All dating shows exploit the tension between inner and outer beauty, but two new ones make a point of it. "More to Love," which premieres tonight on Fox, is a high-body-mass-index version of "The Bachelor," with 330-pound, 26-year-old real estate investor Luke Conley winnowing a field of 20 "plus-size" women to find a Match Made on Television. (Indeed, it shares an executive producer with "The Bachelor," Mike Fleiss.) "Dating in the Dark," which began on ABC last week and airs Monday nights, puts three men and three women into a pitch-black room to take appearance out of the picture entirely.
Hosted by plus-size supermodel Emme, "More to Love" adds an extra layer of pathos to the genre's usual Harlequin hearts and flowers, its candlelit rooms, poolside chats and painfully drawn out ritual eliminations. There are years of tears unleashed here, as many -- though not all -- of the women recount their isolation, loneliness and dreams of being loved as they are. (Feelings known, of course, to viewers of all proportions.) Danielle has "never had a second date," Melissa has never been on a date at all. Most seem less bothered by their weight -- all but a couple top 200 pounds -- than by a world that shuns them for it.
That the series has been made at all testifies to the fact that most dating shows -- most TV shows -- feature people who fit the latest definition of hotness. We may praise the inner person, but we are nevertheless continually encouraged (and perhaps wired) to worship the conventionally attractive surface.
Not that these people aren't pretty. They may be larger than most, but they are young and shiny and dressed to the nines. (And there is nothing homogeneous about them; they come in a variety of shapes and styles.) Conley, who also wears his bulk well, seems like a nice guy, but he is also a bit of a kid in a candy store, finagling kisses right and left. And though he claims to have "no type," it probably isn't fair to say that looks won't matter at all to him. That is just how humans are.
"Dating in the Dark" more directly addresses that propensity. Meeting only in utter darkness, potential soul mates choose each other sight unseen, judging mainly by smell and touch and talk. (It is fundamentally "The Dating Game," with a little bit of physical contact.) That there are no eliminations -- and that the connections are made in the course of a single episode -- keeps things friendly and fresh, and allows for better look at the individual characters. Some you root for, some you don't, but it's overall a sweet show.
We see their blind fumblings in infrared. It resembles a trust exercise, or a high school party game: "It's like at slumber parties," says contestant Melanie. "All the juicy stuff comes out after dark."
Each woman chooses a man, and each man a woman, but they are allowed to beg off at the end if they don't like what they see. It's the crucial, character-defining moment. Christina says, "I hope to God when all is revealed I don't have a guy that looks like Shrek," but Melanie is more concerned about how she's going to feel "if I get rejected when the lights go on. I'm just a little nervous about that one."
'Dating in the Dark' and 'More to Love'
Where: 'Dating' ABC; 'Love' Fox.
When: 'Dating,' 9 p.m. Mondays; 'Love' 9 tonight.
Rating: 'Dating' Not rated; 'More to Love' TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)