After last week’s finale of “The Bachelorette” — which 19 seasons ago spun off from “The Bachelor,” which itself is coming up on its 27th season — it’s time for a breakup with the whole Bachelor franchise. This episode was a low, even for a show that is always overpromising and underdelivering on canned drama.
While it wasn’t the most dramatic or the most shocking in series history, it was among the least satisfying, which made it a fitting close for a show that is in dire need of a makeover.
Let’s back up to the beginning. "The Bachelor" launched in 2002, 20 years ago in Earth time and about 250 lifetimes in television cycles. Back then, network TV was still a destination, the words "smart" and "phone" had not yet been combined, and Netflix was still sending DVDs in the mail.
And at the height of the reality TV boom, along came a show where a suitor would date 25 women, eliminate them one by one, and marry the last woman standing. It was the romantic version of “Survivor,” and despite the insanity of the premise, it caught on.
After two seasons of “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette” arrived, flipping the show’s gender roles and having a woman date 25 men. Laughably, it was controversial at the time — how will it look for a woman (gasp!) to be dating all those men at once? — but it, too, was a hit. The franchise soon became a cottage industry of bachelors and bachelorettes.
At some point in those early days, the show’s fan base — if not quite the show itself — became self-aware, and the wine-chugging “Bachelor Nation” took root. It was never about the romantic ideal at the center of the show, or the notion that the show could somehow produce lasting marriages or even relationships. It was more about the silliness of it all, the cheesy introductions at Bachelor Mansion, the mid-date interruptions, the drama, the drama, the drama. The show’s fans were winking, and producers helped manufacture the moments they wanted, even if at its core “The Bachelor” stuck to its rather rigid premise and rhythms, and its march toward the altar.
Now about that march: in the combined 45 seasons of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," the show has produced exactly four still-standing marriages, and a few other couples in various states of togetherness. That's a success rate of about 8%. If "The Bachelor" was a baseball player, it would be working at a hardware store by now.
Which, look, is fine. It’s absurd to think the process of dating and finding love can be sped up and take place on camera in exotic locations around the world, and once cameras are off it will lead to healthy, happy relationships. That was clear from the jump.
But what’s more absurd is that 45 seasons in, and now going on a 46th, “The Bachelor” still hasn’t mixed things up, and is still going through the motions and building toward a proposal at the end of every season. Why is that the goal? Why can’t two people at the end just decide they really like each other and go from there?
Because just finding someone to date doesn’t present high enough stakes. So "The Bachelor" is in a conundrum with itself. It knows it doesn’t work, yet it continues to pretend it does. On one hand, you have to admire it for continuing to try. On the other, at some point it’s better to let go, like Nicole Scherzinger did with her solo career.
Which leads us, in a roundabout way, to this week’s “The Bachelorette” finale. This season marked a first for the franchise, with two bachelorette contestants, which somehow resulted in half the cohesion of a normal season.
Tuesday’s three-hour finale was an agonizing slog that featured one couple uncomfortably arguing with each other. It was clear that, despite ending up together, these two people barely knew each other, and viewers knew them even less. Their endless back-and-forth felt needy and gross, voyeurism at its worst, and for a show that’s supposed to go down easy with a glass of wine (or a giant canned margarita, there’s no judgment here), the fun had gotten up and left the room.
Did the show take this as a sign to retool? Nah. By the end, the episode had turned into a promo for the next season of “The Bachelor,” starring one of this season’s runners up, a bland white dude named Zach, who looks like three-quarters of “The Bachelor” pool. By the end of the finale, Zach was courting female contestants, and America was voting on who should get the first rose. It’s the last rose the show should give out before the show figures out what it wants to be going forward. Because nothing’s sadder than an aging “Bachelor,” still out there trying to play the field.
Adam Graham (Twitter: @grahamorama) is a film critic at The Detroit News, where this piece originally appeared.