Dates, the new drama series on Channel 4 which is essentially what it says on the tin, is a neat little concept. Created by Brian Elsley, the man behind E4 teen powerhouse Skins, the show consists of a series of two-handers, depicting the different ways people behave when on a first date.
The first episode, or ‘date’ of the week saw David (Will Mellor), a kind-hearted Northerner new to London and Mia (Oona Chaplin) a sophisticated woman about town, meet for an initially frosty dinner in what transpires to be David’s first venture in the world of internet dating. Far more of an old hand at it, Mia bluntly tells him how it is, growing rather fond of the Yorkshire-man in the process, despite herself. Through this, we also learn about different attitudes to dating and relationships on either side of the North-South divide, as David believes Southern women are a ‘nightmare’, never knowing what they want, and Mia just sees David as a naïve country bumpkin who hasn’t yet grasped the art of conversation.
Date two, was that of Jenny (Sheridan Smith) a sweet Shepherd’s Bush primary school teacher originally from Rotherham, and Nick (Neil Maskell), a ruthless city trader with more than a few secrets to hide. Bubbly Jenny is recovering from the breakdown of her engagement, whilst trying to settle in London at the same time, whilst Nick knows the city well, likes to throw his cash around and generally show-off. Having made ‘a few mistakes’ in his life, he is recently divorced. This sounded like a match made in Hell, and it largely was, although it was apparent that good-natured Jenny endeavoured to see the best in him, whilst Nick found her relatively pretty and adorable. Without spoiling it for anyone, however, the reasonably pleasant date takes an unexpected turn for the worse towards the end, and true colours are shown on both sides.
On the final date of the week we were once again with socialite Mia (Oona Chaplin), who this time has dinner with charming but jaded surgeon Stephen (Ben Chaplin*). He’s thinking of quitting the profession, and wants to charm the pants off a beautiful girl, quite literally, for a bit of a distraction from his ennui. It transpires, however, that Mia won’t be so easily manipulated- at least not until she’s had another couple of glasses of wine. We learn that she is an e-escort, and that Stephen once, er, used her services shall we say. This doesn’t exactly set things off on the right foot, but one this bombshell has been side-stepped, the two have a startling amount of chemistry on what becomes rather an unconventional date, and there is the suggestion that they might perhaps see each other again.
Each and every story so far has been compelling, engaging and written extremely competently. They’re paced rather unlike typical TV shows, with more of a slow, stagey feel to them. Which can only ever be a good thing in our world of fast edits and quick fix, adrenaline fuelled cuts. Each character is fully fleshed out by the actor in their shoes, with Will Mellor sweet as ever, and Stephen Chaplin sleazy and misunderstood in equal measure. It’s the girls, however, that have really shone so far. Oona Chaplin nails it as the sexy, all-knowing girl about town who, underneath all her sass and bravado, really just wants to be swept off her feet and fall in love. Sheridan Smith is equally perfect as primary school teacher Jenny, suitably awkward as well as totally adorable, despite some of her more unusual tendencies.
Next week sees a lesbian date, an appearance by the extraordinary talented Andrew Scott, and hopefully just more of the same.