Netflix might have hit the jackpot with its latest reality experiment, “Perfect Match.” The streamer took the casts of all of its reality hits — “Love Is Blind,” “The Ultimatum,” “Too Hot to Handle,” “The Mole,” “Selling Tampa,” “The Circle,” “Sexy Beasts” and “Twentysomethings” — and mixed them all together in an attractive combo of “Love Island,” “Bachelor in Paradise” and “Are You the One” that might actually improve on all three of those shows, depending on how the season plays out. It’s the best dating show the streamer has put out so far, though it relies on the stupidity of those shows to succeed. “Perfect Match” couldn’t exist without “Love Is Blind,” but you don’t actually have to have made it through “Love Is Blind” to love “Perfect Match.”
The premise, unlike most of Netflix’s dating show premises, is relatively simple. The main cast includes five women and five men, all stars of other shows who did not end up finding true love. Each night, they pair off. If they both agree to share a room, that’s a match. During the day, they hang out by the pool and participate in games designed to test their compatibility — think more risque “Newlywed Game” — and whichever couple wins gets a special date and the power to choose two other special dates. Each day, that winning couple gets to choose two people from the house to go on a date with two people from a list of other reality stars — some of whom were on the same show as one of the pickers. After the dates, whichever two people don’t end up in a match get sent home.
Other than a couple of fun twists later in the season, that’s about it.
It’s endlessly watchable. It’s funny. It’s sexy, it’s stupid, and it knows that it’s all these things. It manages to take everything we’ve ever learned from TV dating and distill it into one surprisingly uncomplicated game, all hosted by Nick Lachey (obviously).
The catch of it is that it works because everyone on the show is at least vaguely familiar to the rest of the cast and its viewers, so it requires a bank of stars with varying romantic histories to function. Many of these people already have a history with one another, and that only manages to make things more interesting. There’s very little of the obsession with marriage that plagues other shows like “The Bachelor,” “Love Is Blind” and “The Ultimatum,” and sex is neither a secret or a spectacle. While the show starts out with heterosexual couples, it easily adapts to add a same sex couple later in the season with little fanfare, and for once, everyone is not 21. At one point, a 30-year-old woman remarks that a 26-year-old man is “a baby!” Everyone is still extremely fit and conventionally attractive, but that’s a problem for the other shows to work on first. “Perfect Match” can only work with what Netflix has already got, and at the very least, it’s packed with entertaining characters. Francesca Farago is the most recognizable after the first season of “Too Hot to Handle,” and she gets the chance to address her history with “Love Is Blind” star Damian Powers. “The Circle” star Joey Sasso gets to reunite with his ex, “Sexy Beasts” star Kariselle Snow, and “The Mole” stars Dom Gabriel and Will Richardson have the opportunity to work through some Mole-related animosity, and if you didn’t watch any of these shows, there’s always an embarrassing clip to help you out. There’s even an opportunity to bring people back into the house after they’ve been eliminated, if perhaps there is a new person who might be their perfect match. The aim is not really to win anything here, but to find five perfect matches out of the 23 single reality stars.
Now, as I said, it’s all very stupid, but not too stupid. It’s sort of the perfect tone, a mix between people genuinely trying to date and also playing a strategic game while competing in exceptionally dumb challenges. In one such challenge, the couples have large sponges attached to all of their sensitive areas, which they fill with water in a pool. They then have to squeeze each other enough to fill up a water jug with the water from their sponges. In another episode, they bet on how many push ups the men can do with the women on their backs, or how many countries they can label together on a map. Sasso wonders if China is a country, and Gabriel wonders the same about Alaska.
But amidst the stupidity, there are some truly good romantic moments. A lot of the drama surrounds Farago, who switches between strategy and emotion on a dime, but then there’s Ines Tazi from “The Circle France,” who is everybody’s best friend but too many men’s second choice. And when Sasso tells Snow that her bisexuality doesn’t bother him one bit and other men are just insecure, it’s hard not to get a little emotional. Sure, a lot of these relationships aren’t likely to last (Farago is already publicly dating someone who is not from the show), but it also kind of feels like maybe some of them will.
Unlike the high pressure structure of “Love Is Blind,” this, for some reason, feels like it’s set up to create something that could actually last. Maybe I’m being naive, but I’ve never loved a dating show as much as I love this one, and that’s gotta mean something. Then again, Netflix has only provided eight out of 12 episodes for review, so things could all go wrong at the end. I just really, really hope they don’t.
The first four episodes of “Perfect Match” are now streaming, with new episodes dropping on Feb. 21 and Feb. 28.