By Amelia Harnish 

In the roughly two weeks that the new reality dating series "Love Is Blind" has been streaming on Netflix, critics have called it everything from " offensive to human dignity" to utterly " bonkers."

Fans, in the meantime, can't look away. With one day until Thursday's season finale, , Netflix even announced today that there will be a reunion episode March 5.

One reason for the mania is the premise: A group of 30 singles are isolated from their phones and families, then separated by gender into a posh TV prison, with separate sleeping quarters for men and women. The early episodes of the series center around their dates with individuals on the other side of the "pods," where they can't see one another but sit and talk through a glowing blue wall that would otherwise look something like a confession booth. Within days, couples pair off; six of them get engaged. It's only after they've accepted a proposal that they get to see one another.

From there, they're whisked to Mexico for a romantic vacation. After a week, it's back to Atlanta (producers did all the casting there), where they move in together, meet families and prepare for their nuptials.

The finale is focused on the wedding ceremonies. The question is, which of the couples will actually go through with it? (The trailer shows one bride running away from the ceremony in her wedding dress, leaving fans to obsessively post their guesses online about who it was.)

The idea behind the series is to test a hypothesis that seems apt for the age of Tinder: What would happen if young singles didn't have devices, distractions or physical attraction to draw them together? Can the participants create a lasting bond -- or at least, one strong enough to get them to the altar for filmed ceremonies just four weeks later?

"When you talk to people about the experience of dating and the swipe culture, they feel so disposable," said series creator and executive producer Chris Coelen. "All of the studies say if you're genuinely interested in a lifetime commitment, the most important thing is emotional connection. So we thought, if you had people who truly fell in love for what's on the inside, could that love overcome the obstacles?"

The show is Netflix's latest foray into reality series about dating, following "Dating Around," last year's twist on the genre. "Dating Around" had no hosts, elimination ceremonies or reality-TV gimmicks. "Love is Blind," on the other hand, takes some of the wildest aspects of the genre -- isolation that leads people to make rash decisions, high stakes, a big reveal and awkward moments galore -- and ratchets it up.

"'Love Is Blind' is pretty much 'The Bachelor' on steroids. What got me hooked was these couples saying 'I love you' in the first episode after, like, five days," said Anastasia Przyzyla, a 26-year-old psychology grad student and self-described reality-TV junkie. That, and the fact that they get engaged sight unseen. Ms. Przyzyla created a " Love Is Blind" discussion group on Facebook that racked up 6,000 members, including castmembers Lauren Chamblin and Matt Barnett (though Mr. Barnett only lasted a day before leaving the group after members began screenshotting his profile).

"I saw the preview and I knew I would be hooked," said Stephanie Wurz, 33, a teacher in Springfield, Va.

"Dating is challenging. I have a TBI [traumatic brain injury], and that can be difficult for a lot of people to adjust to on dates," said Dina Riccobono, 36, who founded another "Love Is Blind" Facebook fan group, and started a podcast called The LovePod, which grew out of instant friendships formed there. "I wish that more people would judge personality first. Dating apps are awful and we've got to find better ways to connect. So that's what drew me to it."

Part of the excitement has been generated by timing. Netflix released the series in three batches -- the first five episodes debuted Feb. 13, four episodes on Feb. 20, and the finale will post Thursday. That schedule allowed fan interest to build.

Within the first week, there were more than 56,000 unique mentions of the show on social media, generating more than 350,000 likes, retweets and comments, according to data from Talkwalker, a social-media analytics firm. "That rate of engagement would be considered extremely high," said Rafael Sternbach-Le Noury, marketing operations manager for Talkwalker. The overall data suggest it's almost twice as buzzy as Netflix's other reality hit, "The Circle."

Moments have become memes, such as when cast member Jessica Batten let her dog sip from her wine glass during a fight with partner Mark Cuevas, or when another cast member, Giannina Gibelli, said, "I'm the luckiest girl in the whole world."

Because the show was filmed in 2018, cast members have a long trail of Instagrams and other social-media footprints that viewers have sifted furiously for hints about the finale. "We have members of the group zooming in on pics of the cast members' fingers in their Instagram photos, like 'Is that a ring?' When no, that's not a ring, that's his finger!" Ms. Przyzyla said.

In the end, eight couples chose to become engaged, Mr. Coelen said. Producers had bandwidth to follow only six couples, so two were sent home after the first round. Now all that is left to find out is who will get married. Already, some fans are yearning for more. "I'm sad that it's almost over," Ms. Wurz said.

Mr. Coelen declined to share spoilers, but dropped one tidbit. "Without giving anything away, the people who decided to get married, anybody that does that is still together today," he said. "That's going on almost a year and half."


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 26, 2020 13:39 ET (18:39 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Historical Stock Chart
From Apr 2020 to May 2020 Click Here for more Netflix Charts.
Historical Stock Chart
From May 2019 to May 2020 Click Here for more Netflix Charts.