Right alongside the debut of King of the Nerds there’s a more romantic look at the dorkier side of life—Geek Love. (Not to be confused with Katherine Dunn’s book of the same name.) The title may sound familiar; it started as a show on TLC in 2011, meeting with its fair share of understandably ticked off reviews. For season 2, the production has been moved to YouTube, and the format for the show altered considerably. Three ten-minute episodes are currently available for your viewing pleasure.
On its second and much-improved round, is it a reasonable portrayal of the trials of speed dating? Yes, and you might be surprised just how much.
A few thoughts to begin: Syfy gave a try at a show featuring nerd culture several years back with Who Wants to Be A Superhero? and CW outraged just about everyone with Beauty and the Geek. Until Geek Love came along, these were the only attempts to put geeks in the spotlight on reality TV. The first season of Geek Love earned a fair amount of ire by oozing pure condescension; needing to label moments where people were “talking geek” as soon as a TARDIS was mentioned and the like. Critically, no one was biting, so the new season has been considerably revamped. Perhaps the network realized they had bitten the hand they were trying to draw out—and that without the the geek community’s support the show would be a much harder won success. Poke too much fun and no one would want to play.
And this is stupendously ironic when you consider the fact that reality television exists for the sole purpose of making every kind of person look insane, out of touch, and ultimately laughable. From rich housewives to country bumpkins to suburbanites with packing crates full of kids, no one is saved from torment. So how do you engage the geek community with a reality show about themselves without alienating them?
You don’t trivialize what is important to them. Namely, in this case, falling in love.
The premise of Geek Love allows the show a plethora of colorful characters due to its basic premise—we’re following individuals who signed up for New York Comic Con’s speed dating event last year. Speed dating alone is fodder enough for comedy, but now we’re getting it with the buzz of a con atmosphere and plenty of costumed heroes to grab quotes from. Far from a humdrum, dimly lit cocktail club, this setting provides us all of the action with a healthy dose of fun.
Each person that the show has focused on so far has their share of awkward attributes—which is honestly true of most people on the dating scene. Alex seems self-deprecating, Casey Anne is on the timid side, and Brittany talks so fast to her prospectives that it makes your head spin. We watch each of them interact on their 3-minute dates and see the follow up, both at the convention and beyond.
There’s far less pointing and laughing this season, more explanations instead of highlighting “geek talk” and letting the viewer giggle at all the terms they don’t get. And the show even aims for some relevance while they’re at it; at times, the geekiness of the contestants brings up interesting points for card-carrying nerds and newbies alike. There is a brief glimpse at the “fake geek girl” issue, brought into sharp focus when Casey Anne is pleased that none of her dates so far have asked if she has played the game of the character she cosplays… only to be asked the dreaded question by her very next date. The viewer is dragged, slack-jawed, into an awareness of a problem so many women face. (The show itself otherwise does nothing to ease this issue; in the written teaser for Casey’s episode on YouTube, they begin by saying, “Casey Anne is not your typical geek. She’s blonde and beautiful, but don’t let that deceive you…” Thanks for that, guys.)
In addition, Alex seems to be poster boy for the way that male geeks are consistently portrayed. A man who still lives with his parents, is constantly told by women that they would rather just be his friend, and whose favorite (only?) out-on-the-town pastime is a board game night. Alex does not do well at speed dating. He handles the date part well, in fact, but the woman who picks him tells him immediately afterward that she’s only interested in being friends. It is unclear what changed her mind, which doesn’t help (it might be that he admits to still living with his parents?), and since there are no other male contestant episodes so far, it remains to be seen how men will come off on the show overall. Still, Alex’s dating woes are not utterly foreign to men who don’t read comic books—he is a type often seen on dating shows, often similarly getting the shaft for not appearing to have any prospects or goals. The problem becomes that we have no way of knowing if Alex is truly like this, or just appeared that way due to how the show was framed.
The only contestant to do well so far is Brittany, and her experience was exactly the sort that you’d expect on any kind of dating show. Brittany began each of her dates by rattling off a concise list: her interests, her job, etc. There were a couple of men who looked like contenders (many were extremely put off by her utilitarian style), but the one she settled on started out by giving his own similar list. It makes no difference that Brittany is a geek in the end, and her dating decisions proved it—what we are all in search for is a compatibility, and we typically know when it rings true if we’re confident enough.
The show certainly has its problems. For all the encouraging footage we see of geeks basking in the glow of the con, there are plenty clips of nerds saying things that are distinctly stereotypical and unflattering; one guy claims that he loves going to the convention to see all the scantily dressed girls. In addition, we can only hope that the show aims to showcase a wide variety of people from all walks of life. Different sexualities would be a definite plus, though it’s unclear from the glimpses we get of the speed dating circuit how they handle that. (They do, kindly, make sure to ask which gender each participant is interested in, so they must have a way of handling it.) The actual format of the event is awkward, with the women sitting down in front of the man they prefer—what happens if two women liked the same guy?
Reality television comes with its own special slew of problems. It’s rarely real, often derisive, and always needs to tell a story (even if one isn’t there to tell). You can’t trust it. But at least with Geek Love’s new makeover, there appears to be a genuine attempt to show how difficult it can be to put yourself out in the open for the sake of finding that missing piece. Which is something that anyone can relate to.