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I Kissed a Girl review – the sweetest, most touching reality TV in a long time
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I Kissed a Girl review – the sweetest, most touching reality TV in a long time

First, let’s start with the premise: 10 singles are sent to a villa – sorry, masseria – in Italy in the hopes of finding love. They’re each coupled up – in this case, sealed with a kiss from a total stranger – before staying together in a big group bedroom. As the days go on, new cast members enter the masseria. If they don’t recouple in time, someone has to leave. When they’re not taking part in challenges designed to reveal more about their interior lives, they’re plopped around on bean bags gossiping. Sound familiar? Yes, BBC Three’s I Kissed a Girl, presented by Dannii Minogue, is essentially the same premise as Love Island except – and this is the crucial bit – it’s for queer women only.

When my friends and I used to imagine what a “lesbian Love Island” might look like, we used to joke – affectionately, excitedly – that it could easily spiral into chaos. Maybe they’d become attached too quickly and never recouple, making the format redundant (a stereotype known as “U-hauling”). Maybe they’d swap exes constantly (something we tend to do more than our straight counterparts, due to smaller dating pools). Or maybe they’d never be sure if they were friends or lovers, lovers or friends, each caught in a cycle of grey area “What are we?” until the show wound to a close (another stereotype attached to young queers new to the dating scene).

What we’re presented with, however, is the sweetest, most touching reality TV dating to have hit UK screens in some time. The cast members, mainly in their early to mid-20s, are careful with each other, constantly communicating their feelings even when those feelings are new, uncomfortable or undesirable. “I think it’s nice that she told me, because she doesn’t owe me anything,” 23-year-old Demi tells the camera in the second episode, after being gently turned down. “I do have a bit of insecurity regarding the fact that I haven’t been with a lot of women … It can be really frustrating, and I shouldn’t let that happen. I should be able to explore my queerness to the full extent that I want to, and not cage myself in.”

Contestants on I Kissed a GirlView image in fullscreen

It is hard to pinpoint what makes the show so wildly different to its buffed up, heterosexual ITV counterpart – despite sharing such a similar format. Perhaps the lack of straight male contestants makes the show less of a breeding ground for misogynistic tropes (in 2022, Love Island drew 1,500 Ofcom complaints over alleged misogyny). There’s no “boy code”, no shaming women for their “body count”, no casual sexism. Even when contestants behave in ways that are messy, or less than ideal, as we all can, their actions never feel imbued with the nastiness that plagues Love Island in its lowest moments. “It worries me just a smidge,” says one cast member when the person she’s coupled with flirts with someone else, before the two of them discuss where they’re at in a calm, face-to-face conversation.

Maybe it feels a little simplistic to claim that the show’s sweetness comes purely from a lack of straight male energy or heterosexual dynamics. These are young queer women, some of whom have only recently come out, some who live in small UK towns, who are now living in a whole house of queers of a similar age. You can feel the excitement; they’re happy to be there, swapping coming-out stories and whether they’re into butches or femmes or whether they’re keen to try something new. When the first contestant leaves, she thanks the whole house: “I feel a lot more secure in my sexuality, I don’t feel confused, I don’t feel shame, I got to meet a bunch of fit girls! I’ve got a cool queer group. Honestly, I don’t regret anything.”

I Kissed a Girl isn’t completely saccharine or devoid of drama. There are spats, tears, moments of jealousy, contestants going behind other contestants’ backs for a cheeky kiss on the terrace (yes, like Love Island, there is also a terrace), endless partner swaps and moments in which you want to shake some of these baby lesbians through the TV (you don’t need to protect yourself so ferociously!). But there are no out-and-out villains, no scenes that you know they’ll come to regret later, no moments in which you wince at a contestant’s cruel treatment – whether by other contestants or via the challenges on the show.

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Source: theguardian.com