The advent of yet another Bachelor show is upon us-the Golden Bachelor. Senior citizen and widower Gerry (pronounced Garry) from Indiana will try to find love again with age-appropriate women, where hometowns will likely involve meeting the grandchildren and social media will be a complete mystery to the contestants.
It’s a deliberate — and possibly desperate — refresh on the Bachelor brand. The Bachelor franchise has always been premised on the thin veneer of finding true love. After twenty-ish seasons and only a handful of couples who actually stayed together (seriously, the odds are NOT good), that premise — even as a lampshade — is wearing thin. We need some fresh pretense to make us feel less cruel watching it, in other words.
What the show does reliably do is torment the earnest contestants and break them down emotionally in a vast public spectacle watched by millions. The latest season of the Bachelor was a masterclass in crushing hearts of remarkable women as they competed over a truly milquetoast mediocre not-really-even-that-hot guy.
The Bachelor franchise takes place in a fictional world parallel to ours, a world that looks the same and has the same beautiful vacation destinations. But in the world of the Bachelor, there are no politics, no religious friction (outside contestants making faith part of their brand), no missed rent, and no such thing as an electrical bill. It’s a glossy, curated fantasy land designed for pure escapism with a wholesome, appeal-to-middle-America vibe. It’s no coincidence that the show’s fanbase is branded as “Bachelor Nation”: it’s the all-American dream of straight marriage and a nuclear family, transposed onto reality TV.
So the franchise’s habit of hashing out the same formula of emotional devastation season after season does feel like it’s left the wholesome, hopeful gloss behind it. As does the franchise’s gradual arrival at a spinoff, Bachelor in Paradise, where mostly-naked hot young people on a resort beach fight and drink and screw in a display nobody bothers to pretend is anything other than an experiment in chaos. And let’s face it, the last few seasons of the Bachelor and Bachelorette haven’t been what you’d call amazing. Infuriating, yes. But at some point, you need something other than rage to keep people coming back to their screens season after season.
My sense is that The Golden Bachelor is intended to be something of a redemption arc for the franchise as a whole. “Look!” the producers seem to scream: “We can deliver something emotionally heartfelt that doesn’t openly rely on making conventionally hot people do embarrassing and ridiculous things! No longer will twenty-something douchebags come on the show just to promote their new startup or some shit!”
After all, Gerry is just a guy. Not an influencer or a hot young yacht captain/pilot/professional wrestler figuring out the difference between a vacation crush and the difficult work of marriage. Gerry probably doesn’t even watch reality TV. He was nominated by his grandkids and appears adorably flustered every time he’s trotted out in front of the cameras, as he was during the live Bachelorette finale some weeks back. He lost the love of his life unexpectedly in 2017, after over four decades of marriage. When he talks about his late wife, it’s with a genuine, heartbreaking tenderness that is more heartfelt than anything the Bachelor franchise has managed to manufacture in 65 collective seasons.
The Bachelor franchise is looking to bring some literal maturity to the whiny, catty, hopeless pseudo-dating empire that it built. It’s a course correction of massive proportions. Personally, I am going to be in front of the TV at my local bar with a very strong martini to watch how it all plays out, how the producers manage to mangle this emotional journey, and how this bastion of American television tries to re-justify itself.