At 23 minutes into the first episode of Married at First Sight, psychologist Sabina Reid tells us “This is not a marriage in the legal sense.”
Those 9 little words -never expanded upon anywhere else in the episode of Nine’s new dating series- undermine the investment viewers are asked to make in this most boldest of concepts.
Everywhere else we are told these 8 strangers (4 in the first episode) are to be married when they meet on their wedding day. There’s a marriage celebrant, rings, vows, families, a bridal dress, reception and a honeymoon night. They are just missing that oh-so-crucial legal sanctity. Which is a shame because the individuals who are embarking on this experiment are readily-sympathetic characters.
How can you not be moved by four individuals, aged 31- 37, who will go to inordinate lengths in the pursuit of their perfect partner? There’s Claire (pictured), who holds back tears when explaining that every bank form she has ever completed asks for marriage status and number of children.
“I didn’t think I would be 37 and unmarried,” she says.
There’s Lachlan, the farmer who is trying to move forward after losing his dad. He is “100% committed” to wanting a lifelong relationship.
There’s Roni and Michael whose past relationships (or even one night stands) have never led to anything more substantial.
Yet here they are, by their own admission, bizarrely agreeing to 3 relationship experts playing Cupid for high stakes.
The three experts, psychologist John Aiken, neuropsychotherapist Dr Trisha Stratford and psychologist Sabina Read have shortlisted over 1000 applicants to their hand-picked bunch, with interviews and home visits. There’s no Perfect Match ‘compatability rating’ from Dexter here, instead they agree to the pairings like judges agreeing to their top 10 talent show finalists. The execution reads as contrived despite having far more depth in terms of personality and research.
Despite its misleading title, clearly these are arranged marriages, which are still undertaken in many non-Western societies.
“Statistics prove that arranged marriages tend to last longer,” says Stratford.
While they go against most Anglo-Saxon concepts, here they are being put through the wringer for entertainment. “Is it love at first sight or does love grow?” we are asked.
As we follow the 4 individuals prior to their first meeting, there are genuine laughs to be had when they break the news to family and friends.
“I’m getting married,” Lachlan reveals.
“Who to?” asks granny.
“I don’t know.”
Similarly, Michael gets a dumbfounded reaction from his mates.
“I love you and I support you in this …but you’re a f***ing idiot!”
Cameras capture all the jitters of the big day as there are second thoughts and tantrums -will they proceed or will they back out?
The pay-off for viewers is when the bride arrives at the aisle and sets eyes upon her new ‘husband’ -a moment I wont spoil here. By this point of the episode I suspect many viewers will be invested in the 4 participants, perhaps in a curious mix of empathy, pity, car crash voyeurism and fairytale endings.
But while the 4 individuals are the strongest card in this deck, the weakest is in failing to explain the legal situation: that marriages in Australia require a minimum of 1 month agreement from the parties (unlike in Denmark where this format originated). Nine has asked the couples to complete the paperwork and if at the end of this 3 month experiment they choose to continue, the rest is up to them (Nine should really foot the bill for a real ceremony on their behalf). Failing to explain this is a fundamental flaw.
Undoubtedly this is a show that will have people talking. There will also be those who question why the ‘sanctity of marriage’ is disregarded as a reality TV experiment, or why members of the gay community in long-term relationships are prevented from marriage while heterosexuals can commit with such flippancy. It’s hard to argue against either, but Nine will be hoping controversy plays to their favour.
Two more couples will “marry” in episode 2, along with cameras on honeymoons and -yes- questions about whether anybody did the deed on their wedding night. For real.
Married at First Sight isn’t quite as tacky as it sounds thanks predominantly to its key participants. Whether it lasts longer than Yasmin’s Getting Married (TEN axed it in 2006 after 4 episodes) is something not even Dexter can predict.
Married at First Sight premieres 8:40pm Monday May 18 on Nine.