The Sunday Times 25/02/2005
It takes two to untangle. The relationship between Irish television and the dating game show has long been a tale of irretrievable breakdown. The fallout has been sad and unseemly, and the people who have suffered most are the viewers.
Nobody who witnessed such courting disasters as Twink’s Perfect Match or Brenda Donoghue’s Get Flirting is ever likely to forget them. Only love can break your heart but the sight of ageing panto dames posing as lurve doctors can traumatise your soul.
Nevertheless, recent evidence suggests that Irish television is finally getting to grips with the dating game, in all its thrills and treachery.The Ex-Files (RTE2, Tue) is a surprisingly clever new show, hosted with amusing insolence by Lucy Kennedy, which each week pits a would-be lady-killer or man-eater against three former lovers in a series of gladiatorial dating duels. The result may not be very romantic but it is undeniably entertaining.
Traditional boy-meets-girl game shows are either too coy, like ITV’s Blind Date, or too tacky, like E4’s Fool Around series. Alternatively intoxicated by starry-eyed romance or bug-eyed lust, most of these formats neglect a key element in the battle between the pursuer and the pursued: power.
The Ex-Files, by contrast, is all about tactical power play. The series is more chess game than mating dance. Despite the participants’ bravado about their sexual shenanigans, the show’s appeal lies in the fact that it is primarily a mind shag.
The rules are fiendishly simple. Following dates with three old flames, the central contestant must pick one of the exes to accompany him or her on a luxury holiday.
The twist is that the chooser is then at the mercy of the chosen. The selected ex can opt to take €3,000 in cash rather than availing of the all-expenses-paid trip, leaving the central contestant in the lurch and out of pocket.
The beauty of The Ex-Files is that it exploits the dynamics of break-ups rather than hook-ups. Where other dating shows play with the emotions surrounding instant attraction (infatuation, curiosity, desire), this series draws on a deeper and more toxic palette (jealousy, resentment, vengeance).
Tuesday’s edition featured Pippa, a marketing executive with a fondness for “bad boys”. Pippa was torn between Johnny and James, two self-styled Jack-the-lads renowned for their unreliability. She was less impressed by Stephen, the only one of her former boyfriends she knew she could trust. No matter how long Pippa stared into James’s or Johnny’s eyes, she remained unsure whether they were holding a candle for her or whether that flame flickering behind their backs was evidence of an imminent arson attack.
Eventually, she plumped for boringly dependable Stephen, and won her holiday to Mauritius.
It isn’t necessary to like the participants on The Ex-Files to enjoy the show — in fact, it helps if you don’t. Yet from a voyeuristic perspective, the parrying between former lovers is much more interesting to watch than the flirting of prospective partners. Even their silences crackle with an erotic charge.