emergency discussion

Love Is Blind Failed to Live

Technical difficulties were just the start of the Netflix reality series’ reunion problems. Photo: Netflix

Occasionally, Vulture staff will convene an emergency discussion about something that’s been haunting us. This week, that topic is the Love Is Blind Live Reunion, which mostly managed to be a reunion but completely failed as a live event. Here, Vulture staffers Zoë Haylock, Dee Lockett, and Kathryn VanArendonk gather to discuss the factors that produced a lackluster broadcast.

Kathryn VanArendonk: In its second outing as a purveyor of Real, Live Television Events, Netflix once again tripped over its own feet. The first one, the live Chris Rock special Selective Outrage, was certainly more successful than this Love Is Blind reunion, at least as far as the most fundamental metric is concerned: Netflix did manage to broadcast something live. But Selective Outrage was diminished by being a live special in other ways, and after the much more remarkable mess of the Love Is Blind Live Reunion, it’s starting to feel like Netflix is testing technology for a thing it does not need and should not be using.

The live broadcast delay is its own big, bizarre flop, and we need to talk about it. But we also need to talk about the reunion itself — what it promised, what it delivered, and why Vanessa Lachey seems to be desperate for the fresh blood of a Love Is Blind infant. What did you go into this reunion wanting? Did you have any reason to suspect the live mechanics of this were going to fail so spectacularly?

Dee Lockett: I went in both wanting and expecting mess, and, well, I can’t say Netflix didn’t deliver on some of that. But it’s funny you bring up the Chris Rock special as their shining previous example of livestreaming when, really, it seems like their best success was the SAG Awards. And you know why? ’Cause they streamed it on YouTube, the same site that Coachella partnered with to livestream its whole festival this year and every year. YouTube is (mostly) free and (mostly) knows what it’s doing with livestreaming. Why did Netflix think it could try to be in the same business? God help ’em if they seriously want to enter live sports. It also just goes to show how fake Netflix’s numbers are — or, maybe, how much they don’t take them seriously. It appears everyone in that building underestimated how many more people care about Love Is Blind (and reality-show reunions in general) than Chris Rock. Idiots.

Zoë Haylock: Clearly I’m more optimistic than Netflix because us hoards of Love Is Blind viewers had good reason to expect an interesting live show. The season-one reunion had a fake-out proposal. Season two had its most controversial cast member yet, Shake Ratterjee, declare love for host Vanessa Lachey in front of her husband. And after a dud of a third season, season four had all the potential for reality-TV mayhem, from Paul’s comments about Micah not being a good mother after he said “I don’t,” to Jackie’s exposed texts and Josh being Josh. So while I put my faith in Netflix’s ability to simply press “LIVE,” I also expected the live show to put the cast members on the defensive, stressed about something they might say going viral on TikTok. And maybe that was Netflix’s first mistake, creating a situation where even if it was live, nothing worth seeing in the moment would go down. Didn’t it feel more like a press conference?

Dee: That’s a great point. So much of the drama and defensiveness, not to mention the show’s appeal, is directly related to the season’s edit. And each character is edited to appear a certain way. But when you take out that element, most of the cast panicked on live TV and resorted to being their own producer. You saw Irina and Micah on their absolute best behavior, not trying to stir any further pots or say the wrong thing and cause more damage to their co-stars or themselves. (They still have other Netflix shows to consider!) The only people who seemed prepared to throw the whole script away were Property Brother Zack and Marshall — the latter for good reason. But even they couldn’t come for full blood without Jackie there, or without more or less piling on Micah and Irina if they weren’t going to play along. Honestly? Vanessa felt like the only one who thrived in this chaotic “unscripted” environment (that’s the MTV training), even when she went totally off the rails. What did y’all think of her performance?

Kathryn: I’ve always found the Lachey Element to be hilarious and fascinating on Love Is Blind. In the beginning they felt like vestigial organs, hosts for a show that absolutely does not need hosts. As time has gone on, their presence in the main body of the show feels more and more like mascots. They show up, they yell the important team catchphrases (“Is love … really blind?”), but no one mistakes them as crucial to the actual functioning of the game. And if someone else were to show up playing the role of Vanessa Lachey, it’d barely be noticeable. But turning them into reunion hosts requires significant work on their part, and it’s at that point where it starts to feel weird that the mascot is now the quarterback of the game.

