Today In Self-Loathing: Watching 'The Bachelor'

'The Bachelor' host Chris Harrison

hide captionChris Harrison: The host who guides us into the darkness, seen here at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Let's get this out of the way now: The Bachelor is a horrible, horrible show from an actual-quality standpoint. Unlike well-edited and well-produced reality shows like Survivor, its pacing has all the agility of a cow on roller skates, and its tone has the velvety light touch you might get from a marching band made up entirely of tubas.

But Pringles aren't actually very good either, and that doesn't mean people don't consume them by the can.

I haven't watched the show with any regularity for quite a few seasons (and good for me!), but this year, I started to hear rumblings that it was less irritating and obnoxious than usual, which is mostly the fault of Jason Mesnick, the "handsome single dad" currently operating as the titular Bachelor. Traditionally, the person chosen as the Bachelor has no discernible merit, which is what makes the show sort of hilariously hopeless. What it has often become is a large group of women tearing each other's hair out for the opportunity to date a dude you could easily meet at any sports bar on any Friday, provided you are adequately spray-tanned.

That's not even counting the way that host Chris Harrison keeps saying "COMING UP!" in this voice of foreboding before telling you everything that's going to happen after the next commercial, after the commercial after that, and for the rest of the show. It's not unusual to see the same clip six or eight times, between the "Next week on The Bachelor!" preview, the "Tonight on The Bachelor!" preview, several "Later on The Bachelor!" previews, and a "Next on The Bachelor!" preview. The voice-overs and interviews are painfully expository, constantly announcing, for example, that dancing happened, just as we are watching dancing actually happen.

How they got me, after the jump...

Mesnick, on the other hand, is only about 30 percent nitwit, which is a nitwit discount of at least half over past Bachelors. He really does seem to love his little boy, he really does seem to want to meet someone who's a decent human being, and he mostly has a good sense of humor and, apparently, a heart of some indeterminate size.

All of this, of course, comes with the caveat, "For a guy who decided to try to meet someone on a reality show that has almost never produced a romantic relationship with a longer shelf life than an unrefrigerated carton of half-and-half."

Even in its awfulness, the show has a way of delivering little truths as the guy tries to thin the herd of women. (Yes, the herd. Yes, it sounds bad. Yes, it is bad. But the women, they are herd-like, and it cannot be helped.) On last week's show, for instance, Jason took a pretty blonde woman named Natalie out on an individual date, and he was very open about proclaiming, essentially, that he really hoped there would be something about her personality that would appeal to him, because he was so overpoweringly attracted to her. Something more than a few of us could admit to having thought at one point or another.

And then he asked her to tell him some interesting things about herself, and she came up with "I really love bears."

His face froze. Hilariously, he tried to rally with a follow-up: "Like, koala bears, panda bears?"

"No, all bears," she said. And then she told him how, this one time, she lost her stuffed bear, and her whole family was so sad that it was in the newspaper. And you could see his little heart break, because as beautiful as she is, he realized there was no way he could eat dinner with her for the rest of his life. Or ever again. She wound up being dismissed on the spot and sent home, and the good-natured grace with which she sat in her homebound limo alone saying "he's probably intimidated by me" and "I'm super-attractive" and "I don't mean to sound conceited" and "[bleep] that [bleep]" probably made him very regretful that he didn't hang onto her, no?

So, "ladies" (this show loves to call women "ladies," perhaps ironically): On a first date, asked to come up with something interesting about yourself, stay away from bears.

I can't defend this enterprise on the whole; the production has a Kool-Aid-Man-like ability to crash cheerfully through all appropriateness boundaries and set up situations that will hurt everyone. Jason, who is, as noted, basically a nice guy, has met (among others) Stephanie, a very good-hearted young widow with a little daughter the show was stupid enough to bring along so he could meet her on his very first date with her mother. Stephanie later told him — after one date! — that he was demonstrating to her that she could love again. So the remainder of her story will have to be viewed through interlaced fingers while we await her tear-soaked ouster, which is inevitable, because while he likes her, they have absolutely no romantic chemistry, and she is, as they once said on Friends, in The Friend Zone and will not escape.

But, like Pringles, it is stupidly addicting. Will Jason get rid of Megan, who fights with all the other women but recently told Jason that it was hard for her to take even a few days off from helping others? Will he need a restraining order to handle Shannon, who showed up with an uncomfortably detailed knowledge of his personal details gleaned from his mini-fame as an unchosen contestant on the last round of The Bachelorette? Will his head be turned if DeAnna Pappas (who rejected him on The Bachelorette for a snowboarder with whom she almost immediately broke up, as is tradition) shows up again?

Never have the first Pringle, is the thing. Because the first Pringle is a lot easier to turn down than the next Pringle.

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