As someone who hasn’t been on a “first date” in over a quarter of a century, I’m well out of the loop in understanding how people currently engage in this age-old social ritual. So my excessive display of surprise when recently told by an old high school friend that he met his wife through a web dating service was borne out of honest ignorance. In fact, Online Dating Magazine estimates that 20 million people a month visit Internet dating sites such as eHarmony, Match.com or Zoosk.
This actually shouldn’t be all that surprising as a simple glance at the news reveals a plethora of events where the Internet plays a pivotal role, ranging in importance from Rebecca Black’s rise as a pop culture star (sorta) to regime change in Egypt and Libya (maybe). With that in mind, the writing/producing/directing team Mark L. Feinsod and Evan Leed use the popularity of this form of hooking up as the premise for 1,001 Online Dates. The independently-produced series is, appropriately enough, accessible online at 1001onlinedates.com.
1,001 Online Dates follows three friends, Thad (Mark L. Feinsod), Roger (Evan Leed) and Wilhelmina (Stephanie Rockwell), who are looking for love in a post-Facebook/Twitter world. Broken down into easily digestible seven minute installments, the first two webisodes of season one are now available for viewing (with a third coming soon). But don’t be fooled by its chosen venue. 1,001 Online Dates is no cheaply made, amateurish YouTube effort. Outings one and two are polished productions that play out as “date procedurals” in the form of an appealing mashup between the dialogue-driven In Treatment and the madcap Love, American Style.
In “Sandra,” a recently dumped Thad has a date with the titular character from hell. “Episode 1 is based on an online date I had back in 2001 or 2002,” Feinsod says, “and to this day I’m not sure if the woman I went out with was fucking with me or was really crazy.” While Sandra’s entertainingly insane restaurant antics drive the story, it’s Thad’s forced silence when trying to maintain a semblance of social protocol that really sells it (Feinsod based Thad on Monsieur Hulot). The date featured in the second outing, “Jen,” takes place over a picnic lunch at the park. Roger, another relationship casualty, gets in over his head by attempting to impress the socially conscious Jen and ends up trying to keep his own personal Internet history from repeating itself.
This brings me to the one nit I have with the series. Being a literalist (probably to a fault), I went into 1,001 Online Dates expecting the production design to incorporate actual Internet elements. I would have made the “online” aspect of the series a virtual cast member by, say, incorporating quick shots of the show’s fictional dating site as exposition to set up each encounter (similar to the Law and Order “DA-DUMM” bumpers). Maybe even overlay a Google map of the locations, emails and other communication leading up to the date, and subsequent Tweets by the characters scrolling across the bottom of the screen exclaiming how much fun they did or didn’t have.
Feinsod sees my point, but doesn’t really agree. In reality, the web dating site is just a device to get the audience quickly into the meat of “first date” experience without a lot of lengthy exposition on how the two people met. Think of the way Star Trek used the transporter to simply drop characters into the action and, thus, avoid the need for repetitive (and expensive) landing sequences (btw, this is my fanboy analogy, not Feinsod’s).
Going forward, Feinsod and Leed plan to keep the format fresh. “Evan and I are already moving away from what we were afraid would become the formula of the series: a crazy date bookended by relatively short scenes between the three main characters,” Feinsod says. “Episode 02 and episode 03 also follow that structure, but I’m in the midst of writing episode 05 and it veers from it pretty strongly or, I should say, as much as is possible within the confines of a seven minute webisode. Evan’s working on episode 04, and he told me that it ditches that formula, too.”
Regarding the decision to do a web series, Feinsod says, “I spent five years working on an independent, low budget feature, and it was a really unsatisfying experience in many ways. The great thing about web series is that they’re cheap and easy to do, and if you have a good crew and actors, it’s really a chance for an excellent script and performances to stand out. Plus, it’s easy to share, which means there’s a good possibility of getting decent exposure.”
As for the future of online dating, what Frank Zappa once said in the waning days of “disco” music seems apropos: “I’ve been in discos around the world. I’ve made a very thorough sociological study of discos…As long as people want to get laid, there will be something like a disco—because that’s the main social function of a discotheque.” Likewise, as long as people want to get laid, there will always be something to facilitate first dates.
Matt Maul is author of the blog Maul of America.