In 2015, Aziz Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg co-wrote Modern Romance: An Investigation, a book that explored changes in coupling and dating patterns in the most recent decade. In it, he considered the idea of “overchoice” in relationships, a concept first introduced in Alvin Toffler’s 1971 book Future Shock, and later explored in Barry Schwartz’s 2004 book The Paradox of Choice. Ansari essentially argues that having more options to meet potential mates seems superficially good, but tends to make the actual process of choice much more difficult and can ultimately lead to less romantic fulfillment.
“First Date” functions like a comedic offshoot of that idea, along with other insights explored in Modern Romance. The episode follows Dev on a series of first dates from the Love at First Sight app, except all the dates are edited together, creating the illusion that Dev is on one long first date with a rotating cast of women. It’s an effective formal trick that facilitates a funny vignette style and dovetails well with the episode’s “paradox of choice” theme. Dev goes out on a lot of dates, but just because he has ready access to many women doesn’t inherently lead to more chances for a good time, let alone sex or even a genuine connection.
It’s somewhat of a basic idea that makes intuitive sense, especially to those in Dev’s age demographic. Overchoice has always existed, but it’s more readily perceptible with the rise of the internet and other technology. If “First Date” has any one flaw, it’s that it takes the profundity of that concept as a given. Ansari and Yang thankfully don’t make it explicit, but they fill the episode with plenty of thematic winking that feels heavy-handed even when it’s understated.
However, “First Date” largely succeeds because it’s both frequently funny and the date(s) themselves are grounded in recognizable human behavior. One woman openly admits to mooching off her parents’ money just to screw around, another awkwardly excuses herself at a dinner table to snort cocaine in the bathroom, and yet another openly scrolls a dating app in front of Dev under the guise of an emergency. These all feel like modern bad-date stories that occur when you’re primarily meeting new people through the internet.
Lest you think the episode demonizes women by only featuring “bad” matches, Ansari and Yang counter those negative experiences with more positive ones. Dev has initially favorable experiences with Christine (Lauren Miller Rogen), a white employee who works at a dog hotel; Priya (Tiya Sircar), a friendly Indian woman; Diana (Condola Rashad), Dev’s black actor colleague previously featured in the first-season episode “Ladies and Gentlemen”; and Stephanie (Aparna Nancherla), a pro wrestling–obsessed ramen blogger.
Most of the fun of “First Date” derives from the strange interludes that occur throughout the evening: One date indifferently Snapchats a fistfight on the street while Dev calls the police, a Syrian war reporter friend of another date makes Dev feel insecure, and so on. But as the evening winds down and Dev makes a pass at each woman with whom he connected, he receives different responses. Stephanie informs him that she has a boyfriend and only uses the app to make friends. Diana says they should just remain friends. Priya and Dev politely kiss and make plans to meet up again next week. Dev and Christine passionately make out and end up sleeping together.
Of course, Christine turns out to not be a meaningful match of any kind, as she owns a racist Mammy jar. Dev tries to politely point out that it’s offensive and receives immediate defensive pushback, especially when Christine points out that he decided to have sex with her anyway after seeing the jar. It’s a funny turn and Ansari plays it very well, like when he struggles to explain that he comes from a good place as Dev awkwardly exits Christine’s apartment.
In the end, Dev is alone in his apartment, generally unsatisfied with the evening, but still committed to sending his patented “Going to Whole Foods” line to matches on the app. There might be too many choices, but backing out entirely means no choice at all. A jungle can be adventurous and ensnaring at the same time.
Jack of All Trades
• One of the highlights of the episode is when Dev’s dates list the weird, usually fetish-related messages they receive on the app. One date recounted that a guy sent her a picture of a handwritten letter that read, “Whaddup with them big ol’ titties” with a supplementary drawing of two big ol’ titties.
• Priya and Dev discuss the concept of cliquish Indians, or Indians who only hang out with other Indians, and how there’s usually a white minority in the clique. Though I personally was never a part of such a clique in college or otherwise, this is a frequent occurrence and it’s interesting to see it casually discussed on the series — especially the idea that white minorities sometimes overstep their bounds within the group, e.g. Priya’s white friend doing the Indian head bob.
• While out at a rooftop bar, a fan of Clash of the Cupcakes approaches Dev and tells him that the show helped his friend through a round of chemotherapy, leading to a nice but uncomfortable moment between the two.