TV Review: ABC’s ‘The Bachelorette’ Returns With More of the Same

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CHICAGO – You must have some respect, at least from a business perspective, for ABC’s pop phenomenon of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” which returns tonight on ABC for another round of rose ceremonies, broken hearts, group dates, tabloid headlines, and strong ratings. The season premiere sets the stage for what should be a fan-satisfying trip around a familiar block with a dose of controversy, a few frontrunners, and a lot more of what fans have seen before season after season after season. Television Rating: 3.0/5.0
Television Rating: 3.0/5.0

Just as it looked like “The Bachelor” would dip far enough in the ratings that host Chris Harrison would have to look for work elsewhere, the producers of these shows hit on to a brilliant idea — recycle and reuse. The last several seasons of both shows have featured familiar faces in the title role, a trend that has proven to be a ratings bonanza. It makes total sense. The audience gets to know the contestants, feels their pain when they’re heartbroken and, ideally, wants them to find true love. Why not watch it on TV?

But how true is the love on “The Bachelorette”? The line between reality TV and actual reality is rarely more blurred than it is on ABC’s dating program. It’s crystal clear that the people on “The Bachelorette” are not only coached and edited but also keenly aware of the behavior that gets them more screen time and more attention from the contestant and producers. So, what’s exactly real?

The Bachelorette
The Bachelorette
Photo credit: ABC

I suppose it doesn’t matter. I think most people who watch “The Bachelorette” know that it’s a heightened, edited, nearly-scripted version of reality and they just don’t care. All that matters is that it’s entertaining and the season premiere hits the same beats and chords that have made the show a hit.

Once again, we have a heartbroken lead. When Ashley Hebert left South Africa during last season of “The Bachelor,” she had her guard up and was unable to give her heart to Brad Womack. She watched the season and realized the mistake she made by being overly cautious and so she’s back to find love. ABC has, once again, selected a few dozen men, most of which blend into the generic background but with a few standouts that will clearly be the frontrunners throughout the season.

The Bachelorette
The Bachelorette
Photo credit: ABC

Highlights? As Chris says, this is the first time in the ten years he’s been doing the show that there’s drama before the limos even show up. It turns out that the ex-wife of one of the contestants called Ashley and told her that her ex-husband was about to go on the show for the wrong reasons, purely to promote his business. When Ashley meets the guy in question, she ridiculously claims that she thinks he’s trustworthy. It REEKS of scripted programming by the producers, as we, the viewer, can tell that this guy is scum, but that makes for more interesting programming if Ashley falls for him.

Even if that’s legit, there’s enough wacky behavior on the premiere to earn some tweets the next day. There’s the guy who gets SO drunk that he passes out. There’s the guy who wears a mask the entire time to try and take looks out of the equation — is he just a creepy weirdo or honestly well-motivated? There’s the guy with the guitar who throws it in the pool. And…well, that’s about it. Some of the guys on this season of “The Bachelorette” seem like honest, nice dudes and those are the ones who could keep it interesting, but just as many come off as total tools. Ladies, when a guy claims that he fell deeply in love on national TV the minute he saw a contestant on a reality show from the seat of his dude-filled limo, don’t trust him. He’s trying to get TV attention.

Worst of all, Ashley, while sweet, is a bit dull. Hearing her giggle as each contestant gets out of the limo gets a bit grating and some of our “get to know you” conversations are stunningly vapid. A sound bite about how she always thought the man who would marry her would call her “cupcake” will send most men who have been talked into watching the show running for the other room. She seems very nice and I hate to be mean to her, but the fact is that she’s the “lead” of this show and she’s not a very interesting one.

Of course, one could argue that “The Bachelorette” is not for me. I need to judge it in terms of how it satisfies its audience, and it mostly works on those terms. Having seen enough “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” season premieres, I can say that this one is more boring than most due to a weak lead and dull cast of contestants, but it’s hard to judge based on the premiere. Ashley was willing to give love another chance. Even if fans of the show are disappointed by the season premiere, I think they’ll give it another chance too.

“The Bachelorette” returns to ABC tonight, May 23rd, 2011, at 8pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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