When Netflix first announced Dated & Related this past spring, the internet was (understandably) skeptical about the new dating competition. Would Netflix — the streaming service behind ethically dubious experiments like The Ultimatum and Love Is Blind — really make a show about sibling incest, or was the salacious title merely a means of attracting rubbernecking viewers?
The answer is a bit of both. To be clear, Dated & Related is not about incest; rather, it follows pairs of siblings as they help each other find love among the denizens of a villa in the South of France. But while there’s no actual sibling dating, a bizarre undercurrent of familial closeness runs through the series, as many of the contestants reveal they’re looking for a romantic partner exactly like their brother or sister.
This is off-putting, to say the least, but it’s still fertile ground for exploration. Netflix only commits to the most ridiculous reality dating concepts, so what’s especially disappointing is how dreadfully boring Dated and Related quickly becomes.
Whereas Netflix’s previous dating shows brought something new to the genre, from Too Hot to Handle’s hands-off requirement to Love Is Blind’s personality-first approach, Dated & Related feels like a knockoff version of Love Island, down to the beautiful, all-inclusive villa.
Dressed exclusively in swimwear, the siblings are encouraged to “get to know each other,” an activity that primarily takes place during forced chats by the pool. Host Melinda Berry, herself a contestant on Too Hot to Handle Season 2, occasionally stops by to announce a group activity or challenge, but otherwise contestants must make connections on their own, with the help of their siblings as wingmen and wingwomen.
Beyond the promise of lasting love, Dated & Related offers a $100,000 cash prize for the most successful couple. Naturally, this pushes contestants to quickly couple up, as failing to do so leaves them vulnerable to elimination. But it also leads to questions about who’s in the villa for “the right reasons,” and who’s only looking for a quick hookup and a payday. From there, the usual drama ensues: two women like the same man, and he must make a difficult choice; f*ckboys play up their emotional side, to mixed results; a newcomer goes after a man who’s already coupled up, creating a rift within the group; and so on.
Anyone with a passing understanding of reality dating shows knows how all of this will end, but Dated & Related doesn’t seem to care that it’s recycling tropes. Rather than offer up any potential intrigue, the Netflix series plods along, ginning up toothless challenges and delivering romance entirely devoid of sparks or chemistry. In one particularly uncomfortable moment, Cypriots Alara and Ceylan Taneri must convince another sibling duo that they need the bathroom for a bubble bath (yes, really), and if they succeed in their incest-y ploy, they win a double date. There’s inane, and then there’s “pretending to bathe with your sibling” — Dated & Related falls on the wrong end of that spectrum.
And that’s a completed challenge: other activities are abandoned halfway through, like a “Villa Awards Party” that lasts all of two awards. It’s possible the event went on for hours before Berry made a surprise appearance (“Best Body? I think that’s my cue,” she says via voiceover) but cutting it off so abruptly contributes to the sense that producers suddenly realized they were wasting everyone’s time with this nonsense.
Poor casting only reinforces Dated & Related’s overall monotony. Though Netflix has recruited siblings from all over the world, they bring nothing of their respective cultures or family dynamics to the show. Instead, viewers are left with generic, Instagram influencer-types that blend together into one bland group.
The contestants also seem reluctant to let their emotions run freely. When Kaz, an Essex-born firefighter, tells American music teacher Corrina he’s pursuing another woman, she nods quietly and thanks him for being honest. On Love Island, this would lead to a dramatic confrontation, but with this crew it’s just another letdown, both for the viewer and for Corrina, who can be seen wiping away tears before telling the camera, “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” Corrina’s mild reaction may be reflective of real life, but it doesn’t make for good reality TV.
Ten episodes later, viewers are left with the feeling that Dated & Related was a wholly unnecessary venture, from its crude title to its dull cast and meaningless “challenges.” If Netflix really wants to cut costs, scrapping this letdown would be a good place to start.
Dated & Related premieres September 2 on Netflix.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the TV Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.