If a guy orders a tall pint of milk on the first date it's probably not a good sign.
That's one of the hard-earned lessons from the first episode of First Dates New Zealand, TVNZ 2's endearing, slightly offbeat Kiwi version of one of the UK's most popular reality shows.
The milk man was a moustachioed 27-year-old Scottish expat barber called Eugene. "I don't drink," he explained to his date, 20-year-old communications student Molly. "Juice isn't really good for your teeth ... milk's OK."
"I don't think anybody's drunk milk on a date before," remarked a surprised Molly, "so that's a new one." The milk, it turned out, was a red flag, an early warning that her blind date was in fact a complete ratbag.
Eugene checked out of the date quicker than Jordan checked out of season two of The Bachelor. As he wiped the last remaining milky residue from the bristles of his moustache Molly excused herself and phoned a friend from the restaurant's lavish bathrooms. "He's got a tattoo of Tom Hardy on his hand," she reported. "That's not good!"
"I've forgotten my card," he laughed when the bill arrived. Molly dolefully popped her Visa in the waiter's little book. "It's fine. Not how it usually goes but ... it's fine." In his post-date interview Eugene revealed he had his card on him the whole time, pulling it from his pocket like a dodgy magician. "Girls just automatically think I should pay for the bill. Not necessarily," he argued.
Cad! But it takes all sorts to make an episode of First Dates. Each follows four different couples set up by mysterious offscreen matchmakers as they meet for the first time at a restaurant. Their dates are discreetly filmed and with some wry, affectionate editing, the highlights interspersed with pre- and post-date interviews. It's a simple but surprisingly entertaining formula.
Happily, disastrous encounters like Eugene and Molly's don't seem to be the norm. Everybody else in the first episode went at least halfsies, and the majority of the time was spent benignly eavesdropping on the nervous, funny, earnest and sometimes embarrassing conversations of people on unusually realistic dates.
It also showed television romance can be more than just a young (or straight, or white) person's game. Fifty-something Elaine, who quit dating over a decade ago after 105 unsuccessful internet dates, was matched with Andrew, a musician whose goatee, long hair and cowboy hat made him look like the reincarnation of Captain Beefheart.
She said things like "I believe that my Mr Right is out there and waiting for me, and I might be his Mrs Right, but we just haven't connected yet." He said "If my love life was a song it would be called 'The Rapids of Love'."
They hit it off.
While the horror of watching a straight edge Scotsman necking a pint of milk and telling fibs all night is entertaining in its own right, deep down you suspect it's the successful couples that make First Dates such a popular format. Seeing Elaine and Andrew wander off into the night together after enjoying each other's giddy, nonsensical banter was, in a minor way, quite heartwarming.
All the dates ended with a one-question exit interview: "Would you like to go on another date?" Eugene formed his answer carefully in his mouth: "No." Molly started explaining: "I think it's ... yeah ... no." Eugene repeated the word lest anyone misunderstand his thick brogue: "No." Molly shook her head. "No."
They high-fived at the door, turned and walked in opposite directions.
* Watch First Dates NZ here.