While one door has been closed for executive producer Elan Gale with the cancellation of “FBoy Island” at HBO Max, another door has been opened with Hulu’s “Back in the Groove.” His latest reality dating series follows three mature women – each in their 40s – as they jump back into the world of dating and test the waters with a pool of younger men in their 20s and 30s.
Based on the timeless ’90s film “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” Taye Diggs lends his assistance as a steward for the ladies as they search for their potential companions. Diggs, who once portrayed the sexy 20-something love interest opposite Angela Basset in the original film, appears in the first episode as a host and holds an executive producer credit.
A “Bachelor” franchise alum, Gale’s expertise as an executive producer on several popular dating shows, including HBO Max’s recently scrapped “FBoy Island,” Amazon Prime’s “The One That Got Away” and “Cosmic Love,” has seemingly etched out a lane with streamers as more companies attempt to keep up with Netflix’s successful hits like “Love is Blind” and “Too Hot to Handle.”
Hulu’s first attempt at an original reality dating series mixes all the fun of a singles cruise with a surprising tenderness as the women open up to the cameras and male contestants. The trio — Sparkle, Brooke and Steph — each step onto the show with their luggage and emotional baggage in tow. Some of them carry stories of previous illnesses, miscarriages and failed marriages.
But fans likely didn’t expect one of the women to bring their 21-year-old son as one of the contestants. In the second episode, the charismatic Florida boy reveals to the audience that he’s actually the son of Steph: a game-changing announcement for those watching as he begins to share secrets from the men’s bungalow with her.
A mother and son being featured on the same dating show isn’t a very common sight (outside of shows like HBO Max’s “My Mom, Your Dad,” where the children of single parents set them up on dates). Though, the idea wasn’t Gale’s brainchild. The producer says it was actually Steph’s idea to compete with her son on the show.
“When we met Steph, immediately, she walked into the room and she had this incredible energy. She was so fun and she was so funny. She was so quick and she was so smart,” Gale explains. “As she was just telling us about her life, she just talked so much about how close she was with her son and she said ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if my son could just come and like be there with me? Not to date but just like come hang out?’” he said.
After seeing a picture of Steven, the casting producers were sold. The original plan was that he would participate in the trip and keep the truth of his identity a secret from the other men and women. Gale didn’t imagine that Steven would actually join the dating pool and start up a potential relationship with one of the other ladies. “Obviously we weren’t against this, but we just love the idea of us trying to form the creative around the desires of our leads,” Gale shared.
The magic of the show still lies ahead for viewers, according to the producer. The moment that had Gale at the edge of his seat happened once Steph and Steven decided to tell the group their secret.
“Steven had been living with these guys for two weeks at this point, and it could have been totally bananas. We had absolutely no idea what was going to happen,” Gale revealed. “The thing that was so crazy, when you’re working on script and television, is that you wonder if you can figure out what might happen next.”
Instead of the worst, both Steven and Steph received a heartwarming and tearful surprise.
“At the end of the day, for the most part, every single guy seemed so excited about the fact that Steven, who they liked, was the son of Steph, who they like. It was so wonderful and Steph was crying quite a bit that night. She talks about this primarily because she felt so loved by all the men who came up to her and said ‘You raised a good guy. Your son’s a good dude,’” Gale shared. “She came to us afterwards and said that that was kind of the most powerful part of the journey for her — being able to see her son in a new light. When you make a show like that, you never imagined that the result is going to be someone saw their son in a new light. It made them proud of the job they had done as a mother.”
That’s the magic of unscripted TV, Gale thinks. It’s not in the mess that lies in the drink-tossing or highly anticipated angst, but rather it’s in capturing “these moments that you never could have seen coming.”
All eight episodes of “Back in the Groove” are currently available for streaming on Hulu.