At first glance, Glee, the little show about a bunch of musical high school students that could, has very little in common with the money making machine that is The Bachelor. One is a scripted dramedy; the other, a heavy-on-the–schmaltz search for “love”, or something like it.
While I’d watched Glee since its premiere, it’s the 15th season of The Bachelor, and this is the first time I’ve ever remotely been interested in that particular quest for companionment. Watching real people live out fake relationships is, surprisingly, far less interesting to me than watching fake people pursue real relationships. But as both Season 2 of Glee and Season 15 of The Bachelor have waned on, I’ve realized that they share a striking similarity in the way each chooses to expose relationships. Both programs willingly fight against the old adage taught to good fiction writers: show, don’t tell.
Glee started out with a basic conceit; it’s about a dorky set of high school students who love singing. This rag-tag band is led by their Spanish teacher who wants to relive his glory days and give these kids “something to believe in.” There are the popular kids (jocks and cheerleaders) and the dorks (everybody else, in their own hierarchy). The Glee club, brilliantly called “New Directions”, attempts to subvert this hierarchy through music.
Throw in one too many faked pregnancies and far too many celebrity guest spots, however, and the show seems to have lost its footing. Even the most fickle of viewers stick around for the performances, but past all those snazzy numbers that kept us dancing in our seats and downloading cover after cover of Journey’s Greatest Hits, what keeps us watching most television is the relationships. Will Rachel (Lea Michele), the overachieving diva with two gay dads, ever make it with Finn (Cory Monteith), the sort-of slow football stud with a heart of gold? Unfortunately, at this point, having been back and forth on this topic so many times, I don’t even care.
Glee seems to assume that all couples (especially teen couples) are dramatic, heightened by the fact that this particular set of students are in a drama-related club. Yet despite all the fake Britney Spears-induced hallucinations, the relationships have become the least real aspect of the show. Season Two has forgotten to show us who is in love, and has resorted to far too many random declarations of it. Each episode has spiraled deeper into a chasm of characters discussing the state of their relationships, instead of showing us why they should or should not be together. When Rachel and Finn, plus Quinn, Sam, Santana and god knows who else are bouncing back and forth between each other in one 43-minute period, it’s impossible to feel any real emotion for any of them. Maybe they don’t know what they want, nor do we know what we want them to want, either.
Television doesn’t exist in a vacuum, of course – interaction with the audience is one of its greatest qualities. Criticism can make or break a show, and while showrunners and creators make many decisions without being overly concerned with audience reaction, they have also responded to mass response as a touchstone of when they’re stepping away from reality. The writers of Glee seem to expect its viewers to suspend disbelief and become committed to a relationship between Quinn and Finn, yet again, even though last season she lied to him about carrying his baby, and now she is with Sam, but Finn just broke up with Rachel because Rachel was with Puck to make him jealous… I’m tired and bored just thinking about it, and I get the feeling the characters are, too. Love may have no rhyme or reason, but it does have a little common sense, once in a while.
The Bachelor, however, has never had much common sense on display, but it has claimed to be full of love. Forget love at first sight; these women were in love with Brad Womack before they even met him. This is despite the fact that he has been considered the most hated Bachelor in the history of the show, because he decided to pick neither woman at the end of his first go-round on the reality television program during Season 11. One woman who was ousted early, Melissa Schreiber, claimed to have waited eight years to get on the show and to have quit her job to be with Brad, a man she had never met and did not even know the name of before entering a relationship that might — or might not — end in an engagement.
As The Bachelor progressed, the women have, unsurprisingly, become more clingy and insecure about the time Brad spends with their competition. On this note, perhaps it’s the editing of the hours upon hours of date footage we don’t see, but it appears that when they are with Brad, all they do is talk about their “relationship”. One contestant, Chantal O., told Brad that she loved him in Episode 6 of this season. Since each episode apparently takes place over a one week span, this intense sentiment occurs after six weeks of knowing each other, which consists of only two one-on-one dates, and a handful of conversations sequestered from the group during larger dates. Cumulatively, this consists of approximately 30 hours of time spent together alone, maybe less.
During these dates Brad and whatever partner at the time, don’t really talk about their interests or feelings or thoughts about the world. Instead, they talk about each other, together. In fact, during one date with Shawnteal N., who is a funeral director, Brad became visibily turned off when she began discussing her job (which is, admittedly, less than sexy). It’s an important part of who she is, but he seemed less than interested in ruining their super important conversation about the state of their feelings for each other. The Bachelor relies on the conceit that it is possible to develop feelings for someone even when all you do is discuss said developing feelings.
Reality television often relies on heavy-handed expository discussions, post-shooting, to explain to the viewer what is happening. But what can make us believe this is really love? Why can’t we see the development of love move along at its own pace? The same goes for scripted television; if Finn would stop telling us that he loved Quinn or Rachel or whoever, and showed us how he loves (insert name), we might believe it more and therefore, become more invested.
This might be harder work for the writers, but it’s been done successfully. Of the 15 seasons of The Bachelor, currently only one couple is still together, and the woman was not even that Bachelor’s original choice. On Glee, character development and consistency seem to have been sidelined due to some unclear quest to become a candy-coated crowd pleaser that throws a mildly risqué wisecrack in the mix to remind us that it’s clever. Both shows are suffering from their laziness, and seem to require a final message to their writers and editors: trust in the relationships you’re watching. We do.