Well, I didn’t expect this.
The fourth series of Married at First Sight (beginning January 30 on Channel Nine) is a beautifully cast, well-told, sophisticated production. It shows how a tired format can be re-invigorated with some creative thinking and a brilliant production team.
Yes, this is constructed reality television – and, naturally, it’s a “social experiment” as all television series seem to be these days.
But when it comes to social experiments, there’s the good and the bad – and this is good.
We’re told 4.3 million Australians are looking for partners and Channel Nine has found 20 of them who seem genuine in their search.
There’s Jonathan, 29, the entrepreneur who reckons he’s been on 600 dates and for whom this process is a time-saving way to find a partner.
Sean, 35, is a mineworker and farmer from rural Queensland who is instantly likeable, telling the cameras: “I have so much to give. I am lonely.”
And stripper/office worker/fitness fanatic, Michael, 30, is keen to find someone who is “like me, but a girl”.
There’s Scottish Queenslander Cheryl, 25, who’s one of 10 kids. Her Dad is horrified at what she’s doing.
“I won’t allow it. I’m not happy, to be honest. I will give him hell. Watch out buddy,” he says and he draws his ornamental dagger from under his kilt to prove the point.
— MarriedAtFirstSight (@MarriedAU) December 12, 2016
This year, Nine has “supersized” the format.
In practice, that means we are brought more into the process and taken behind the scenes as the three expert matchmakers work out who should “marry” who.
Of course, despite the name of the show, they can’t actually marry because Australian law forbids it – so, effectively, it’s a dating show with a “wedding” as their first date.
It also means the brides and grooms meet up in separate houses, ostensibly to form support networks. But we also see how they behave with members of their own sex and it’s not pretty.
Music drives the action and visually it’s majestic
The production standards, I think, are better this time round. Orchestral music drives the action and visually it’s majestic. Stories are allowed to unfold without incessant narration.
At times, though, the expert’s rather forced comments are unnatural and unnecessary.
There’s clever plotting. One of the bride’s biggest fears is that her man will be short. It makes her reaction that much sweeter when she sees him at the altar and, yes, she’s taller than him.
Horse-race caller Anthony is filmed deciding not to wear socks with his wedding shoes. Cue the bridesmaids’ shock when they see him.
“He’s not wearing socks,” they whisper to each other.
There are some genuinely engaging moments – particularly from those who are not going to be rushed into kissing for the cameras and who are realistic about the potential failure of this process.
The past relationship pain which has led some of them to let the experts have a go at finding them a partner is obvious and moving.
But the two episodes I’ve seen don’t a series make and it will be interesting to see how it evolves after the 10 ceremonies have taken place.
The series promos promise that, during eight weeks of filming, these relationships will face stresses that normally occur in seven years of being together.
I’m not sure how that will pan out but at least it’s showing promise in the early stages. Fingers crossed it continues to deliver.