Contains minor spoilers
I’ve just watched six hours of the most cynical television and I’m not sure that it matters. The One, now on Netflix, takes as its premise the idea that everyone has an ideal romantic match based on their DNA. This person might live anywhere in the world, though conveniently and implausibly they will tend to be of similar age as their match. The notion of matching has wreaked havoc on existing or naturally-developing relationships. Big money is being made by the company behind it all.
Problem is, although the science behind it all seems sound (though clearly isn’t), the data that proved the concept was obtained unethically and illegally. It could all bring down the chief executive, Rebecca Webb. It turns out that Webb is not the philosopher leader but a street fighter whose corporate tricks involve blackmail, violence and murder. She justifies all this on the basis that everyone deserves love.
Webb is by far the least sympathetic character and we want her to get her comeuppance but there aren’t too many people whom we want to succeed. I am not sure whether that is because the creators have gone out of their way to try to make the characters (even Webb, to an extent) multi-dimensional with virtues and vices alike. James Whiting, Webb’s former business partner, is someone who is appalled by her behaviour, and has more reason than most to want to take her down. Does he not do so because of fear, or relief?
The language is clunky – there is one great line in the entire six hours and this line really stands out because it can be taken two ways. The business world does not feel realistic. The news story put out about the key investor (and at this point antagonist towards Webb) does not belong on a trade website and probably wouldn’t make a gossip column…which calls into question how the supposedly (but clearly not) hot shot journalist and his confused and jealous wife manage to afford a flat in the Barbican. AC-12 would be very interested in the arrangements being made one of the detectives – and the work rate of his boss, as she bunks off to sit by the bed of her match, the match’s wife and her estranged family. This is a hell of a tall tale.
What makes me especially furious in the end, and what I think justifies the ‘cynical’ tag is what happens at the end. People get on with their lives, is what happens. Some people hook up with their match. Some don’t. They find love, they make decisions, some of them are happy. Webb does not. Because of decisions she took, she is unhappy. She takes revenge and she hits out but no, she will never be happy. The murder is not solved and it’s kind of irrelevant whether it is or not. Do you know what, little people, Netflix tells us. We tech companies have all the power but don’t worry about it because we the shiny people have a terrible burden and we will never be happy. I watched this programme around the time that I was reading The Cult of We and my tolerance for tech bros is low and has not yet revived.
And yet the thing is this. The One is in many ways brilliant binge-worthy television. Despite all its failures it knows that a beautiful combinations of urban sets (London looks terrific, here we are in the Barbican, Whiting’s amazing minimalist home), a plot that moves quickly enough for you to think that perhaps its holes may one day be filled, and a banging soundtrack are a magic combination. Just like their tech brethren at The One HQ, the shiny people at Netflix have the right formula, if not the soul to go with it. You may not want to go along for the ride, but no one got poor for favouring substance over style. Maybe Netflix were right all along. Although I wanted to, I couldn’t hate watching The One. Just don’t assume it will be your perfect match.