“Some people are like magnets,” says Maitre d’ Fred Sirieix surveying the dressed-up, nervous diners in the Paternoster Chop House in London. “They just go together and nothing can stop them.”
And that’s certainly true for some of the romantics we meet in the third series of First Dates, the fixed-rig show that lets us eavesdrop on blind dates in all their warm, funny and excruciating glory.
In the first episode Frankie, queen of the so-called “booty call” has decided she’d quite like a boyfriend, and meets up with Muhala, a cool, self-confessed “player.” I won’t ruin it for you but suffice to say that whether there’s romance or not, there is sexual tension galore.
There is lots, and I mean lots, of staring at each other and giggling over the table. Both dancers, the pair talk shop without really talking shop at all: “When I come home from work I like to take all my clothes off,” says Frankie. You can almost see Muhala’s pain as he realises they’ve got another course to go before he’s got even the slightest chance of getting back to her flat.
While they’re fun to watch, it’s the less obvious interactions that are the most intriguing. Natasha the fireworks display coordinator goes on a date with ex-jockey Scott who is half her height, and at first it’s awkward. Yet slowly a great rapport (although perhaps more matey than mate) develops as they roar with laughter at Scott’s cheeky innuendos.
Then there’s Tim, a friendly, chatty 30-something who thought he’d have a wife, 2.4 children and a white picket fence by now, but he’s actually the last single man in his friendship group. He’s a touching example of how the pressure to settle down can really get to us.
His honesty about wanting children ASAP is probably a big no-no in the dating rule book, but equine specialist Jenny doesn’t mind too much. Another heart-warming pair are the brilliantly bearded paramedic Liam who grew up with two mums, and trainee midwife Kate who keeps rating the fun level.
But it’s not all friendly, as one couple’s meeting goes disastrously wrong due to the woman’s hatred of polo necks. She’s really quite rude to him but he reckons it might be a playground-style cruelty. You know, where someone is mean to you because they fancy you. He’s wrong, though.
It’s not just the daters who are new this series, we also see a new team of waiters who are involved in the dating developments. Fred, the French Maitre d’ is my new favourite man (and not just on TV) as he eases the nerves of the daters and quotes bits of Shakespeare’s sonnets to us at home.
So as First Dates returns for its third series, I’m glad to say it hasn’t become exploitative or trashy. It’s just as slick and classy as ever, with that warmth and humour that makes Gogglebox so popular.
Dating is a strange thing, and we’ve all had to find common ground with a stranger at some point. Now that Brits are being more like New Yorkers and going on more dates than ever, this third series feels particularly poignant. And above all it reveals just how brilliantly diverse and eccentric humans really are.