Column: There’s nothing ‘courageous’ about ‘The Golden Bachelor’
In quantum science, there is a theory that particles behave differently when they are observed: When no one is watching, the theory goes, they behave more like waves than, well, particles.
I often think of this when I watch something presented under the guise of “reality” television. If even a particle can’t behave naturally while being watched, what hope is there for human beings?
All of which is a long way of saying that my expectations for ABC’s “The Golden Bachelor” were very low.
Did I honestly think ABC would endanger its highly successful (if recently flagging) franchise by attempting to show what fledgling love among mature adults might actually look like? A show that would contemplate the intricacies of courtship among people who had experienced deep connection and devastating loss, who had already raised children, extricated themselves from bad relationships or made regrettable mistakes? A show that explored the subtle and often mundane undercurrents of real intimacy?
No, I did not.
I figured, correctly, the network would simply force this set of contestants into the same vapid, “Oh, he’s so hot / Ladies, you’re all so beautiful,” put-a-ring-on-it mentality of the original. And I was concerned.
Given this culture’s historic tendency to treat every postmenopausal woman as too old for whatever she’s up to, I worried that the sight of 30 such women vying for the affection of a 72-year old widower would leave viewers either complimenting their “bravery” and cooing over how sweet it is to see older gals giving it one last try, or excoriating the women as desperate and condemning them for trying too hard to attract romance and attention.
Either way, I knew the man in question — retired Indiana restaurateur Gerry Turner — would come out of it smelling — yes, I will say it — like a rose.
In terms of viewership, the premiere of “The Golden Bachelor” was a success; its same-day ratings were solid and ABC says it had the franchise’s highest multiplatform rating since 2020 and the biggest Hulu viewership ever.
Critical reactions were more mixed. Weeping as Turner described the death of his wife and his hope for a new chapter, some fans saw it as a refreshing return to the show’s roots, with a group of people sincerely seeking love rather than notoriety or influencer status.
The latest spinoff in ABC’s romance franchise, premiering Sept. 28, features widower Gerry Turner, who joins Bachelor Nation in an attempt to find a second chance at love.
Others, however, ran the gamut from patronizing praise to sexist condemnation. When interviewed by my colleague Steve Lopez, several women of “Golden Bachelor” years actually used terms like “dripping with desperation” to describe some of the contestants (though not, obviously, good ol’ Gerry). Younger viewers were kinder, though their comments were often of an “aw, so cute” variety. Many praised ABC’s “groundbreaking” willingness to remind the world that people over 60 can experience love and desire too.
Having just turned 60 myself, I appreciate ABC’s public acceptance that I am still a fully functioning human being — and even entitled to go sleeveless! But the fact that “courageous” is rarely used as a blanket descriptor for the hundreds of previous “Bachelor” contestants tells you all you need to know.
As does the fact that ABC decided it needed a whole new show to accommodate the over-60 set, instead of just featuring them on “The Bachelor.”
Especially since the producers did not change the format in any meaningful way, except to make it an hour, as opposed to 90 to 120 minutes. (Do they think the old folks can’t stay up that late?) Following the usual script, the women arrive in a giggling bunch, filled with the fluttering hope and breathless admiration with which every group of “Bachelor” contestants views the inevitably fit but essentially unremarkable man who is up for grabs.
One by one they greeted him with the show’s predictable range of attitudes — from nervously subdued to raunchily suggestive.
The only woman who appeared to be engaged in anything resembling reality was Jimmy Kimmel’s 84-year-old Aunt Chippy, who said she was just curious to meet this Golden Bachelor. Sensibly dressed in a sparkly green tunic and pants, she was later caught snoozing while the rest of the women took turns complimenting one another and gushing about Gerry.
If Gerry had any sense at all, he would have chosen Chippy instantly. She’s a scream, their age gap is no larger than the one between Gerry and all those 60-year-olds, and I bet she makes a mean lasagna.
As the episode rolled on, individual meet-and-greets were filled with familiar compliments and assurances that the women just know he is the one for them, as well as some discreet hand-holding and a few (possibly contractually obligated) kisses.
