Within the first hour of Netflix’s new reality dating show, Love Is Blind, a man and a woman who basically just met sit down to discuss how getting married, as essentially total strangers, might impact their futures. Seated on couches in separate rooms, they face one another but cannot see each other; a glowing, blue pane of frosted glass separates them, as it has since they met. “If we get married, then, you know, that’s it for me,” the man, bearded and monotone, murmurs to the empty room around him. It’s a pod, really—a padded phone booth that resembles what might happen if Tommy Wiseau were asked to decorate and light a closet in the Bachelor Mansion, using only what he could find at one picked-over TJ Maxx. The woman, optimistic but terrified, replies from her own pod: “Yeah, me, too.” The man begins to cry. “We have to make this work,” he says, tears streaming down his face. “We do,” she replies, with a face that says, “But do I know any divorce lawyers—just in case?”
This certainly sounds strange enough—and at its best, Love Is Blind is just as bizarre and addictive as its producers clearly intended it to be. But it could have been even better, if only producers had leaned into the weirdness even more.
Every five minutes or so during Love is Blind, you’ll likely find yourself wondering, “What the hell am I watching?” That’s only fair; the show is designed to make you ask that question. The format: 30 people gather to find love by chatting with one another inside soundproof phone booths without ever actually meeting in person. Eventually they can leave the pods as a couple by getting engaged. After a few weeks in the real world, each couple must decide on their assigned wedding day whether or not they want to be married for real, forever. (Well, “forever.”) Our hosts? Nick and Vanessa Lachey, who basically act as a pair of vaguely famous, married jesters who appear with striking infrequency. At its best, Love Is Blind is just as bizarre and addictive as its producers clearly intended it to be—but after a while, that delightful strangeness gives way to something more conventional.
Unlike The Circle, another dystopian reality program that made its US debut on Netflix this January, Love Is Blind does not make its contestants live in complete solitude; here, the men and women each get to cohabitate in groups. As relationships begin to form, so does a love triangle—so naturally some predictable squabbling ensues. But unlike in the Bachelor-verse, where competing love interests can spawn season-long feuds, Love Is Blind contestants generally let minor annoyances and slights slide—and producers don’t seem to revel in making their lives more uncomfortable.
All of this is to say, Love Is Blind doesn’t take itself too seriously. For proof, look no further than the show’s aesthetic—starting with its notorious “pods.” Most Netflix shows feature sparkling, Wayfair-friendly aesthetics. Love Is Blind’s phone booths, on the other hand, feel like a throwback to decorating instincts of the early aughts. And it’s not just the phone booths. Confessional interviews come with their own trippy backdrop, a black-and-white setup that vaguely imitates the illusion that occurs when two mirrors face one another. And here, as on The Bachelor, cymbal shimmers and melodramatic music punctuate emotional beats.
Despite all of those theatrics, however, Love Is Blind’s participants seem shockingly sincere—and some even manage to have serious conversations. Some of the interactions are generic and expected, like men (and, in one case, a woman) crying as they get down on one knee. But other moments are remarkably candid; one woman, for instance, tearfully recalls a past abortion as her male suitor listens and tries to comfort her. And as episodes go on, the group narrows as contestants who did not find matches quietly disappear. Those left by the end seem to be true believers. This is not the kind of dramatic fishbowl that could raise one’s profile in the larger aquarium that is Instagram, so participants’ motives seem uncommonly pure. And besides, the contestants who find love do not seem to be turning it on for cameras; instead, they appear genuinely spellbound by telephone-bound amore. That idiosyncrasy is both confounding and intoxicating.
Eventually, though, the game morphs more into more of a Married at First Sight set-up as the couples leave the pods and try to hack it in the real world. The strange aesthetics give way to more conventional backdrops—like, you know, real apartments. And tensions that were funnier when confined to the “pods”—like one contestant’s clear disinterest in her chosen partner—become less amusing in person. Suddenly it all feels too real to be funny, and the urge to grab each contestant by the shoulders and ask them to reconsider only grows stronger. In the end, not all of the couples who leave the pods make it down the aisle—and to producers’ credit, the couples who do make it might not be the ones you would have expected. And in any case, I must admit: The spectacle of it all was more than enough to keep me rapt until the end.