between the kiss-offs, the guys lounge around by the pool, drink, chat and generally have a jolly time. Danni shows up occasionally looking fabulous… and who doesn’t love Danni?! There’s the occasional little flair up of drama but nothing that you wouldn’t expect from your own group of mates. There’s the occasional slide into a teary backstory but generally it’s all very low-fi. Actually, they’re a pretty nice bunch of guys and refreshingly, not all wash-board ab types. I did shed a tear or two, especially in the final episode. It’s maybe not the most riveting TV but I kept flicking to the next episode, because, well it does kind of feel like being on holiday with your mates when everyone’s in car-crash lite mode and just up for a bit of fun in the sun. 

Car-crash lite is not a tagline you could apply to The Ultimatum though. Americans are their own brand of people and some of them do seem to speak in earnest, full sentences that sound completely on the nose. This seems doubly true on The Ultimatum. It all feels oddly disingenuous while at the same time horribly exploitative (and dare I say it, horribly addictive).  The set-up itself is pure car-crash (heavy): five couples in long-term relationships are at a crossroads. One wants to get married, the other doesn’t… so they decide to go on a reality show to sort the issue out (as you do). Over ten episodes, they split up with their original partners, get together with someone else (with whom they live with in a ‘trial marriage’ for three weeks), get back together with their original partners (for another three week trial marriage) then choose whether to get engaged to their ‘trial partners’, get engaged to their ‘original partners’ or walk away single! Allegiances chop and change (ours and theirs), emotions soar, hearts break..  Don’t get me wrong, the women (and non-binary folk) themselves are great and I found myself rooting for each of them at different times (a special shout out to Mal, Yoly and Xanda). But I did keep wondering why anyone would put themselves forward for such an experiment and did genuinely worry about the mental health of some of them. Plus, there is something disturbingly heteronormative about the whole experiment (the ‘villain’ of the show is Vanessa, a self-declared pansexual who struggles with the idea of monogamy and marriage). If there is a hero, in my eyes it’s Mal’s best friend Alisha, who makes a cameo in episode five. When Mal introduces her to her ‘trial partner’ and explains the concept of the show, Alisha appears utterly bewildered and says what we’re all thinking: “So you live with this person for three weeks, then you decide between three to four years of being with someone versus three weeks? Whaaaaaat?!” 

I get that representation is important… but maybe we should leave this kind of exploitative TV to the straights.  

I Kissed A Boy
BBC I-PLAYER (VPN required)

Back into the closet…

Through 2020 to 2022 a sea-change seemed to take place on TV… and it was decidedly rainbow coloured. Suddenly we were awash with LGBTQ+ characters on our screens. We had the reboots of The L Word and Queer As Folk; we had A League of Their Own, Love Victor, Work in Progress, Gentleman Jack, Batwoman and a whole glut of YA shows. Come 2023, all of the above mentioned shows, as well as dozens of YA shows have been cancelled and it feels like the rainbow party on our screens is coming to an end. In America, a total of 20 shows featuring queer characters across streaming services and networks were cancelled in 2023. We in Australia should even be so lucky to have such representation. A recent study into diversity on Australian screens found that seven in ten Australian shows broadcast between 2016 and 2021 didn’t feature any LGBTQI characters. So what is going on? Is it just an unfortunate coincidence that all the shows featuring queer characters have been cancelled at once? At least we have new seasons of And Just Like That, Heartstopper and Heartbreak High to look forward to, as well as new shows Fellow Travellers, Gen V and the as-yet untitled Kristen Stewart gay ghost-hunting drama. And of course Ru Paul and Queer Eye aren’t going anywhere. I guess with all the anti-trans and anti-queer rhetoric being thrown around at the moment, everything feels a little scary again and it’s hard not to see the cancellation of our favourite LGBTQ+ TV shows as a sign that we are somehow being pushed back into the closet. Let’s hope it’s a blip. If not, we need to start making some noise again. Because the rainbow coloured sea-change was far too long in coming through in the first place.