This post originally appeared on VICE UK.
It is with heavy heart that I must announce that British reality TV is at it again. There is a new show, and it is called Undressed, and here is what happens: Two single people go into a dark-looking studio, undress each other down to their underwear, then lie on a bed and have a strictly timed half-hour date while a massive projector screen in front of them relays various directions. You are thinking: Man, that sounds sexy. Surprisingly it is not. Undressed feels like an odd peek 20 or 30 years into a dystopian future, when couples are picked via a database of their likes, dislikes, genetic inclination and blood, marched by armored police into designated romance rooms, and instructed to kiss and undress. Congress and children follow. The state has abolished the concept of natural love. Big Brother is watching you. Big Brother is watching you fuck.
But for now, it is 2016, and we are all having fun.
Undressed is a curious addition to the dating show canon. We like watching people date, is the thing. We like watching them go through the weird tea ceremony of small talk and reluctant flirting on First Dates, and we like to see that first sizzle and crackle of sexual chemistry as it comes to life on Take Me Out, and we like to watch them get pied off in Majorca a week later on that very same show, and we like to watch them shag for six straight weeks before declaring themselves to be in love on Love Island. Producers have figured out how to bottle the meet-cute and turn it into something glossy and televised, and for that they should be applauded. Undressed is not that thing. Undressed is way weirder and—curiously, to say every participant is wearing at best a pair of underwear and a bra—weirdly tame. In a world where Geordie Shore's Gaz Beadle has an nationally recognized nickname for his penis, people lying sexlessly on a bed and wearing underwear just isn't enough. We essentially need to see it go in to be shocked these days.
Anyway, here's Lauren:
Lauren comes from a long lineage of girls in reality shows who are ostensibly attractive and yet, bafflingly, weirdly, have barely ever been taken out on a date in their life. "I've been on... three dates, in me life," she says, "so this will be my fourth." I do not understand this thing. On Take Me Out, watch as girls with full face twist their contour into the vague approximation of sadness and tell Paddy they've never gone on a date; watch First Dates, and all the girls who have come down to Manchester for it are thrown by the idea of eating a meal with another human being. Is this 2016, now? Is it so savage out there that girls can't even get a date? Do we communicate exclusively through dick- and tit-pics, now, never having to meet? Has technology thrown us so low? Anyway, Lauren now says she has "date-phobia" and "hates awkwardness," and somehow thinks the solution to that is undressing on TV with someone she's never met before.
So, anyway, here's Sam:
Watch enough reality TV, and you will see that the motivation people have for going on it splits neatly into three:
i. They are an idiot;
ii. They want to be famous;
iii. They have a weird mental blockade caused by some damage in their past, emotional or physical or otherwise, and they need—deeply need—to work this through by going on television, because somehow television is the only thing that can cure them, and they need to hold their nose and dive into the icebath of TV and like Jesus it will cure them
Sam (as everyone on Undressed) is a classic three-er: His mental blockade is that he is exceptionally jacked but used to be really skinny. Listen, we all have our journey. "I never used to be body confident before, but now I am," he says. It's not quite "both my parents died in a car crash and now I want to sing," but it'll do.
At 23, he is also keen as mustard to fall in full-on love, capital L Love, marriage-and-babies love, and he wants to do that immediately—he wants to undress a girl on television and then introduce her to his mom, marry her, impregnate her, the lot. "I'm twenty-three, I'm an outgoing lad, I've been single four-and-a-half months, and the next girl I meet I want to fall in love with, settle down, kids, yeah." I do not understand this rush some youth of today are in to have families, seeing as we'll all be working until 75-plus and science will have us slinging babies out of our bodies deep into our second century of life, but OK then, Sam, no pressure on this one, yeah?
They meet in a sparse room and go through the classic first date chat of "describing where exactly their hometown is to someone who has no idea, map-wise, where anything is" ("Do you know Leeds?" "I know of it, yeah" "Near there" ) before a doom computer tells them to undress each other. Sam takes a moment in the Undressed diary room to tell us how that went. It did not go entirely well. "I was too busy, looking at... you know..." Sam says. There is a pause while he thinks of the right word, a dignified word. He's got one. "Her tits!"
It's unclear what exactly the being undressed part of Undressed actually adds to the date. If it is meant to allay fears and nervousness, it very visibly does not do that. If it is meant to be a topic of conversation, it is the complete and polar opposite of that. Nobody is mentioning the fact that they are undressed: They are all trying to block the good parts of themselves with a casual arm position that looks like they're not. Everyone is almost 80 percent naked, and they are trying to pretend it is normal, while a massive computer instructs them to discuss their Facebook profile photos. It's baffling. But, then, I do sort of love the idea of someone thinking, Dating? Heh: pretty easy, dating. Too easy, you might say. In fact, the only dating I want to participate in is extremely high-jeopardy, wildly stressful, almost-nude dating. That's the dating for me!
Next to wander silhouette first into the Undressed's dystopian human-assimilation device is Ruby, who—unfortunately—I hate. Ruby reckons her repeated failure on dates and in dating is down to her monotone voice, which makes men think she is uninterested, but I think it's also down to her being very uninterested. Also it's very hard to not roll your eyes so hard they fall out of your skull and wobble on the floor before rolling into the gutter when someone opens with a gambit like, "Yeah, I like to observe people. When I'm on the tube, I just watch people, and look at their shoes, and their watches, and make up stories about them in my head." GET A GAMEBOY, RUBY.
