Dating documentary series The Undateables premiered on Channel 4 on Tuesday amid controversy over the show’s name and premise. The programme follows nine single people with disabilities such as facial disfigurement and developmental impairment as they search for love. Before the first episode aired, some commentators suggested the show was sensationalist and exploitative, while others took issue with the way The Undateables was marketed. “As marketing moves go, Channel 4 has hit a near impressive level of crass in its promotion of The Undateables… You do wonder why Channel 4 didn’t go the whole hog and just use the title ‘You’re weird and no one wants to have sex with you’,” wrote Frances Ryan on a Guardian blog.
Channel 4 has defended the title, arguing that it reflects society’s own prejudices; as Sarah Morrison reported for The Independent, “Seventy per cent of Britons would not consider having sex with someone who had a physical disability, according to the most recent survey of the nation’s opinions on sex.”
But now the reviews are in; so is The Undateables unwatchable?
Disingenuous. The participants in The Undateables demonstrated that the disabled have the same attitudes towards dating and love as the able-bodied, said Sameer Rahim in The Telegraph, but “mainly in spite of the show’s best efforts to ridicule them”. Rahim criticised the “disingenuousness” of the show’s title sequence, which sees the “un” of Undateables knocked off by cupid’s arrow: “We can have our fun at other people’s expense, it implied, as long as there’s a happy ending. I won’t be waiting to find out.”
Uncomfortable. “I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought of Channel 4′s latest provocation as I was watching it and am still not sure I know now,” wrote Tom Sutcliffe in The Independent. “You realise that what you experience as empathetic sympathy might simply be a kind of condescension. Or perhaps I’m just disabled by liberal anxiety.” Sutcliffe said that the show’s singletons certainly transcended the “labels” of their disabilities, but that “you’re also left with an uncomfortable feeling that there must be a better way to achieve that end”.
Sensitive. “Those who watched the programme had any fears of exploitation allayed,” insisted Lucy Mangan in The Guardian. Mangan praised the programme-makers for keeping in moments of inadvertent comedy, arguing that this demonstrated “the intelligence and confidence to recognise that excising them would have been more patronising than keeping them in”, and described the show as “beautifully done”.
Watch The Undateables trailer below.
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