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''The Bachelorette'': The princess kisses a frog

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The Bachelorette: Jen
Fabrice: Bob D'Amico/ABC

”The Bachelorette”: The princess kisses a frog

With about five minutes left in tonight’s episode, it all became so clear to me. There’s only one character on this season of The Bachelorette with enough depth, sophistication, and stability to earn a place in Jen Schefft’s heart and home. Only one character’s got the kind of good looks and classic style that are made to last. And only one has displayed true charisma every week, leaving me believing our heroine might not have to throw up her hands by episode 5, make a mad dash for the nearest convent, and vow never to love again.

That character, of course, is the tremendously stylish gray-and-brown lava-lamp-patterned rug on which our Bachelorette stands each week while doling out ceremonial flowers to her prospective husbands.

Surely, I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that carpet. You mean to tell me your eye wasn’t wandering around looking for something — anything! — of interest during this week’s rose ceremony, the second consecutive one that contained not one iota of suspense?

Okay, okay, there was one iota, but that’s all I’m copping to. After Jen endured a cocktail hour with the dimwitted hopefuls, she exclaimed she was ”more confused than ever” about which two to send packing. But three of the guys were painfully obvious candidates for elimination. Were you really biting your nails worrying over which one of the three she would keep around another few days? Would anyone have been remotely upset if Jen had pulled a penny from her handbag and engaged in a couple of casual coin tosses to decide among blabby virgin-warrior Josh, blubbering yet oddly aroused Fabrice, and blunderingly inane Keith?

At least this episode none of the losers passed out, but that didn’t mean they weren’t lining up and taking aim at their own feet. You knew Josh’s ”first time” wasn’t going to be with Jen after she observed she couldn’t ”get a word in edgewise” during her alone time with the hair-helmeted marathoner. And what about poor Keith, who kept telling Jen he wanted her to ” be comfortable” and ”feel natural” as they sat on a pristine patch of grass under a shade tree in Central Park? Note to Welder Dude: You will never, ever win a woman’s heart by making your romantic moments sound like feminine-hygiene commercials.

Yet despite massive gaffes from Keith (who sure likes to hang around the house shirtless!) and Josh, I still figured one of them would manage to outlast freaky Fabrice, who, during his first one-on-one date with Jen, burst into tears, started sobbing romantic bon mots like ”I hate feeling alone at night,” and tried to stick his tongue down her throat. (Did you see her turning to the camera with a panicky look in her eyes?) But silly me, I forgot the Frenchman had a secret weapon in his pocket: singing sensation Vanessa Williams! Let’s be honest, if you were on the Worst Date Ever but you got a private concert from the Proactiv spokesperson/star of the underrated competitive-ballroom drama Dance With Me/beloved Broadway actress, could you go home with anything but a smile on your face? Not only that, but Fabrice later showed a willingness to emulate the talented Ms. Williams when he sang like a canary to Jen about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the other guys.

So even though Jen ended up calling her evening with Febreze ”one of the most uncomfortable dates I’ve ever had,” she ultimately kept him in the mix, because while he’s creepy, at least he’s not useless. And heck, there’s always a camera crew nearby the next time Fabrice decides to treat Jen’s head like a squishy pillow.

Fabrice, to his credit, is actually pretty good at pegging his competitors’ drawbacks, even if he doesn’t have a shred of self-perception. I agree with him that model-handsome Jerry (an inexplicable favorite of EW.com readers) is nothing more than a creep in sheep’s clothing. What kind of guy chooses a make-out session in a rowboat over an actual conversation before he’s even had a single one-on-one date with a woman? I’ll tell you: A guy who’s not seriously interested in that woman as a person.

Not that I’m worried. Jen — emotionally shut down as she’s been this season — has managed to pull up the weeds in her bachelor patch with surprising speed, and she wisely wondered aloud if Jerry was more interested in the ”thrill of the game” than actually connecting with her. Huzzah!

A more important question for Jen, though: Is she interested in connecting with any of the guys? I have yet to witness one remotely interesting conversation in this season’s first three episodes. Don’t these people ever talk about movies or music or politics or religion or the war in Iraq or the price of coffee or their families or anything of any substance whatsoever?

Take Jen’s date with John Paul, for example. During their trip to the Mohegan Sun casino (what — no blackjack table?), Jen said J.P. had ”a great head on his shoulders,” and J.P. told Jen he was ”very impressed so far.” I half-expected both of their heads to pop off, leaving ghoulish bouquets of loose wires and burnt-out fuses emerging from their Date-bot necks.

Forgive my cynicism, folks, but I need more than Jen’s fleeting flirtations with Wendell and Ben and Ryan to sustain my interest. And no, the promise of Fabrice (!) making a shocking (!) revelation (!) at next week’s rose ceremony (!) isn’t going to cure my reality blues, either. At this point, I’m rooting for the rug.

What do you think? Is Jerry playing for keeps, or simply playing? Is Jen doing the right thing by playing it cool with the guys? Or is this show simply played out?

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