Ruby is paired up with Nico, who, as per Rule III, used to be really fat but now isn't, and has decided to go and get 80 percent naked on a TV show to get over that fact. He has an unplaceable European accent and is an underwater cinematographer. Some sample patter:
Nico: "Did you have a good time at school when you were growing up?"
Ruby: "Yeah, it was OK."
I can tell you right now that they are not going to fuck. That said, it's not like it's going on too much better with Lauren and Sam. Sample patter, from when they lie on the bed and gaze at the screen, which suddenly turns to project an image of each of them holding a dog, facilitating a tight conversation about how they both like dogs. Sam has asserted that it is his dog he is holding in the picture:
Lauren: "What's his name?"
Lauren: "What, after the singer?"
Sam: "Well... yeah."
There is something so fragile and plain about the horror of human beings trying to get to know each other at the best of times, but that goes doubly so, quadruply so, when they are pale and naked and lying awkwardly on top of a bed. First dates are essentially looking as good as you can possibly look and using light conversation to joust away enough of the edges of the person in front of you to decide whether you want to ever see them again, full in the knowledge that if you do decide to ever see them again you greatly increase the odds of spending the rest of your natural life with them, or at least a few years. A first date is slicing open the small part of yourself where the acceptable version of you lives and offering it like a meaty sacrifice on the table in front of you, occasionally to be told this clean, groomed, good version of you—the fancy version of you, the non-everyday version of you—isn't good enough. First dates are just about taking all your insecurities and fears and scrunching them up into nothing and trying to make enough conversation to play footsie. You are exposing every desperate hope you have ever had in your life in the doomed attempt to not die alone. And these are all doing it in their underpants.
At this point, it's sort of forgotten that they are all in their underwear. I am warming up to Ruby—"I think I'm the kind of girl who puts all the crazy, all the worst bits, out on the line... then they can't be surprised later on," she says, before explaining she is a "sex psychic" and that that is a thing—and Nico is pulling this face (above). Sam and Lauren are attempting to use their supple bodies to recreate a yoga move but are doing so in the least sexual manner ever in history. I mean, they should show that clip at Sunday school to detract horny adolescents from thinking sex is cool. Watching this is better than dunking your body in a trough of cold water—better than a Jonas Brothers concert—for making your junk invert into your own body. They sit back down and discuss a photo of Sam swimming with a dolphin, which flashes on the screen. "They're getting cleverer, dolphins," Lauren warns. Maybe a live dolphin will be on the next episode of Undressed, trying to explain to someone who failed geography where the sea is ("Do you know where the beach is?" "I know of it, yeah" "Near there").
The dates are nearly over, and nobody has done fantastically well: The more Ruby sounds like a murderess, the more I warm to her ("I'm not really very intimate. I'm not very huggy. When I hug people I like... back off? Like I'd rather have sex with someone"), but Nico's not feeling it. The doom computer tells Sam and Lauren to kiss, and Sam sort of leans to do it, but Lauren says that, just to be up front, we're not going to be kissing right now, and he sort of leans back and chuckles like, yeah, kissing, mad that, what a mad idea. They sit in silence for what seems like an ice age. "Be awkward, that, wouldn't it?" Sam says, to the air. "Five minutes of just getting off." It has been a hundred years since I heard the term "getting off," a thousand years.
At the end of the dates, an iPad rises out of a bedside table on each side of the bed, and the couples have to press '"yes" or "no" to decide whether they want to see each other again, before the doom computer relays their results. Ruby has, bafflingly, said that "yes," she wants to see Nico again, and the supercomputer is rolling through "yes" and "no" like an agonizing Wheel of Fortune wheel. He's said "no." Ruby turns to him. "Why did you say no?" Turns out it's really hard to explain why you never want to see someone again when she is half-dressed, monotone, and furious. The computer tells Nico he can dress and leave, which he does faster than anyone alive ever has. And lo:
Sam and Lauren agree to see each other again, but the pre-credits update tells us they decided to "just stay friends," which means "add each other on Facebook but never actually arrange to see each other again, Sam likes exactly one of her profile pictures once at about 3 AM on a Friday night, she wishes him 'happy birthday! hope you got drunk lol' with four emojis one year, then they both discretely unfriend after one of them announces their engagement," but still, it's nice they tried. And then, as the credits roll to black, there is just me, bereft and alone, wondering how exactly a show about two strangers undressing each other could turn out to be so curiously tame, that maybe I am washed out on the idea of reality TV now, that perhaps without full-on sexual contact I can never find enlightenment in people bombing on first dates again. I am like your weird nerdy cousin who watched too much weird porn and turned himself off human women forever and your aunt had to send him to that facility to cure him with Christianity. I am like that only with undressed people on dates. I need something, I need a tit, I need a tentacle. I am ruined forever, and it is TV's fault. Thanks a bunch, TV.
'Undressed' is on TLC on Fridays at 10 PM in the UK
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