RTÉ’s new dating show, Pulling with My Parents, would like to be watched through splayed fingers. “Our worst nightmare come true,” Emmet Kirwan’s voiceover begins, as though this invitation of “the parental unit” into the most private part of their grown-up children’s souls – which is to say their dating apps – will be a case of cringe at first sight.
But despite the programme’s ceaseless nudgings in the direction (“What could possibly go wrong!” “Oh, the very thought of it!”) the show’s true nature is both sweeter and sadder, because it recognises that modern dating is so weird and warped that it isn’t an outrageous suggestion to do it under adult supervision.
At least that’s the case with the first two guinea pigs, Jason, a 30-year-old scientist, fitness fanatic and evident man-child, and Sophie, a woman in her late 20s who initially seems old before her time.
Jason is contentedly, inoffensively juvenile, operating an Instagram account, for instance, called the Happiest Arse in Ireland, whose pictures suggest not only an interest in guerilla naturism but also, in the implied presence of a photographer, the suspicion that his needs for intimacy might already be someway met. Sophie is three years single but otherwise committed to a cat named Mafia, which sounds like a double-braced protection against any kind of romantic inquiry.
Parents are not so easily dissuaded, though. Sophie’s mother, Andrea, relishes the task of profiling potential suitors, listing her non-negotiables: “They have to be respectful, kind, generous, caring…”
But reality can be coarse, even for those who find themselves cat ladies prematurely. Sophie’s mother and grandmother Mary recoil early from unsolicited dick pics on Tinder. “I don’t know why,” says Sophie, more bemused than offended. “They’re not pretty, like.”
Where Jason stands on disseminating nudes, outside of his hobby, he does not say, but his flirting needs better adornments than his chosen words. “You don’t meet a decent girl like that,” rues his mother, Ann, who is taking the show most seriously, when she sees dating-app messages about hoping to “get into your kickers”. “I’m a bit disappointed in him.”
You couldn’t say that Sophie, who answers someone’s infantilising come-ons with the words “Yes, daddy”, is much more sophisticated. Nor is the show, exactly, punctuating its footage with cascading aubergine and peach emojis, the cutesy-crude grocery of suggestion that has become the vocabulary of contemporary wooing.
To intervene, then, parental guidance takes the form of setting up blind dates for their sprogs (“Single, looks lovely, she’s working…” enthuses Ann) and then feeding them lines via earpiece, mid-date, from a surveillance van.
For Jason, who has yet to discover a synonym for “deadly”, and makes you re-evaluate the etiquette of dick pics by wearing a GAA jersey on his date, all intervention is welcome. (Compliment her, instructs his mother, admiring a vet named Emer. “Yer dress looks deadly,” chances Jason, the chappiest arse in Ireland.)
For Sophie, whose rugby-playing date delights all generations of her family (allowing Kirwan’s voiceover to merrily describe “Granny flutters” in the spy truck), surveillance just provides a wider audience. “Look at his tattoos,” approves her granny of another date, an early adopter of ink herself. “Oh, I’m very impressed with his tattoos.”
And thus, with the meddling hands of those who propagated them, these chronic singletons each find themselves set up with likely matches; both averred animal lovers who, presumably, also have a thing for earpieces. Will those relationships flourish unassisted or simply revert to an exchange of peaches and aubergines? Who can say? But you can’t really blame the parents.