The Bachelor: Craig Sjodin/ABC
TV Show
March 27, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST

Is ”Bachelor” worse than ”Celebrity Boxing”?

It doesn’t match ”Temptation Island” for pure slutariffic sleaziness. It lacks, so far, the twisted desert-island office politics of ”Survivor.” And, unlike ”Big Brother,” it’s not boring, beige-on-beige bad television.

But, hey, give it time: ABC’s new ”reality” show ”The Bachelor” is already an exemplary product of the new Crappy Era of network programming. As you may know from seeing the ads or from girding your loins and watching the debut episode this past Monday on ABC, ”Bachelor” is sort of like ”Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire” times 25, but without any of those nutty restraining orders in the contestants’ closets (yet). The gimmick is that the title bachelor — an amiable 31-year-old management consultant named Alex who might as well have ”Yuppie Prototype” stenciled on his forehead — has to find his true lovemate by winkling her out from a field of 25 women. Twenty-five desperate, single, staring-down-the-biological-clock, neck-cords-strained-from-constant-smiling women.

A paradigm of bad taste and cringe-making execution that plays to every retro female stereotype while somehow making its lone guy look even worse? Well, yeah, why else would we watch it? In fact, in its car-wreck awfulness — in the way it treats everyone except its host as so much disposable meat — ”The Bachelor” is an amplification of the dating wars so precise and realistically nuanced in its neuroses as to be both anthropologically mesmerizing and scary as hell.

The first episode made the most of its rooster-in-the-henhouse setup. Alex, the ”bachelor,” is introduced to his 25 ”dates,” makes forced small talk with all of them, is shunted by diplomatically neutral host Chris Harrison into a room with their pictures so he can decide which ones make the cut, and then invites the surviving 15 to stay by handing each — what a unique, romantic gesture! — a rose.

Now, there’s a lot of cant on the show about the women’s ability to opt out at any time, and Alex makes a point of asking each rose winner if she accepts. (He also makes a point of ensuring the show’s faux-ethnic balance by keeping on Tina, an Asian American, and LaNease, the show’s lone African American. But it’s unclear whether that’s due to pressure from the producers, his own innate wishy-washy fairmindedness, or because he actually LIKES them.)

But all 25 of these women are well past the point of ”opting out.” Actually, they circle the guy like he’s chum. Some slip him little presents when they first meet him. Others try to psyche each other out. One woman, an actress named Angelique, laughs with strident fakeness when Alex comments that he’d never know if she wasn’t acting around him — you can feel the producers trying to set her up as the next Jerri Manthey — but, really, all 25 of these poor, matrimony-crazed ladies are acting up a storm. That’s what dating too often IS: putting on your own best face, even if it’s utterly fraudulent, to attract someone you may not even like. As I said, scary.

And in this neurotic hive, Alex is supposed to be the King Bee, right? (Especially since the producers, no fools they, have made sure to hire a married host.) Well, sorry, Alex looks terrified, and he has every right to. You could see the fear begin to creep onto his face when he was thrown into that room with the photographs and forced to choose among 25 women who, in the clenched shriek of looming childlessness that emanated from their very pores, seemed exactly alike. And when he started handing out the roses, and the losers began to realize that they hadn’t made the cut and began to glare at him like Crips confronting a stray Blood on their turf — well, that’s when Alex understood where he stands in this little charade.

He’s sperm, baby.

What did you think of ”The Bachelor”?

Chris Harrison hosts the veteran reality romance series. Will you accept this rose?
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