Hankies at the ready, because My Mum, Your Dad (ITV1) plucks at the heartstrings in ways that few other dating shows could hope to achieve.
Billed as the middle-aged Love Island, it hits hard, because the late life lovebugs taking part are not just older but also more vulnerable, what with being once bitten and possibly thrice shy.
Bruised or bruising, bereaved or simply relieved, now they have been thrown together for our delectation in a grand country house called The Retreat.
In ten shows broadcast over the next two weeks, will they be brave enough to take another gamble on love, even when love has let them down so badly in the past?
The new show features would-be daters who are in their 40s and 50s; single parents who have been nominated by their grown-up children for a second chance at love.
Hankies at the ready, because My Mum, Your Dad (ITV1) plucks at the heartstrings in ways that few other dating shows could hope to achieve
If this wasn’t potentially triple venti cringe enough, with an extra shot of shudder syrup on the side, an added twist is that, unbeknown to the parents, the children are watching their every move in The Retreat from a nearby location called The Bunker.
‘Settle down, Dad, it’s only day one,’ said an alarmed Christian, watching his father Clayton go on a weird booze picnic date with a glamazon called Natalie.
‘I want to be the first to bite you,’ Clayton joked to Natalie, flicking an ant (imaginary?) off her shoulder.
Then Jess was appalled at her father Roger’s attempts at witty conversation with his date, Caroline. ‘He is on a date and he is talking about my dog,’ she wailed.
Roger went on to tell Caroline he loved the dog so much, he cleaned its teeth with his own toothbrush. ‘Oh, Dad,’ cried Jess, head in her hands.
Host Davina McCall skips between The Retreat and The Bunker in high heels and white lacy shorts, dispensing orders, empathy and comfort hugs as necessary. ‘Is Davina off the table?’ asked one of the handsome dads at the beginning of the programme. Hilarious, but a potential red flag? We will find out soon enough.
My Mum, Your Dad is one of ITV’s biggest shows this autumn, a mature and fully ripened rival for its ever-popular Love Island franchise.
Now look, I want to be honest. I’ve never been able to sit through a single episode of Love Island. Not once. Not ever.
Although beloved by five million regular viewers, for me the contestants are too young, too self-absorbed, sometimes too stupid, often too vain, to engender much interest.
As they date and party in their Spanish villa, it is hard to care if they find everlasting love or a fly in their gazpacho. All those buff bodies and sulky big lips swollen with injectables; everything waxed clean, including original thought.
Unlike the Islanders, the Retreaters have all lived a life, had children, been hurt, made important decisions and had to think about others instead of themselves
It is just too much. And the women are just as bad. Yet this one is different. A full-blown dating show with midlife crisis mums and dads?
Unlike the Islanders, the Retreaters have all lived a life, had children, been hurt, made important decisions and had to think about others instead of themselves.
And nothing like this has ever been done before on mainstream TV. First Dates — Channel 4’s hit dating show — is only dinner and a coffee; Married At First Sight UK, also Channel 4, is an abomination; while the niche variants on streaming platforms such as Netflix tend to stick to the under-30 age group.
Even Blind Date never dabbled with the 40-60 age group: the understanding always was that they were too damaged, even too desperate, to be entertaining.
Indeed, already I fear for some of the fragiles on My Mum, Your Dad.
‘The biggest desire of my heart is to connect with someone I can do life with and have fun,’ said one mum early on. A rather ominous depth charge to implode in the shallows of a reality show, don’t you think?
I also worried for intense Monique and the piercing interrogation technique she used on Paul on their first date under a canopy of wisteria. ‘What are the things you wouldn’t accept in your partner?’ she wondered, none too casually.
‘I don’t know, good question, I am not sure,’ he yelped, with the terrified look of a man expecting a pair of thumb screws to be produced from a clutch bag any minute now.
What did she think of the date afterwards? ‘It didn’t feel quite right. I don’t think he was very interested,’ she said, sadly.
Perhaps the biggest surprise were the scenes with the children in The Bunker, which have so far provided the emotional heart of the show.
The love and worry that these young people lavish on their parents is truly touching, while the emotional intelligence they displayed while talking about their parents’ complicated situations did them credit
The love and worry that these young people lavish on their parents is truly touching, while the emotional intelligence they displayed while talking about their parents’ complicated situations did them credit.
The first episode ended with Roger in tears, sitting alone in the aftermath of the first date he’d been on since his wife died a year ago. A year ago! Across the land, millions of viewers were putting down their glasses of Monday night wine and shouting: ‘Roger, it’s too soon! Give yourself time to grieve, man.’
Roger told Caroline how his wife’s cancer had taken her so quickly. ‘She didn’t know at that time that it had gone to her brain,’ he said, revealing that he also blamed himself for not seeking medical help sooner.
‘You couldn’t have known,’ soothed Caroline, who had expertly finessed all this information out of him in the first place. She assured him he had done everything he could; which of course he had.
In addition, he had loved her to the end and been loved in return — which is all anyone could ever wish for. In The Bunker, Jess tried hard not to cry. Same here.
My Mum, Your Dad, 9pm, ITV1 and ITVX on consecutive weeknights for two weeks