‘Bachelor’ franchise struggles to get woke

Rachel is the first black Bachelorette, and with that comes the most diverse cast of men, both of which the show boasts about in a gross, self-congratulatory way.

click to enlarge Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay - PHOTO: ABC / CRAIG SJODIN
Photo: ABC / Craig Sjodin
Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay

When The Bachelorette (Season Finale, 8 p.m. Monday, ABC) selected Rachel Lindsay — Texas attorney and third-place finalist on Nick Viall’s season of The Bachelor — as its 13th leading lady, it was significant for a show with a longtime lack of diversity. Rachel is the first black Bachelorette, and with that comes the most diverse cast of men, both of which the show boasts about in a gross, self-congratulatory way. Choosing a woman of color for this role shouldn’t be revolutionary. But having a reality dating-competition show thoughtfully examine race, diversity and identity could be.

One major storyline revolved around the white, Southern Lee antagonizing Kenny, an African-American pro-wrestler, denying it and labeling him as “aggressive.” Another black contestant genuinely attempted to educate Lee on his problematic behavior, offering a thoughtful moment. But ultimately Lee and Kenny’s final showdown resulted in a cringeworthy display of the male ego. Elsewhere, we saw one white guy open with the line, “I’m ready to go black, and I’m never going to go back” (which he seemed to regret, though Rachel thought it was funny), and another introduce Rachel to his friends, all suspiciously in interracial relationships.

In the end, The Bachelorette probably handled the topic of race as well as a show of its nature possibly could. Visibility is crucial, so it’s nice to see a woman of color on center stage. At the same time, it’s not Rachel’s burden to represent all black women or address deep societal issues every Monday night. She doesn’t seem too keen on flaunting her “historic” role as much as she is intent on finding love — race aside, you come on this show to “date” 31 men and find a husband!

And there is so much more to Rachel than her skin color. She’s intelligent, funny and actually has a verifiable real career — a rare find on a show where “Tickle Monster” and “Twin” are acceptable professions. She also has the distinction of being the oldest Bachelorette, which is refreshing. At 32, she’s mature enough to have real relationship experience, know what she wants and, you know, maybe get married — a contrast to the swarms of early-20-somethings that swell The Bachelor’s ranks. 

In the apparent interest of beating spoiler gossip blogs to the punch, it’s already been revealed that Rachel ends up engaged to a final suitor. This week, we’ll find out if it’s the sketchy but sexy Colombian chiropractor Bryan, the dopey, immature underdog Eric or the swoon-worthy salt-and-pepper Peter, whose gap between teeth matches Rachel’s. 

Interestingly, the most unsettling moment from the season had nothing to do with race. While preparing for the guys’ hometown visits, Dean disclosed some major family issues. After losing his mom to cancer in his teens, he and his family drifted apart. He now has a fractured relationship with his father, who Dean described as “eccentric.” Dean’s dad was dramatically revealed to be a Sikh, the two failed to make amends on camera and the entire debacle was unnecessarily exploitative.

And speaking of exploitation, on the heels of The Bachelorette comes Bachelor in Paradise (Season Premiere, 8 p.m. Aug. 14, ABC), the franchise’s ickiest spinoff that brings Bachelor and Bachelorette castaways to a Mexican resort. Producers gather the kookiest rejects from past seasons and fan favorites to date one another. At the end of each week, anyone who isn’t paired up is sent home and some fresh meat is flown in to stir up drama. And some people actually get engaged at the end of this mess.

Paradise is a total train wreck. The booze is flowing, the bikinis are mandatory and it’s basically a revolving door of hookups, breakups and sloppy seconds. What could go wrong?

This summer we all found out, when sexual assault allegations in Paradise halted production. While an internal investigation cleared the show and its producers of any misconduct and production eventually resumed, the entire situation casts a serious shadow on an otherwise silly show. “All will be explained,” teases host Chris Harrison.

The scandal could serve as a chance to start an important conversation about consent. Of course, when it comes to the Bachelor franchise handling delicate situations, it doesn’t have the best track record.


CONTACT JAC KERN: @jackern

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