If a marketable concept could ever trump execution, it’s “First Love, Second Chance,” a TV Land series that resonates mostly because the channel’s boomer audience can easily putty-in the gaps. Allowing people to reconnect with lost loves, the self-contained episodes aren’t much different from any other dating show, except for the what-might-have-been idea, which ought to exert a powerful pull on our oft-divorced populace. The show could just as easily be titled “Middle-Aged People, Poor Choices,” but given the Viacom net’s modest ratings expectations, a successful hook-up with viewers seems likely.
The premiere involves a couple who essentially did little more than flirt in high school — 29 years ago — when he was an Australian exchange student living in her house. Now, they’re 46, she’s a divorced mom of five and he’s a single dad.
Reunited through the show, the two spend a week together, trying to see if any of the old attraction still exists. “The flame has definitely been fanned,” one of them says, speaking in a manner unique to bad romance novels and reality dating shows.
Mostly, the series demonstrates that when it comes to love, people never really outgrow their teenage giddiness — and remain inordinately enamored with the notion of recapturing it, in the same way music and ballplayers of our youth are “better” than the ones today. Perhaps that’s why the second episode doesn’t work as well, involving as it does people in their late 30s who dated a mere dozen years before.
If only the show didn’t engage in the requisite silly dating show flourishes, from direct-to-camera testimonials and “final video messages” to awkward introductions to the people currently in their lives, which feel conspicuously staged. When an old rival suitor rears his head in the premiere, what’s next, one wonders, saggy pistols at dawn?
For all that, “First Love” is such a readily identifiable notion that TV Land appears to have landed the equivalent of a demographic bull’s-eye. The baby-boomer generation has left a trail of broken marriages and disappointing relationships, so the notion of looking back to one’s past to find the future will doubtless appeal to many — or at the very least, makes watching surrogates undergo the process intriguing enough to become a survivor.
Even with a slew of knockoffs structured around permutations of “The Bachelor” theme, dating shows have been pretty durable. And while the modest platform that is TV Land probably won’t unleash a raging ratings fire, the flames, as it were, have been fanned.