I Kissed a Boy does something Love Island hasn't – and it's not what you think

joseph, ross, i kissed a boy
I Kissed a Boy does something Love Island hasn'tBBC

When learning I Kissed a Boy is the UK's first gay dating show, you can't help but think "Surely not?"

But while we've had queer matchmaking efforts like Are You The One? or Finding Prince Charming, the new BBC Three reality show does indeed mark a watershed moment, with an all-queer cast of Brits enjoying the summer of their lives in Italy.

Hosted by a luscious Dannii Minogue, the first two episodes see 10 singletons arrive in Puglia for a summer's stay at the masseria – which is Italian for farmhouse, not villa.

The show attempts a new twist on the basic dating show ingredients, as each of the matched-up couples must kiss at first sight, in what are sweaty-palmed but often disarming initial meetings.

The I Kissed a Boy pairs then gird their loins for the stick or twist of the "kiss off", whipping up the fear of rejection, which takes shape in the turned back of a partner.

joseph, ross, i kissed a boy

The under-the-European-sun matchmaking leaves the Love Island comparisons impossible to ignore. Yet while ITV2 described LGBTQ+ representation on the summer sensation as a "logistical difficulty", the BBC has shown how it can be done and done well.

The secret in the sauce seems to be a lesson the broadcaster learned from the smash success of recent TV BAFTA winner The Traitors: casting is everything. A complaint often levelled at Love Island, among the various long-standing gripes, is that the Islanders are so brazenly out for fame and followers that everything they say and do is carefully calculated based on how it will be received on Twitter.

The result creates often vapid scenes with stock phrases long emblazoned on Primark tees – "type on paper", "eggs in one basket" – but on I Kissed a Boy they're chatting who is a top or bottom and exchanging snippets of queer life in their hometowns within moments of meeting one another.

kailum, jake, i kissed a boy

The masseria guys immediately feel more 'normal' than the unrealistic lean sheen of the Love Island factory. Instead, we have a range of body types to add another layer of diversity to the show.

In the second episode, this opens an opportunity to touch on the body issues that pervade the gay community. Ollie, 27, explains why he's cautious going into relationships, sharing with his cast members an experience of rejection when he took his top off with a date. He explains the "shame" and "stigma" surrounding queer men's body image and how it can calcify into a fear of intimacy.

The vulnerability of the first two episodes comes through in moments like this which are peppered in, like when Josh, 24, spoke about coming out to a very religious community or green-fingered Jake, 27, shared his decision never to share his sexuality with his late grandparents.

ollie, i kissed a boy

That's not to say that I Kissed a Boy forces the emotion of these backstories, but instead allows the details to add authenticity to the truly likeable cast and show how each of their lives as gay men before entering the masseria impact who they want to kiss now.

Dating shows are aggressively straight and highly choreographed fare, but the queer makeover of I Kissed a Boy shows how the specifics of the gay experience can add an intimacy – whether it be romantic or not – that is absent from the formats we've grown used to.

The triumph of I Kissed a Boy is that BBC Three has managed to foster a safe and open environment to let each of the 10 men thrive, all while they get their graft on around the Mediterranean pool.

The show is set for a tentative eight-episode run, which is unlikely to whip up the frenzy that the nightly instalments of Love Island and its interactive voting on couples does, but it's a welcome reminder that the ITV2 show doesn't have the dating monopoly it seems to. Instead, I Kissed a Boy shows that there are brilliant alternatives on our screens, where emotional depth is balanced with sheer queer joy and a healthy dose of drama.

The first two episodes of I Kissed A Boy are available on iPlayer, with new episodes every Sunday.

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