June 5, 2006
Bonafide British Person C.J. Quinn covers the strange intersections between British television and American television in...London Calling
"She looks a bit manly really."
The horror of Chantelle's Dream Dates
Like most Brits of my generation, though, I have fond childhood memories of eating my tea in front of Blind Date on Saturday evenings long gone by, in a more innocent era when I had no grasp of post-modernism or irony as concepts, and ITV would happily air a dating show in a Saturday evening prime-time slot. Less of an actual game-show dating show, more a supreme tack-fest, presided over by the ever-chirpy and flame-haired Scouse grande dame Cilla Black. The Blind Date format was really simplicity itself, relying as it did on a large and wobbly sliding fibre-board partition: on one side sat Cilla and the lucky single boy or girl of the week, trading mildly saucy double entendres, while on the other side three potential dates perched uncomfortably on bar stools, offering up beautifully lame pre-scripted puns in response to the questions from behind the board. Later in the show, after the winning 'lucky fella and lovely lady' had been dispatched off on an exotic holiday to get to know each other (producers' subtext: and hopefully shag!), the couple from the previous week would return to tell us how their holiday had gone, and each go through the agonising process of finding out what the other had said about them off-camera.
|However, alas, Blind Date is dead, as of 2003; henceforth, long live Chantelle's Dream Dates! At last, TV offers me something even tackier, even more low-budget, and simultaneously hilarious and totally soul-destroying to watch.|
The format is viciously brilliant. Chantelle gets in a big hot-pink stretch limo and goes round to the house of some poor girl who has been single for donkey's years. It should be noted that usually the girl is someone who looks absolutely fine, but the voiceover and interviews with her friends and family all imply that she is a total minger. Chantelle curls up on the girl's bed for an intimate girly chat, twirls her extensions and asks cheerfully in her Essex-girl drawl, "So, would you say the reason you bin single for five years is your looks, or izzit summink else like your personalitaaaaay?" After making some desultory inquiries about the kind of bloke the girl would like to meet (they invariably say 'tall, dark, funny, a bit like Johnny Depp'), Chantelle teeters back into the limo and goes off to Covent Garden where she minces around, usually under a big pink umbrella, grinning vacantly at passers-by and giving off, as ever, the air of being one too many alcopops worse off.
Mercifully, the hair and make-up part of this makeover is done by professionals; meanwhile, Chantelle goes off and totters through some cheap high-street shops to buy the girl a new outfit, which she then forces the poor thing into before showing her photo to the boys again. The boys of course all say things like "Oh, she looks much more better innit," and "Yeah, she looks really bubbly, like she's gotta really fun personality." (Subtext:she looks well easy!) The girl then emerges from some dark corner and there is a hideously awkward segment in which she basically says to them "Why did you say such horrible things about me?" and they all try and worm out of it, having realised they've made themselves look like total shits on national telly.
|("I really fink if Katy is just really, like, true to herself and makes a bit more effort wiv her appearance, she can find true love, cos it's out there for you and you just don't realise, innit? Byeeeeee!").|
Unfortunately, I still can't decide if I love Chantelle's Dream Dates for its unabashed tackiness and unflinching portrayals of social awkwardness, or if I hate it for the paranoia it breeds in single girls of the 'Oh God, I think that girl looks okay: does that make me a munter too?' variety. A single female friend texted me recently saying that since watching the show she cannot walk past a group of blokes on the street without wondering if they're thinking the kind of things about her that the blokes on the show say about the girls, and I was horrified to find myself thinking, 'God, I know what you mean.' I wouldn't go on the show for all the tea in China, and I have secret fears that it won't get a second series because, despite the drunken magnetism of its star, no girl in her right mind would go in for this sort of televised humiliation if she'd ever seen or heard of the format. However, if you can get past your horror and nausea, there's no doubt that Chantelle has proven the old maxim that God gave us telly, but the Devil has all the best shows. Chantelle's Dream Dates is indisputably the work of a dark Satanic power, but anyone who's ever been guilty of rubbernecking a car crash will understand why it's some of the most compelling telly out there right now.
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