TV review: The Undateables
‘That’s quite a lot of aftershave, Richard.” “Well,” replies Richard, continuing to wreathe himself in the aerosol mist, “when you’re going on a date, you’ve got to be sure.” Richard, a 37-year-old man with Asperger’s syndrome was going on his first date in 20 years – the second of his lifetime. He was taking part in The Undateables (Channel 4), a three-part documentary series about people with disabilities who are looking for love. The title alone attracted some pre-broadcast controversy, predominantly among those unable to imagine that a title might be indicating the problem it is planning to examine – society’s apparent discomfort with the idea of disabled people forming sexual relationships – rather than simply labelling the subjects therein. This inability is part of a fairly common disability called “chronic stupidity”, often found in those already suffering from chronic Daily Mailism, and alas there is no cure.
Those who watched the programme had any fears of exploitation allayed. The aftershave moment was emblematic of the kindly, thoughtful air that suffused the whole without denying that, as with any human endeavour, moments of inadvertent comedy would occur. It had the intelligence and confidence to recognise that excising them would have been more patronising than keeping them in.
Richard went on two dates. The first he blew by starting to eat off his companion’s plate. The second was more successful but he declined to follow it up after deciding that there was no physical attraction between them. Penny, a primary school teacher trainee by day and – brittle-bone disease notwithstanding – circus aerial artist by night, went on the first date of her life, with a fellow wheelchair user, but thought she would prefer to go out with someone able-bodied so that “they’d be a bit livelier”. And lovely Luke, one of the 10% of people with Tourette syndrome whose symptoms include violent swearing, went on two wholly successful dates with the equally lovely Lucy, who took him ice-skating and the tics in her stride (“You slag!” “Oh,” she said, tossing her hair gaily over her shoulder, “thanks!”)
It left implicit the questions raised about intra-disability prejudice, the manifold problems of exposing yourself emotionally when you are already, in many ways, more vulnerable than average. And Richard’s mother’s longing for him to find someone special spoke volumes, without a word being said about the stresses and sorrows of caring for a grownup child who cannot and yet at some point in the future must manage without you. Beautifully done.