In ITV’s newest dating show, eight singletons – four men, four women – are thrown together in a luxe country house for a fortnight as the world looks on in judgment. Nothing unusual there, except that in My Mum, Your Dad each of the contestants are in their forties or fifties and are parents to adult children. Unbeknown to them, those children are holed up in a nearby house known as “the bunker” from where, in varying states of mortification, they get to witness their mums and dads on the pull.
From Perfect Match to Too Hot to Handle, television is awash with reality series built around young, beautiful people in microscopic beachwear getting it on with other young, beautiful people. My Mum, Your Dad is thus billed as a corrective to the genre’s obsession with youth, moving the spotlight to mid-lifers. Think of it as Love Island but with added Spanx.
The series is hosted by Davina McCall, reality TV lifer and champion of menopausal women everywhere, who bounds into the house in the opening episode in a white playsuit and announces to the contestants that they will each be going on a date. Among those assembled are Paul, the owner of a decorating company who, according to his student daughter Mazey, has been on lots of dates but thus far failed to make any lasting connections. This may or may not be because he doesn’t like to wear socks.
There’s also postman Roger, who is a dead ringer for Bake Off stalwart Paul Hollywood and whose silver-fox looks send ripples of delight through the female participants. Roger, nonetheless, retains the haunted look of a man who has been taken hostage, which is doubtless connected to the fact that his wife died just a year ago and he has been coaxed onto the programme by his daughter, Jess. There’s also Monique who knows what she likes and likes what she knows and who, on her first date with Paul, enacts a cross-examination worthy of the Stasi.
That the contestants have been around the block, and have variously navigated heartbreak, single parenthood, divorce and bereavement, lends an emotional heft that a dating show featuring a cast of twentysomethings couldn’t hope to attain. But it turns out that this isn’t enough for producers who have introduced a twist by inviting the participants’ children to manipulate events from afar. I’ve only seen the first episode so it’s too early to know how this will work in practice. But if I were on the show and it was my offspring meddling in my love life, they would be sent to bed without any tea once it was all over, never mind how old they are. The show’s producers appear to have mistaken the middle-aged contestants for helpless geriatrics who can no longer be trusted to boil a kettle, let alone make decisions about who they’d like to date.
While there is much to admire in a show that aims to tackle the ageism that is a feature not just of reality television but of the TV industry as a whole, there is a flaw in My Mum, Your Dad that even the title gives away. This is a series about middle age as seen through the eyes of youngsters, complete with the ruthless judgment and misplaced embarrassment that comes with that. But far from being washed up, these men and women are still in the prime of their lives and have wisdom and life experience to burn. Is it too much to ask that they be treated as such?