This year’s crop of new dating shows has already brought us ‘woman tries to meet her Mr. Darcy while indulging in Pride and Prejudice-style cosplay’ (The Courtship), ‘bunch of college-age kids matchmake their single parents while spying on their every move’ (My Mom, Your Dad) and, most bizarrely of all, ‘gym bunnies attempt to find mate by borrowing animal kingdom rituals on a Colombian eco-reserve’ (Love in the Jungle). The premise of Lifetime’s latest foray into the genre, “single lady invites five random men to live in her own house,” therefore, no longer seems quite so deranged.
Adapted from the same-named hit British show that’s just recently returned for a retooled third season, Five Guys A Week (July 13) has nothing to do with the titular burger chain. But it does pursue a similar fast-food approach to love, with each pool of potential suitors whittled down from five to one in the time it takes to eat a bacon cheese dog with Cajun style fries. Indeed, this is no ridiculously drawn-out The Bachelor-esque epic, and it’s all the better for it.
As with every dating contest, casting is key. And in the first and only episode available for review, producers have chosen wisely, with both the selector and selectees displaying both a reality TV savviness and a sense that they’re not just on the show to boost their Instagram follower count.
Mercy, a 36-year-old mental health counselor and two-time divorced mother of one, is the first participant to willingly allow five strange (and in some cases, literally strange) guys to share her humble abode: its limited space means that, amusingly, all potential suitors have to share the same bedroom in the manner of an overgrown sleepover. Of course, due to the show’s rapid-fire nature, one poor schmuck has already been eliminated before he gets the chance to put his PJs on.
Chances are you’ll be able to guess his identity from the opening VTs intercut with all the slightly awkward front door introductions. Without giving too much away, there’s Meech, a sharp-suited and surprisingly shy NBA skills coach who wants to form his own power couple; Eli, an optimistic banker with a penchant for grand romantic statements (“I can see from the beauty in your eyes that you’re looking for love”); and Chris, a 6’11” behavioral specialist with an uncanny ability to put his big foot in his own mouth – in one of the episode’s cringiest moments he introduces himself to Mercy as “your new lover.” Ick.
Then there’s Raul, a medical engineer and in light of a slightly fraught dinner table conversation, probably the likeliest to have been taken in by NFTs. And last but not least there’s Donald, a 55-year-old real estate agent who lists ‘lovemaking’ as one of his key skills and spends most of his screentime talking about his failed internet romances. Sure, he might lack any sense of decorum but Donald should serve as a reminder to casting teams that you don’t have to fixate on insanely ripped millennials to find dating TV gold. The ‘coming up’ trailer suggests that the rest of the series doesn’t discriminate on age, either.
Luckily, the self-assured Mercy is more than capable of presiding over such a motley crew, demanding that each player goes shirtless for a two-on-two basketball match (the speed at which they submit is quite impressive) and borrowing RuPaul’s “Don’t f*** it up” catchphrase in an early warning shot. She even castigates the entire group after discovering that one of her guests has committed the ultimate offense of leaving the toilet seat up.
It’s these domestic squabbles which help set Five Guys apart from the rest of the dating pack. With each new show desperately trying to find new convoluted ways of manufacturing love and tension, it’s refreshing to watch a series which deals in the more relatable humdrum of daily life. The stakes here aren’t particularly high: the end goal here isn’t an undying declaration of love or wedding ceremony that will inevitably be annulled while the ink is still dry on the marriage certificate. It’s simply to find someone worthy of going on a date with once the fully-manned TV crew has gone home. However, that means its characters, free of the usual need to backstab, scheme and contrive drama, feel relaxed enough to be themselves.
Well, most of them, anyway. Mercy’s brother Harlow, one of several friends and family members roped in to make the whole process just that little more awkward, seems hellbent on stealing the limelight, whether it’s assessing the thickness of each guy’s eyebrows on a night out or delivering a brutal post-mortem on their return home (“He talks too much, he can’t dance”). He even quizzes the group, right in front of his visiting mom and uncle, on what size breast job they’d like his sister to undergo post-pregnancy. As with the whole concept in general, you have to wonder why anyone would put themselves through so much effort for no guaranteed reward.
Still, reality TV viewers who prefer their quests for romance to be a little more low-key will be glad that they did. Five Guys A Week may sound like a polyamorist’s dream. Yet despite the extraordinary premise, it stands apart from the crowd by being refreshingly ordinary.
Jon O’Brien (@jonobrien81) is a freelance entertainment and sports writer from the North West of England. His work has appeared in the likes of Vulture, Esquire, Billboard, Paste, i-D and The Guardian.
Article written by Jon O’Brien on decider.com