About a month ago, I wrote a post saying that Amy Schumer’s early appearance on the current season of The Bachelorette gave audiences a look at the type of personality the show needed to catch up with the changing times and keep younger audiences interested. Schumer, or someone like her, would basically be the franchise’s Deadpool, breaking the fourth wall and using the show’s premise to unabashedly take advantage of the situation where she would be dating 25 guys, just as anyone would.
After Schumer’s episode was over, however, Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe unexpectedly showed a lot of those same qualities. She may not have come close to Schumer in terms of comedic edge, but they had a lot more in common than any first impression could warrant. Of course Bristowe fits more in The Bachelorette. Though whether it was Bristowe or how ABC chose to portray her and this season’s events, it’s clear this was a very different direction for the show and one of the most important for the franchise’s evolution.
A lot has been made of three decisions Bristowe made for the current season: 1) Bringing on previous contestant Nick Viall midway through the season, 2) Telling other contestant Shawn Booth off-camera that he’s “The One,” and 3) Sleeping with Viall before the “Fantasy Suite” dates where the Bachelorette has the option to spend the night with each of the final three contestants. All three broke the show’s format and rules to varying degrees.
While the first of these is technically a deviation, it’s the type of stunt that the show includes in order to increase the drama, particularly on The Bachelorette, where the contestants tend to be more laid back early in the season compared to their Bachelor counterparts. The latter two were clearly unexpected to the point where the episode format and production schedule were greatly altered from the usual.
According to an episode of Grantland’s reality TV recap podcast, “The Right Reasons,” an ABC employee told them plans to shoot in Patagonia were cancelled in favor of playing out the drama in Ireland. (Note: Disney owns Grantland and ABC.) The other significant change was in the format which, once the show was at midseason, typically followed a one-on-one date, group date, one-on-one date, rose ceremony narrative that grew tired with every episode.
This time around, the show smartly followed the drama rather than the format. Rose ceremonies took place 25 percent into episodes, there were cliff-hangers at the end of every two hours — cats and dogs were living together! Both of these changes created much more compelling television, especially compared to recent seasons. All was very welcome.
For those unfamiliar, The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise has always been behind the times when it comes to young America’s standards in terms of sex, relationships and gender politics. I distinctly remember my mom watching an early season where there was a whole plotline built around a contestant on The Bachelor revealing that she was divorced from a previous marriage. Shocking stuff for the early 2000s.
This lack of evolution could be to keep the less forward-thinking viewers on board. It’s clear from the tweets shared this week that not everyone’s ready for a “modern” Bachelorette. Bristowe is the first Bachelorette who ABC showed as being sex-positive. She certainly knows not everyone is so forward-thinking and said in a People interview that it’s definitely a double standard when it comes to men and women.
Juan Pablo Galavis — one of the most vilified “Bachelors” in history — famously slept with a contestant before tradition allowed. He wasn’t attacked for this though. In fact, it was contestant Claire Crawley who instigated the ocean-coitus. Fans and cast members alike faulted him for how he handled the situation, not the fact that it happened. Just like real life, it’s unrealistic to think anyone on a date won’t have sex or at least make out when going on these extravagant dates, one of which included a dinner in a closed-out Metropolitan Museum of Art and a helicopter ride over the New York skyline.
Over the course of the franchise’s existence, ABC has made a point to equate the perception of the show as a Cinderella-like fairy tale in which the Prince or Princess hosts a three-month ball where they will find a husband or wife. Past contestants have revealed that shooting the show is not what it seems, which isn’t surprising. The show has changed in regards to what ABC includes in its final broadcasts. The realist, or cynic, in me believes that the courtship wasn’t as pure as we would be led to believe in the early seasons, and now ABC is pulling back the curtain ever so slightly — probably the most this season.
Audiences now have a better understanding of the fact that the season’s lead and the contestants all have close relationships with their PAs and producers. The morning after Bristowe slept with Viall, she’s clearly spoke with a producer about her feelings on the situation. We never saw the other party in the conversation. But five years ago, ABC would have rewritten and shot the comments in a talking head segment. While Bristowe is the key for why this season has been so important for the franchise, ABC certainly adapted to her for the finished product.
Referring to the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise as “progressive” is an overstatement, to say the least. The show has always had a problem with diversity. There has yet to be a season lead who wasn’t Caucasian. It will likely be at least 10 years before ABC even considers same-sex courtship, regardless of recent Supreme Court decisions. While these issues will unfortunately be there for the foreseeable future, this season of The Bachelorette made significant strides for the franchise. Hopefully, the franchise moves forward more quickly from here.