“3,” a new dating reality series on CBS, is a weirdly charming show with a terrible title. Presumably, “3 Gorgeous Women Who Want to Find a Date, But Somehow Can’t, So They Go on a Reality Show” was too long, or already taken.
That’s pretty much the gist of the series, which debuts Thursday night. “3” is a grown-up version of any show that has ever relied on a hot tub or alcohol or dignity-losing physical challenges to help contestants find a mate. It’s as though a dating show had a wake-up call, or a stern talking-to from a friend: Bikini-clad games of Twister can be fun, but that’s not how you’re going to meet your soul mate.
So, “3” officially becomes the polite, mature reality dating show with reasonable expectations. Everything is scaled back — there’s no house filled with inebriated singletons fighting like caged zoo animals going after the same piece of meat. Instead, “3” enlists a trio of stunning women who are tired of the dating scene, moves them into a luxurious — but tastefully decorated — mansion in Chicago and helpfully sends in a steady stream of attractive men to woo them.
The hopefuls are April, 29, a fashion entrepreneur; Libby, 24, a model; and Rachel, 34, a single mom. Catfights are nowhere to be found, a strange and refreshing change of pace from usual reality fare. They sit wide-eyed, listening to one another’s stories — Libby, about her devotion to religion, and Rachel, about losing her 33-year-old husband to brain cancer.
Soon after, 100 men are sent through the front door, one at a time, and sit on an uncomfortable-looking chair in front of the three women, demurely seated on a couch. They have a few minutes to impress, and the women can decide to ask them on a date or send them packing. After all, each woman gets only six men to bring on the next round.
Some men are earnest and adorable and bring everything from puppies to sangria mix to stand out from the crowd. Dan, a lawyer from Chicago, brightens when Rachel tells him she has two kids. “Are they just the most fun ever, though?” he asks happily. Some men are creepy — notably, the guy who compares the women’s reasons for liking their favorite food to the same way they feel about sex.
But the stakes are low all around, which makes the proceedings less awkward when someone gets turned down. The rejections are kind: “I’m definitely not feeling a huge spark.” “I don’t see a connection between us; I’m going to pass.” “I think we’re just not a good match.” And even though the guys can accept a date proposal from more than one woman, there’s no fighting. “I’m happy to defer to somebody if they think it’s a huge spark,” April says brightly, and we imagine the hyperventilating that would go on in the editing room of another show if a participant uttered such a helpful phrase.
The show is so low-key that it borders on tedium through the hour. To keep it from feeling too much like a really long round of job interviews, the producers splice in the little drama they can find — April gently scolding Libby for pushing her to accept one guy’s date proposal, for example. All is instantly forgiven.
Scenes from upcoming episodes show the women narrowing down their suitors by going on lavish dates around the country and look blissfully free of screaming matches and heartbreak. “Here’s to hope,” April, Libby and Rachel say as they toast to wrap up the episode. Cliche? Most definitely — but what’s not cliche is a dating show that ends on any note of hope at all.
(one hour) debuts Thursday night at 10 on CBS and then moves to its regular time slot this week, Sunday at 9.