Welcome to the most ridiculous matchmaking show we’ve had in a good while. In a TV world where First Dates, now in its seventh series, is full of humanity, warmth and intimacy, Game of Clones is its wayward, shallow, emotionally stunted cousin – who also happens to be lots of fun.
The premise is this: singleton designs fantasy partner from hair colour to shape of elbow using avatar technology, as if they’re playing The Sims. Show’s producers run around the UK finding eight people who look just as the singleton desires. Singleton and clones, as total strangers, live together in a house and every night for one week there are rounds of competitive dating tasks after which clones get dumped. Eventually there’s just one left standing.
First up is Charlotte, who wants a mixed-race man with a quirky dress sense, toned body and a pert posterior. She’s giddy with power as she designs her dream guy but then walks into a house full of men who look like they’ve been 3D printed and is clearly quite unsettled and overwhelmed. As you would be.
Eight men who look scarily similar, in exactly the same trainers and caps. It doesn’t neccesarily spell L.O.V.E does it? Even in a crowd of perfect-looking men, you’re only really winning if one of them will get your jokes, bring you tea in bed when you’re hungover, listen to your great-aunt’s rambling and sometimes offensive stories or watch YouTube videos of piglets with you simply because it makes you deliriously happy. Generally, good boyfriends can’t be ordered, Argos-style, from a catalogue. Sometimes it’s the one with the wrong colour hair, moth-eaten jumper and no gym membership who actually bowls you over.
But shallow and mad as it may be, Game of Clones is actually a pretty accurate reflection of the real world of dating apps. You might not literally design your dates from scratch but you’re looking for someone you find attractive simply on the basis on a few photos, a job title and possibly one line of try-hard bio underneath. You can choose to be less shallow and give someone un-photogenic a chance but fundamentally you’re still picking someone from a computer screen rather than based on how they move, talk, make eye contact or crack jokes. It’s a tricky world to navigate.
It’s when you then, after all that swiping, meet them in real life that the hard work begins and realism kicks in. That’s when you figure out if you can stand to spend more than seven minutes across a table from them – and often the answer is no, absolutely not. Charlotte has exactly the same experiences in Game of Clones as she tries to forge a bond with a total stranger. “Tell me about yourself” she says, while the clone quietly panics or says something about as smooth as a cat’s tongue.
Sometimes Charlotte and a clone have a lovely meeting of minds and sparks hurtle all over the place. But most of the time, it’s, well, like one long excruciating Tinder date. It’s painfully fun to watch – and makes you ever so glad you’re not on the show.