God bless The Bachelor. Don’t get me wrong: The show and its twin, The Bachelorette, are pretty vile. They both sell a false vision of love, dressing up gender stereotypes in fairy-tale Hollywood schmaltz. At least other dating shows — like Rock of Love, in which VH1 partnered with Poison’s Brett Michaels to help get him laid — revel honestly in their sleaze. ABC hides its program’s inherent skeeviness in romantic helicopter rides and heart-ballooning orchestral scores. Honestly, I can walk away from two ladies pulling each other’s hair out while fighting for the affections of Flavor Flav, and feel less self-loathing than I do after watching some well-scrubbed jock take a woman bungee-jumping on a first date and profess his love while strings swell beneath them.
But, goddamn, do I love watching The Bachelor with a group.
In the last few years, as television has become increasingly viewer-friendly — we can watch whatever we want, whenever we want, from practically wherever we want — the communal aspect of TV watching has dwindled. Only during sports do people seem to get together to witness an event in real time. Sure, there is still such a thing as “appointment TV,” where friends gather to watch episodic dramas like Mad Men. But what about the stuff no one would ever make an appointment to watch? What about the guilty pleasures? Thanks to DVR, Hulu, etc., we can consume the shows we feel ashamed of in total privacy, assured no one else is watching.
What’s the fun in that, though? Technology has gotten to the point where we’ve forgotten the joys of watching some gloriously stupid piece of trash with the ones we love while snarking the shit out of it. And few shows bring back those now-antiquated feelings to the degree that The Bachelor does. I wouldn’t be caught dead watching the show alone (I swear!), but if my girlfriend and her friends have plans to spend two hours of their lives engaging with some frightfully sincere, lovelorn fame-whores, I better be invited, too. And usually, I am.
It’s the earnestness that does it. The Bachelor doesn’t typically feature the fights and outwardly grotesque behavior of most dating shows (though there are bouts of cattiness — see the current season’s Tierra, the one with the disconcerting dent in her forehead). Instead, it trades in overwrought sentiment, with the appointed bachelor claiming to love all the few dozen ladies vying for his hand the moment he meets them, and the women openly weeping after getting rejected by a guy they literally just met. As it turns out, that’s much greater fodder for sarcastic commentary than the knowingly low-class. As is often theorized, comedy is best when the clown doesn’t know it’s funny, and The Bachelor is achingly self-unaware.
And it’s always amplified by the presence of others. The Bachelor might have a lousy batting average when it comes to creating lasting marriages, but it does succeed in bringing people together — at its own expense. But still, that’s more than a lot of shows can say.
I Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.