I admit to being very dubious when SBS announced Undressed. The Italian format asks blind dates to strip to their underwear and answer a series of personal questions -not normally the kind of show I’d expect the broadcaster to produce.
We’re a long way from Dateline, Insight, and Destination Flavour. I guess Sex Before Soccer still has a ring about it.
SBS assured the series would be on Charter, ticking boxes on diversity for ethnicity, sexuality and more. Now that I’ve seen a few episodes of the Screentime-produced series, I’m still pretty dubious. Sure you can cast diversely, but is this all really an end to justify its means?
If you really want to address questions about race, stereotypes and preconceptions do you really need to ask people to strip? The show’s point is presumably that inhibitions are shed when we are at our most naked -except that they are not nude, so I would argue it’s fallen short of its own premise.
There are 2 couples in the first episode of Undressed and each has 30 minutes to get familiar. Cam & Pam, both from Melbourne, and Nathan & Talia, both from Perth, age from 21-30. Their backgrounds include Australia, India, Italy, Singapore & NZ. Sultry narrator Virginia Gay coos sweet nothings about being matched on their interests.
Within seconds of meeting in a dark room with a king size bed and a video wall they are instructed, via messages to disrobe.
UNDRESS EACH OTHER the voiceless wall instructs.
They awkwardly negotiate who goes first, whether an article of clothing at a time, or one “fully” before the other. There are immediate nerves about appearance, self-esteem and restrained excitement.
“It feels really pervy not to look at Pam but its really hard not to,” Cam admits.
“I usually prefer to get undressed with the lights off,” Tahlia reveals.
“She’s not normally the kind of girl I go for. I’m usually attracted to girls that are a little more hipster,” Nathan tells us.
“I’m definitely feeling really awkward at this stage.”
From there the questions dictate the direction of the conversation as the two sit on the bed in their underwear.
HAS YOUR CULTURAL BACKGROUND INFLUENCED YOUR DATING CHOICES?
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN LIFE?
WHAT ISSUE DO YOU FEEL MOST STRONGLY ABOUT?
HOW IMPORTANT IS SEX TO YOU IN A RELATIONSHIP?
Despite their bizarre circumstance of being near-naked for TV cameras, discussions touch on topics of straight white males, family tradition, dating opposite races, blokey culture, animal cruelty and even domestic violence, depression and suicide (seriously).
These points are all valid, if fleetingly raised. But as this is TV, it needs action, so the video wall taps into their personal interests, such as music or boxing.
SING FOR HER
SPAR (not spa?) WITH EACH OTHER
GET ON TO THE BED
Then it turns to the elephant in the darkened room.
GIVE EACH OTHER A MASSAGE
…until it loses any subtlety by showing vision of couples kissing, hint, hint.
As near-naked couples go for the first kiss you gotta wonder, how do the guys avoid getting an erection? There I said it. In fact for some blokes I’d suggest that’s a challenge from the moment someone begins to unzip their pants. It took until a later episode until someone told themselves, “Please don’t get excited.”
Subsequent episodes also included same-sex couples and someone with a hearing disability, but whilst I haven’t watched them all, the casting looks dominated by those in their 20s and early 30s.
The final part of the experiment gives each participant 30 seconds to decide if they want to meet again. Rolling YES and NO graphics spin like a poker machine, reminiscent of those old Biggest Loser scales. It’s totes awks at this point, as if it wasn’t already, as each faces the decision in front of the other. Get ready to be even more embarrassed, just without the laughter.
THE EXPERIMENT IS OVER
GET DRESSED AND LEAVE
After 30 minutes of semi-naked couples and a lot of awkward giggling, I find myself asking whether the experiment held up in a crowded dating genre. It’s First Dates with underwear, it’s Dating Naked with social questions, it’s Perfect Match without Dexter.
Could SBS be raising these social topics without people having to strip in order to get an audience? ABC’s You Can’t Ask That suggests it’s possible.
Could singles have TV blind dates that are exciting, stimulating, culturally enriching without having to get to their underwear? Could SBS have gotten a broad audience and ad revenue without half-naked folk wrapped vaguely around their Charter? So far that appears to be a No…..
Had the show actually gone full frontal, with couples meeting naked (as they do in Adam Looking for Eve) it may have had a better point by then asking couples to get dressed at the end. What if the guy you just grew to like naked suddenly has an ill-fitting 1990s suit? What if she dresses like a Kardashian? What if he likes to get around in trakky dacks and flannelette? This would artfully demonstrate how we judge people first on what they wear, not who they are.
Right now Undressed feels like a show you will probably watch once out of sheer curiosity. Frankly, it either needs more drama or more voyeurism than sitting in your boxer briefs giggling about your body image. Did it not have the, ahem, balls to nude up entirely?
But hey, at least it’s better than Sex Box.
Undressed screens 9:35pm Monday on SBS