Just when you think every possible angle of the dating show has been wined, dined and, for the sake of propriety, let’s say refined, along comes Cosmic Love (Amazon Prime Video). This budget amalgamation of every other dating show has, as its USP, the “Astro Chamber” – a disembodied voice emanating from a ball of light in a room seemingly knocked together from leftovers at the Ikea sale. “I feel like I’m in space,” says one contestant, which is incredibly generous of her.
The Astro Chamber – a less cutting, more serene POD from Snog Marry Avoid – takes four participants, each representing an element of the zodiac (earth, air, fire and water) and partners them with another single person, based on their birth charts. They are, supposedly, compiled using the position of the planets and stars at the exact time and place that person came into the world. “By trusting fate and allowing yourself to be guided by astrology, you could find your perfect match,” it promises.
Does it work? Does it heck. There’s no real impetus for it to work, because if the key to instant and lifelong love and attraction really is birth chart compatibility, then the producers, sorry the Astro Chamber, should be able to pair up a couple straight away, then sit back and watch as they fall in love. That would be a sweet, smooth single episode, at most, but it isn’t a series. A full dating show series needs lots of drama, and in this case, it’s shoved in with the introduction of 16 single people. These newcomers may or may not be an astrological match for our four main players. They won’t find out until they have been on dates first, and only then will they get to see if their stars are aligned. Later in the series, there are some evictions and date rotations, in a laboured attempt to liven things up.
The dates make the Isle of Fernando’s look like an all-inclusive five-star resort in the Seychelles. Maria and her first date arrange bouquets of flowers to represent their feelings for each other. Noel, who admits he doesn’t really believe in astrology and chooses his first date because, “have you seen her?”, nevertheless hopes the stars might somehow fix his wandering eye. He goes to a spa. Phoebe does a spot of blacksmithing. Connor is tasked with, and I’m not making this up, “screaming into the void, off a cliff” with his partner. Neither of them particularly enjoy screaming into the void, off a cliff, which does, I suppose, suggest a certain level of compatibility.
What do they learn about each other? Anyone who has seen a dating show before, whether that’s First Dates or Love Is Blind or one of the Channel 4 Friday night sex ones, will find every conversation familiar. Some of them have commitment issues, some of them have been hurt and find it hard to trust anyone new. Some of them work too hard, some need better self-esteem. The issue, they all say, is with modern dating. It’s shallow and fickle, they grumble, while taking part in a process that treats marriage as a casual commodity. Hard to find someone genuine? I’m no marriage counsellor, but it’s hard not to wonder whether trusting a celestial entity called the Astro Chamber is the best way of finally tracking down that rare authentic soul.
Besides, it’s all so bloodless. Unless you are as devoted to the minutiae of several strangers’ birth charts as they are, then it’s just not very interesting. I suspect that birth charts are a bit like dreams, in that they are mostly fascinating to the person they belong to. If you remove “the use of fate as a tool” – surely fate is fundamentally resistant to being used as a tool in anything, since, if it exists, it is out of our control – then it’s essentially Married at First Sight, but the original, tamer UK version. People are paired up with partners who are perfect on paper, only to find that attraction doesn’t necessarily work to a formula. Drama ensues. By episode two, I was desperate to get off their cosmic journeys at the next possible stop.