Imagine, for a moment, that you’re allowed to pick the romantic partner of your dreams. Imagine you could log on to a computer and design them from top to bottom. You can choose their gender, their race, their height, their weight, their eye colour and every single proportion you can possibly think of. Your one true soulmate. Doesn’t that sound perfect?
If you think so, you should try watching E4’s new dating show Game of Clones. This is exactly how it starts: a man or a woman in a room, obsessively tweaking the details of their dream catch like Weird Science never happened. Make him taller. Shorten his hair. Give her bigger boobs. On and on it goes, until they finally reach perfection. But this isn’t the creepy part.
Because then the production team goes out and finds a flesh-and-blood person who exactly fits your blueprint. Surely, given how much effort was put into the creation of the design, this guarantees love at first sight, right? No, because this still isn’t the creepy part.
Because the production team has managed to find seven other people who also fit the bill. You enter a room to find eight identical, and identically dressed, people, all of whom fulfil your physical requirements to the letter, and all of whom want to be yours. This is Game of Clones: a show where loads of people who look alike fight for your affections until, presumably, your psyche irreparably breaks from reality and you’re plunged into a world of confusion and despair.
Watching the moment the picker walks into a room to find it rammed to the gills with doppelgangers is undoubtedly the reason why Game of Clones was ever made. It is relentlessly discombobulating; a piece of fractured Busby Berkeley choreography that holds the whole show together. It’s like watching the Agent Smith fight at the end of the Matrix 2, but with all the parts played by self-consciously nonchalant twentysomething men in baseball caps. It’s a broken photocopier of a moment. It’s like having your browser bombarded with endless identical pop-up ads.
Game of Clones offers up some interesting questions. In the first week, for example, a woman named Charlotte is presented with eight mixed-race men all wearing baseball caps. Theoretically they are all the man of her dreams, but she has to eliminate seven of them. The message, if you dig hard enough, is that it’s what’s inside that counts. After all, when everyone looks perfectly alike, what else do you have to go on but personality? In theory, this is a show about the stripping away of peripheral superficialities.
However, in practise, Game of Clones is a long, long series – an episode a day for several weeks – that’s slightly too infatuated with its own gimmick to fully sustain itself. Because once the shock of the new – hey, all these people look the same! – wears off, the series loses confidence and retreats back to the comfort of tired old dating show conventions. There’s a speed dating round, and quizzes, and tasks so tenuously related to romance that they’ll make you groan, and date after date after date. At the end of each episode, one clone is sent home. Look, you get it, and you’ve seen it all before.
Perhaps that’s the real message of Game of Clones. It’s not that there’s no such thing as perfect. It’s not that personality always trumps physical appearance. It’s that, however you package it, dating is a long, flat slog that’s boring to experience and even more boring to watch. Some things you just can’t choose.
Game of Clones starts at 7.30PM on 27 February on E4.
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