Charlie David is well aware of the power of love and the effect that love has on humans. “Love is so addictive. Whether it’s getting those heart palpitations ourselves or watching other people prance and peacock and put their foot in their mouth in the pursuit of it, it is absolutely something that humans will always find entertaining.” This fascination led to an unbridled affection for the reality TV dating genre. Like most non-straight folks, he had grown accustomed to never seeing himself in the media and wanted to take steps to change that. “Being gay and part of the LGBTQ+ community meant growing up with a lack of representation in media – especially positive reflections of our lives. Often our lives have been depicted as tragic and at worst – criminal. Making a diverse, inclusive series about queer people searching for, exploring and finding love and relationships is the kind of show that’s been underserved and I think we’re hungry for. We’re all deserving of love and I want to reinforce that idea for our community on screen.” He concocted his new show, Dating Unlocked, as a means to satiate that craving. “In Dating Unlocked, hopeful romantics from the LGBTQ2S+ community move beyond curated social media and dating profiles to find love in real life, and potentially share the key to their hearts. From the traditional to more radical, there are daters from all walks of life who share the same goal – to find a hook-up, a date or their one and only. In each episode, our lead dater selects someone they’d like to continue the romance with – by choosing between three prospective dates. To assist these love seekers in creating a connection with the lead dater, each episode involves games, activities and intimate moments tailored to showcase their personalities and interests. After weighing their options, the lead dater extends a secret invite for a second date. Will the chosen person unlock those fuzzy, flirty feelings and show up or leave them alone behind the door? You’ll have to watch to find out!”
Charlie wanted to craft a new type of dating show with healthy relationship habits at the center. “We aimed to create a different kind of reality dating show. We didn’t want to fall into bad habits we’ve seen on other reality TV – because we had the opportunity to make something new to also make something better. Open communication and consent were a priority. This was a no drugs/no alcohol situation which is certainly not always the case in reality TV. We wanted our daters to lower their own inhibitions naturally and by their own volition. When they choose to explore intimacy, they are in the driver seat and for whatever that means to them and the person or people they are with. Intimacy can be a deep conversation, it can be holding hands or a slow dance – it can also be a strip tease or making out. But however they want to pursue getting to know the other daters, we wanted to ensure there was always discussion and ongoing consent practiced because that’s sexy.” The show was also designed to be a sledgehammer to the stale queerphobic tropes often perpetuated by heteronormative media – and real life. “Dating Unlocked is a reality series featuring LGBTQ people, who despite the evergreen popularity of the dating format, are often excluded from or tokenized in the storytelling, reinforcing old ideas that queer people are not deserving of love or relationships – traditional or otherwise. Changing that story is really important to me and my partner, Patrick Ware and on a road trip from Toronto to Montreal we developed the concept for the show. For a very long time, Patrick and I didn’t always feel comfortable holding hands walking down the street, booking a couples’ spa day, or requesting one bed and not two when checking into a hotel. Even living in a progressive country like Canada, gay marriage only became legal in 2005 when I was 25 years old, so there’s all those formative years prior feeling like an unequal member of our society. We want to make sure Valentine’s Day and the whole month of February is a time for LGBTQ lovers too and Dating Unlocked shows that love, dating and relationships are for everyone in society – including those that don’t fall into the majority. We have an incredible cast and crew working on this show and our goal is to engage the hearts and minds of our audience by amplifying the stories of those who have previously felt unseen or alone. Dating Unlocked is our big gay valentine to the world.”
By portraying the LGBTQ+ dating world in a fun, competitive format, Charlie hopes to provide a respite from the hetero heavy imagery of Valentine’s Day. “I think just by virtue of being present and being seen and speaking about and sharing our romantic lives openly – we make a difference. In February every year we are inundated with heteronormative depictions of love and relationships everywhere, and that can be hard for queer people. We can start to question, ‘where do I fit in all of this? Am I deserving of this too? Can I go out in my community and feel comfortable having a candlelit dinner of my own?’” He’s the first to readily (and perhaps wryly) admit that he was inspired by his own dating experiences. “I’ve done my fair share of falling in and out of love, made mistakes, made assumptions, ghosted, played the fool, was the fool. I think what I most craved in creating this show was to move beyond the swipe left/swipe right digital experience of dating that so many people are in and feel trapped in now. I think it’s critically important to actually get out into the world and meet people and have incredible adventures of the heart.”
Dating Unlocked also proudly features other aspects of the community, like kink and polyamory. Charlie felt empowered having the ability to display these clearly underrepresented factions. “Absolutely! Being queer means we’re different by nature and so we don’t have to fall into doing what society or tradition deems as correct or expected. It ALSO allows us to affirm that pursuing puppy play or polyamory or BDSM or any other non-conforming relationship or sexual dynamic is valid – and there are a whole LOT of people who likely jive to that jam. Our director, Sam Coyle, and I had a conversation as we were prepping for the series and wanted to clearly communicate to our whole team, to everyone on the cast and crew – ‘we don’t yuck someone else’s yum.’ And if it’s not clear – that means we maintain an open mind and heart, we don’t judge, we welcome people to share and explore. When we do that, we have some awesome transformational moments of ‘aha’ both within ourselves and within the daters on the show – and that makes some great television.” He has pointed words of wisdom for those in the LGBTQ2S+ community who are seeking love. “Be brave enough to get out and meet real people in real life. It can start with the dating apps on your phone but follow through and show the other person and yourself respect by showing up with an open mind, an open heart and a genuine curiosity about the human(s) standing across from you. I think we sometimes are so focussed on ourselves that the most wonderful person could be in the room and we’re too preoccupied with our phone, how we think we’re being perceived or sounding/looking smart that we miss someone and something incredible. Let your guard down, be vulnerable and you’ll be amazed.”
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Hopeful LGBTQ+ Romantics Vie for Love in New Show, “Dating Unlocked.” Photo Credit: Border2Border Entertainment.