All of which is to say, Vanessa does very well in the parts where she’s found some little secret and wants to get to the bottom of it. The moment near the end of the finale when she’s trying to suss out who said that Micah had never planned to marry Paul, and finally lands on Irina as the culprit — give that woman a little Hercule Poirot mustache! But when it pivots into “Aunt Vanessa desperately needs you all to have babies,” it starts to collapse. Andy Cohen’s not over here begging Real Housewives to get their lives together! His job is to revel in the disasters!

Your point about the edit is so good, Dee. I wonder how much of this would’ve been easy to address if they just pretaped the dang thing and let producers cut out the tonally weird bits?

Zoë: “I do wanna say,” and, “I did wanna address this” — if Irina didn’t receive media training I will personally throw one of her picnic-table setup party things. At one point I did think she was reading some sort of teleprompter, and I realize that’s slanderous. Is it really live if the cast rehearsed anyway?

Dee, you’re so right that the show really allowed each of them, especially Jackie and Josh, to tailor their own narrative. And it is not a Lucia-quality job. Vanessa did a great job tracking the plot points people care about (I thank her for going point-by-point with Marshall), but both she and Nick are a little too forgiving with the cast members. Andy Cohen makes reunions work because he’s never fully on the Housewives’ side. The only time I really felt that was when Vanessa assumed the role of Jackie and pushed back on Marshall. With edits, they could’ve at least trimmed moments that felt inorganic instead of letting Vanessa keep coming back to Kwame and Chelsea to address their Instagram comments. But when she called his sister, Barbara, “Brenda?” That needed to be live.

What was worth seeing live for y’all?

Kathryn: Nothing! Nothing was worth seeing live! The thing I wanted out of a live reunion had nothing to do with the reunion itself. Even that “Brenda” moment, stellar though it is, would’ve been just as good pretaped and then edited to a high sheen. What I wanted out of a live reunion was the exact thing Netflix could not deliver: The experience of everyone watching it at the same time so we could all yell, “Did she just call his sister Brenda?!” at the same moment. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that Succession was on at 9 p.m. last night and a big chunk of my own little viewing circle tapped out of the Love Is Blind experience as soon as Succession started. It’s not because Succession was being shot live at that very moment. It’s because everyone knew to start it at the same time. For me, that’s the biggest potential upside of this whole live Netflix experiment. And it could all still be pretaped and edited!

Dee: Zoë, please believe I kept waiting for Irina to look down at her hands and see her whole speech written on them.

So I’m with ya, Kathryn — the only time this live element delivered, for me, was that brief period where it was functioning for more than just two people and we got to collectively react in real-time on Slack. Or, hell, even that whole hour-long delay when Twitter really Twitter’d. Don’t try to re-create appointment TV and miss the whole appointment! But Netflix has never been good at truly manufacturing a moment; the audience typically does all that work for them, latching on to shows and movies the platform barely promotes and then turning them into cult hits that demand further discourse. (Hi, Squid Game.) But did you all notice just how much of the “live” special wasn’t even live? A good half of it, maybe even more, was previously aired footage: that pretaped Jackie and Josh barely tell-all (please note how Nick wasn’t even invited for that) and that corny couple’s house tour footage at the end. (We get it, you’re all gonna pivot to family vlogging.) The last 20 minutes felt especially unnecessary, as though Vanessa had to fill time with all that baby pressuring. Why were they so unprepared to make this special feel special? How could they waste such an easy opportunity?

Zoë: Don’t get me started on Barf-tise making his new baby film a cameo! Of course, it all led up to a teaser for their next “experiment,” The Ultimatum: Queer Love, which the Lacheys notably do not host. By the end, it all felt like an ad for something that was clearly not working — literally, for most people. Their attempt to manufacture something like the O.G. Bachelor Nation was thwarted by the utter lack of connection between cast members, viewers, and their WiFi. To your point, Dee, what good is a live event if you can’t screenshot and turn it into a meme? Based on last night’s tweets, the internet isn’t interested in being a guinea pig for Netflix Live.

This article has been updated to correct an error.

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Love Is Blind Failed to Live