‘Flirty Dancing’ makes major missteps in its series premiere

Tuesday, January 7, 2020 - 4:11pm

NOSELL

Anders Krusberg / Peabody Award

Three singles enter. One couple leaves. Yes, this is exactly how dystopian “Flirty Dancing” feels on a first viewing.

The American version of the popular UK reality series, “Flirty Dancing” follows two single people who are looking for love in the most traditional way: pre-choreographed, partnered dance routines. Each contestant learns two dances — one for each of their possible matches — and must perform the routines when they first meet their partner. After both dances are finished, the main contestant decides which of the two partners they want to go on a first date with. 

The series premiere featured Octavius (a choir teacher) and Erin (a hairdresser) as the main single contestants. Their professions, along with a few simple adjectives like “playful” or “cute,” are offered to introduce the two, as the show opts for likability over nuance or complexity. Their prospective suitors are described only briefly and have little say in choosing the specifics of the dance, even in one case where a female contestant expressed strong opposition to the amount of intimate touching the choreography required. This matter was quickly resolved, as “Flirty Dancing” does not dwell on the negative. There’s no crying in choreographed dance routines.

Hosted by celebrity dancer Jenna Dewan, “Flirty Dancing” seems sweet enough and even wholesome in its wildly optimistic premise. Can two people fall in love without knowing anything about each other? Can you know a person just from physical chemistry and prolonged eye contact? Where reality dating shows like “The Bachelor” or “Love Island” assume that people can find true love through short interactions in a group setting, “Flirty Dancing” emphasizes that one-on-one connections can bring couples together. 

Though the intentions of the show are good in theory, the actual end product seems more akin to weirdly staged dance propaganda than anything even slightly resembling genuine emotion. Each interview with the contestants feels highly scripted, footage of the dances is heavily edited and clearly shot in more than one take, and the sheer amount of eye contact is unnerving, no matter how “playful” or “cute” the contestants are. 

In a move that is both sadistic and a bit hilarious, the show stages the main contestant’s final choice of which partner they’d like to date by having both dancers show up at a restaurant. While this creates a sweet moment for the reveal of their choice, it implies the unchosen dancer is stood up and never given an explanation for why. Despite this, everyone featured on “Flirty Dancing” constantly praises the show and assures the audience that their experience was overwhelmingly positive. Their confessionals, which are usually opportunities for reality shows to directly connect with audiences and deliver genuine commentary, are so robotic and saccharine that you begin to wonder whether they’re hostages in this dance-fueled utopia they claim to love so much.

“Flirty Dancing” fundamentally assumes it has already won the viewers over. By hitting all the baseline requirements of a dating show with little effort or nuance, “Flirty Dancing” figures the appearance of utter perfection translates to quality television. Unfortunately for the new FOX series, this is simply not true. In pretending everyone and everything is picture-perfect from the start, “Flirty Dancing” fails to deliver the reality of reality TV.