Two total strangers walk into a bar. That’s not the beginning of a joke, that’s the premise behind “First Dates.”
The series, which invites viewers to eavesdrop on couples as they squirm through a blind date, returns for a second season March 14 on Slice.
The “First Dates” franchise started several seasons ago in the UK. This English-Canada edition takes place at an upscale Vancouver restaurant. (A French Canadian version was shot in Montreal.) About a thousand potential daters applied; three quarters were single women.
“Men are harder to find,” says executive producer Toby Dormer. “That may be down to Vancouver — hard to find single men.”
Greeting them at the restaurant is host/bartender Adam Snider. “I can usually tell right away if there’s any chemistry,” he says. “Of course there’s a lot of nerves. First dates are scary, right?”
In the season’s first episode, an exotic dancer is matched with a “strapping stuntman.” A few tables over, a masseuse named Megan is, we are told, “looking to get her hands on Mr. Right.” She’s paired with Rob, a marine technician who seems lost at sea.
“How old are you anyways?” was one of Rob’s charming openers. Things went downhill from there.
All the chemistry, fireworks, awkwardness and discomfort is captured by over 40 cameras.
“They’re small, about the size of a pint of beer,” says Dormer of the unmanned cameras. The daters — who can be in the restaurant up to two hours — quickly forget the cameras are there.
“It’s about as close as you can get to being a fly on the wall.”
What the cameras capture isn’t always flattering.
“Vancouver women complained a lot about the men in Vancouver,” says Dormer. “They feel they don’t make an effort. Whereas the men felt the women were only after one thing, which is money.”
Some, he also believes, are genuinely looking for love. Many, he feels, are simply fed up with online dating.
“It can be quite demoralizing,” he says. “People in person don’t always live up to their online profiles. It’s human nature. You want to give the best impression of yourself that you possibly can.”
Things have changed since Dormer’s single days. Back then there was no Tinder, no swipe right to find the love of one’s life. He met his wife of 11 years through friends.
Now he sees participants in his dating show race out at the end to meet up with another scheduled date. “It’s so hard to meet someone, the pressure seems to be magnified even more today.”
Every show ends with a brief epilogue revealing if there was a love connection between the featured couples. There are some surprises in the season premiere, especially when viewers learn what came next for two gay daters who met at the restaurant.
Season 2 features straight, gay and lesbian couples.
“We have a trans woman,” says Dormer. “It’s simply who came to us.”
One of the participants in the opener is deaf. In a later episode, a dater in a wheelchair is featured.
“Every person out there is welcome to be on the show,” says Dormer. “We have kids who were 19 and we had people in their 70s. Searching for a partner, for the most part, is about as universal a theme as you can get.”