This I do not get. It’s not that I think women of a certain age should have more sense than to go on a TV show to find a meaningful romantic relationship. Hope and absurdity both spring eternal. And who doesn’t enjoy a “just met you, let’s make out” session now and again?
I just think that these women, who have so much more experience with the world, would be a little more ... skeptical. In subsequent episodes I certainly hope they will have a few questions for Gerry before they throw themselves into anything serious.
Questions that would save both of them a whole lot of potential heartache.
For the record, I am married to an old white guy from Indiana. But if I were considering dating one now, I would definitely be asking who he voted for in the last presidential election. Also where he stands on certain issues, including the legality of abortion.
Before you come at me with “the media ruins everything by politicizing it,” think about it. No one wants to start falling for someone only to realize that he or she supports a politician or cause they find morally abhorrent.
And if neither person cares about such things, that’s also a good thing to know up front.
Since “The Bachelor” has long been criticized for avoiding any sort of political topics, this is obviously never going to happen. But many other equally important questions remain for people old enough to know that the real drama of romance is accommodating the more mundane habits of your partner.
Do you cook? Toilet seat up or down? Are you someone who reloads the dishwasher because no one else knows how to do it correctly? Do you sigh audibly while doing so? Will you be getting up at 4 a.m. to run? Will there be commentary if I do not join you? Do you talk while at the movies? Do you have an up-to-date passport? Do you tip? How generously? What is your definition of “doing the laundry” and does it end with clothes in the basket or put away?
If the actual goal is matrimony, as opposed to some on-camera polyamorous canoodling, I expect women over 30, never mind 60, to be worrying less about how Gerry looks in a bathing suit and more about whether he is going to just leave that bathing suit on the bathroom floor. Every. Single. Time.
Obviously, TV and film need to do more to “normalize” the sight of people over 60 falling in love, agonizing over romance and making out. And there is no denying that “The Bachelor,” with its young fan base, is a fine platform for breaking down stereotypes.
Unfortunately, the show is, to a certain extent, built on stereotypes, including but not limited to the idea that a proposal is the zenith of romance and love entails endless self-promotion, continually proving yourself more worthy of attention than the women, or men, around you.
To say nothing about the series’ focus on “hotness,” which boils down to a very narrow definition of beauty and fitness.
Series co-creator and showrunner John Hoffman breaks down Season 3, including Meryl Streep’s guest arc, a panic-inducing finale and that Season 4 cliffhanger.
On the other hand, no one should, or could, expect “The Bachelor” to singlehandedly break down stereotypes that have been millennia in the making. Dating is difficult, and wondrous, at any age, and there is something to be said for not making special “accommodations” for folks 60 and over.
I admit I found it painful to see women my age and older being forced to stand awaiting Gerry’s judgment during the infamous rose ceremony, but then I have always viewed the rose ceremony as an act of outrageous barbarity, reminiscent of choosing teams for dodge ball. And they all knew exactly what they were signing up for.
What I would like to see from this group of women, however, is one or two (or three or four) of them deciding, on their own and with minimal drama, that, as nice as he may seem, this guy is just not worth the effort. That engaging in all the “unscripted” squabbles, challenges, date nights, teary-eyed confessions is simply not the best use of their time, that they have better things to do.
Virtually every season, there comes a time when the Bachelor/Bachelorette claims it’s all too difficult and he or she is “out.” Occasionally, a contestant will leave, sometimes after being told he or she is “the one.” Getting engaged is, for many people, a very serious step and one not easily taken in front of cameras, under competitive circumstances and after knowing their potential intended for a matter of weeks.
Sure, sometimes it actually works out; often it does not. Increasingly, people appear to go on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” as much to increase their status as influencers as to find love.
Which is fine — it’s television, after all. But life is short and I’d like to see a few of these women admit that being on this show is not as much fun as it looks. (When I learned the women, like all contestants, were sleeping in bunk beds, the word “brave” did finally cross my mind.)
There’s a very good chance Gerry Turner will leave as he arrived — unattached — and wind up marrying some woman from his own community. A woman who looks him up and down and asks if he’s gotten the celebrity thing out of his system because she needs help putting up her storm windows.
Also, she’s just made lasagna.
You don’t need to understand quantum physics to see that coming.
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