For dark comedy, the show relies on its 25 wannabe Mrs. Bachelors, who must preen, banter, and scheme to keep their dream alive past opening night.
He's like every other stupid doctor I know. He's intimidated by another professional woman. Maybe I just won't date anybody anymore. Maybe I'll just join a convent.
-- Allie G.
You know, he asked a question, and he kind of seemed like he was interested in the answer. That's, you know, that's kind of a first for a man. I'm just gonna play it by ear and see what happens.
With all due deference to Beauty and the Geek's marketing campaign, "reality dating show" and "social experiment" are not mutually exclusive terms. Both are key components of the Bachelor franchise, now celebrating its eighth round of disappointment, rejection, and "romance" on ABC. This time the series ups the fairy tale ante by moving its action to "the most romantic city in the world," Paris, France. The city deserves the series' "best bachelor ever," says host Chris Harrison, and that latest square-jawed prince is Nashville ER physician Travis Stork. Like dreamy Doug Ross before him, this doc "has held many hearts in his hands," Harrison tells us. "But can he handle 25 at one time?"
Ooh la yuck.
Tone-deaf as ever, Bachelor pours on the schmaltz by showing 33-year-old Travis at work, including an unlikely follow-up checkup with a former patient. "I credit Dr. Stork for saving my life," says Jacalyn. "My kids still have me because of him." The meet-the-bachelor shtick gets worse as Travis confesses that he needs to learn some French ASAP, illustrated by shots of him playing clueless American at a Parisian cafe.
This is all familiar, as groan-inducing humor is the method of choice when presenting each bachelor. For darker comedy, the show relies on its 25 wannabe Mrs. Bachelors, who must preen, banter, and scheme to keep their dream alive past opening night. Last week's premiere devoted a full 15 minutes to their arrivals, which is both curious, given the repetition (hug, chat, hug), and understandable, since "first impressions matter," and, more important, this might be their only conversation of the night.
For viewers, it's a chance to judge the Miss America-esque gowns and parse their words of greeting. Who tries to mix it up? Who plays it cool and simple? Who overplays the Paris angle? And finally, who stands out? April is the unfortunate klutz, as her shoe falls off halfway between limo and bachelor, and Yvonne is the maneater, immediately offering an assessment ("Beautiful eyes, beautiful tie, all well-coordinated. Love it..."). Allie G. tries too hard by unleashing an introductory speech in French (her college minor, she explains), while Sarah, just 23, is so jumpy that she doesn't even go in for a hug. (Then again, she's Canadian; she might not know the drill.)
Like The Real World, Bachelor has honed its casting process to a few types. The slightly zaftig Kristen ("I'm a hugger, I gotta give you a hug") is like Amanda, the last woman standing in Season One. Elizabeth has the dark eyebrows, blonde hair, and sweetheart smile of Jen Schefft, who (briefly) triumphed with bachelor Andrew Firestone before delightfully imploding her own Bachelorette season. Sarah's youth marks her for future attacks (she's not ready to settle down, her elders will argue), and Yvonne seems destined to keep the hot doc's attention far longer than viewers want her around.
On this first night, however, the focus is on who won't get a callback. Fifteen women go home without a rose (the bachelor's invitation to stay, in case you live under a rock) and one stressed-out, likely drunk drama queen often steals the show. This time it's 33-year-old Allie G. A Florida oncologist, she is just pointing out their mutual love of medicine when Yvonne plops down on the bachelor's other side ("I don't mean to be rude. I'll just sit here for a second 'til you guys finish"). Travis is amused; Allie is annoyed. Struggling to get back on track, she rambles through her pitch: she is comfortable in her work life, and "I sorta wanna kinda move on to the next phase, the reproductive phase." The what?
Yvonne smirks on the couch, and Travis takes a beat to make sure he heard that right, then laughs. He gives her kudos for coming all the way to Paris and taking the chance. It's clearly the brush-off, yet Allie is infuriated when she gets her walking papers at night's end. Standing in the cold outside the 14th-century chateau where Bachelor has made camp, she tearfully pleads her case to fellow rejectee Ali D.
Allie G.: "The only reason that I came on this show is because conventional methods aren't working. Internet dating, blind dating, dating services, I've tried all of that."
Ali D.: "Mm hmm."
Allie G.: "I told him that I was ready to, like, get my reproductive life going. Because the only one reason to be married is to have kids."
Ali D.: "But that's your opinion."
Allie G.: "No! Because... he's in his 30s, he should be willing and ready to proceed with that part of his life. I just think that men are [bleeped]. Really, I mean, what are they waiting for?"
It's both fun and horrifying to see a real moment of pain and frustration break through Bachelor's carefully calibrated Dating Game. Allie could be anyone bemoaning her lot in love late one evening. (Tell me again, Ashton, that your show is the social experiment.)
But Allie's not done. In a masterfully wicked bit of editing, she stomps back into the chateau and demands to know why Travis did not give her a rose ("You don't find me attractive, I'm too short, I have small boobs, what?") while word of her predicament spreads among her fellow castoffs, who sit shivering under blankets outside the chateau (first class all the way, that Bachelor). "Wait, like that? She said those words?" they gape. "I think any guy would freak out."
It's reality tv's latest water cooler moment -- and, with ratings dwindling, this franchise needs as many as it can conjure. Contacted by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, executive producer Lisa Levenson lauded Allie's empowerment. "She's the one woman in the history of hundreds that actually stood up to the bachelor and gave him a piece of her mind.... I love it when someone makes their mark." Allie told the paper she was spurred on by 12 hours with little food and lots of liquor. She plans to capitalize on her notoriety by selling T-shirts with slogans like "Let's reproduce" and "My eggs are rotting," through a new web site, drallieg.com.
And you thought her story wouldn't have a happy ending.