Remember a few years ago when the producers of Jerry Springer announced that they wouldn't air any more fights? That they wanted the show to be taken more seriously, and apparently couldn't reconcile respectability with people trading punches over being in the KKK or who was whose baby daddy? And how ratings quickly dropped, and all of a sudden, respectability wasn't quite so important after all and they went back to showing the fights?
Date Lab doesn't have ratings, but if it did, I'll bet they'd be at an all-time low right about now. Date Lab doesn't have fights, either, but what it did have at one time were some of the most self-involved, self-delusional, self-sabotaging singles the D.C. area had to offer.
Now, though? All the people featured in Date Lab come off as normal and well-adjusted. (Well, as normal and well-adjusted as you can get when talking about someone who turned to the Washington Post to find a mate.)
And that is, to be perfectly blunt, fucking boring.
Let's look at this week's couple, Patrick and Grace. They both seem like nice, reasonably attractive people whose main flaw appears to be a mutual disregard for the importance of a good night's sleep. They even made out a little on the first date! Awwww. Oh, and they went out again, but not until a couple of scheduling snafus made Grace pessimistic about their chances of seeing one another again. Awwww...
See? Once in a while, that sort of Date Lab is fine. I accept that fact that it can't be all freaks, all the time. Even the occasional Twilight Zone episode had a happy ending. But when almost every Date Lab is like that? Unless you're a psycho, there's no point to voyeurism for its own sake. There has to be some sort of payoff. If you were the kind of person who aimed his or her telescope into your neighbors' bedroom, it wouldn't simply be to watch them read or watch TV, would it?
Even the dates that don't end up going anywhere are dull. Take John and Jen from a few weeks back. They went out, they parted on good terms, the end. Yawn.
Or how about Robert and Chrissie? It used to be that when a Date Lab concluded with a terse update like, "The daters don't plan to see each other again," you could be sure that something bad went down. But no. Robert: "There weren't any sparks, but that's fine. It was fun talking to someone who is so different." Chrissie: "We had good conversation, and he was a total gentleman the whole night."
Look, no one reads Date Lab to feel good about humanity or the prospects of finding true love. That's why we read B.I.O. We read Date Lab for the same reason we watch professional wrestling or slow down when we pass a horrible car accident: Because when it isn't us, carnage is fascinating.
So enough with all the feel-good couples. You can't tell me that D.C. has run out of single douchebags. You can't, because I see them all the time. Date Lab should be actively recruiting these people, not turning them away. Maybe set up some sort of finder's fee, where if you submit the name of a douchebag who's a friend/coworker/ex of yours who agrees to participate in Date Lab, you get a $20 gift card or 1,000 Post Points or something.
But come on, Washington Post Magazine editors. You can't seriously tell me that Date Lab now is as good as Date Lab from two years ago. You probably don't even have as much fun putting it together as you used to. Wasn't it so much more enjoyable writing about the Leana Wens of the world than the Patricks and Graces?
The bottom line is, there's no good, virtuous reason to publicly chronicle the awkward and occasionally humiliating first date of two complete strangers in print for the entertainment of readers. Make no mistake, Date Lab is an inherently evil concept. So why fight it? Accept it. Embrace it. Give us something to laugh at again. You know you want to.