There’s no shortage of reality dating shows out there, and their flaws — including trite formulas and casting decisions — remain just as prevalent. Contestants enter into an agreement to find “the one” in a short amount of time in a very specific setting, sometimes using nonsensical games or other competitions to determine who they date, only spending a limited amount of time with each person before ultimately choosing their fate. Those contestants, whether they’re the pursuer or the pursued, are often in their early 20s, conventionally attractive, and aggressively heterosexual.
Premiering today on Max, Swiping America enters that overcrowded pool strongly declaring itself to be not a reality dating show, but a “rom doc” — or, in the language of dating and reality TV, it’s “not like other girls.” And it truly is not. The series, created by Stephen Warren and Johnnie Ingram (We’re Here), has no hosts, no strange competitions, and no leading straight men. There’s not even the expectation that the four lead daters need to end the series in a romantic relationship at all. In a refreshing change of pace, the docuseries offers one of the most realistic looks at what dating in the real world is really like in the year 2023.
There is one gimmick that drives the narrative of the series: Four single New Yorkers who have had no luck finding “the one” or even “the one for now” in New York City travel to eight new cities across the country to see if the right person for them is waiting somewhere else. In each new city, the producers of the series swipe through the apps to find a handful of potential suitors. The leads go on a series of mini-dates to then decide if there’s anyone in that city they want to pursue.
From there, though, they can date as many or as few people as they like, and like in the real world, they can exchange numbers and continue communication as the group travels. There’s no limit on how often people can see each other, off-camera interactions and sleepovers are allowed, and, if a prospect is up for it, travel to the subsequent city with the whole group to continue building the relationship. While everyone is still fairly attractive, it’s in an everyday, relatable way, not an unattainable, made-for-TV way. These are just regular people also looking for love (or at least a good time), and not social media sponsorship.
It’s easy to root for the leads, who are charming, vulnerable, and just plain fun. Plus, everyone is in their 30s and therefore have a much clearer understanding of who they are and what they want in life. There’s Reagan, the fun-loving artist and hairstylist who just wants a man who can accept her as she is; Kesun, the bubbly, eternally optimistic real estate agent looking for a real grown up to marry; Ashleigh (“Ash” for short), the independent world traveler who’s the CEO of her own company and wants to date a version of herself “but better”; and Krishnanand (often just “Kris”), the modest, romantic data scientist searching for a spark outside of NYC’s gay clubs.
Even before they start dating, the chemistry among the group, who are housemates as they travel, is electric. The instant friendship is part of what really sets the series apart — it creates an atmosphere in which each lead is able to report back the most salacious and cringeworthy details of their dates to their friends, instead of spitting out producer-prodded lines to a stiff host or awkwardly sharing details with a fellow contestant dating the same person.
When Ash brings a woman back to the house after a date, the others squeal with delight. During one stop on the road trip, Reagan and Kris take their suitors on a double date to relieve some of the pressure. When Kesun gets momentarily ghosted, everyone breaks out the tequila. They share a sense of camaraderie that exists in real-life dating and is important to the process and is rarely depicted in such a pure way on shows that are more focused on competition.
And, perhaps most refreshingly, the rom doc’s narrative arc is less about ending up coupled and more about self-discovery. As the main quartet meet people from different walks of life and experience different cities, they confront their own hang-ups and dealbreakers. Stepping outside of their New York City bubble, they’re able to learn things about themselves they never would have otherwise. Swiping America features couples worth ’shipping, steamy dates, and moments to make even the most cynical viewer believe in love again, but it’s most heartwarming to watch each lead grow in their relationship with themselves.
New episodes of Swiping America drop Thursdays at 3:01 A.M. ET on Max.
Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R.