The first thing you need to know about The Bachelor spin-off show Ben and Lauren: Happily Ever After? is that the show’s title originally had no question mark at the end of it. The second thing you need to know is that two minutes into the premiere episode, I thought it was total crap and the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but by the end, I may have become hooked.
That second point in itself isn’t particularly noteworthy; that’s The Bachelor way, getting you addicted to something terrible. But given how little the show has to work with—the plot of this episode and the rest of the season will revolve around how a couple who barely knows each other tries to navigate a post-reality TV real world—it’s a bit of a marvel. It also explains why the show’s title went from a statement of fact—they’re happy!—to a question; can “happily ever after” even exist when your “journey” to get there was so stilted?
Ben and Lauren (or Happily Ever After?, as I’d prefer to refer to it), began filming at the end of June, according to when the show was announced and the timeline presented in Tuesday night’s premiere, which means we see the couple a little over three months after they’ve been allowed to go public with their relationship. That also means they’ve known each other total for about nine or ten months at this point, several of which were spent in the company of a couple dozen other women also trying to tie Ben down. This drama, as well as the fact that Ben told last season’s Bachelorette JoJo that he loved her during the filming of his season, is still following the couple around; Lauren is uncomfortable with Ben being friends with JoJo (though she has subdivided her brain and says she still considers JoJo a friend to her), and the pair seem to want to distance themselves from the show.
How much distance Ben and Lauren truly want from the Bachelor world is the question here, as the show seems to keep pulling them back in. During the premiere, the pair fight about whether they will attend the live finale episode of JoJo’s season (when she appeared for the first time as an engaged couple with Jordan), all the while not acknowledging the trickiest aspect of this whole endeavor: though they claim to want to be allowed to do their own thing, they are still a part of the reality construct by being on this very program.
That Ben and Lauren are generally pretty boring people contributes to the slow start of the show. Their interviews are clearly scripted, and Lauren, having had less screen time as a lead, has more work to do in making these lines seem casual (though her and Ben’s voiceovers are equally stilted). Somehow, without the drama of so many other people around, their activities become even more clearly planned. Much to Lauren’s annoyance, they not-at-all casually are asked by multiple random people at the grocery store about JoJo. Then, in order to prep for their After the Final Rose appearance requested by an unnamed Bachelor producer, they “marathon” JoJo’s season of the show, during which we are reminded that yeah, JoJo talked about Ben dumping her a lot.
The appearances of twins Emily and Hayley, whom Lauren claims are good friends of hers since she met them on Ben’s season as well, but who do not, as far as I know, live in Ben and Lauren’s home of Denver, Colorado, make this entire endeavor all the less realistic. (The rest of the season looks like it will feature appearances from other people in the Bachelor family, like Jojo and Jordan, the dreaded Chad, and former Bachelor Chris Soules.) And yet, by the end, amidst all the bullshit, I found myself intrigued based solely on one scene, when Ben and Lauren fight in whispers over whether or not she’s upset about his comments during the After the Final Rose taping, which were highly mundane, but, given that she didn’t want to go to it, clearly worried him.
Ben and Lauren is produced by the same company as The Bachelor, and airs on ABC’s sister network Freeform, which means that the real meat of the show—the tensions between the desires of Ben and Lauren and the corporate structure they are beholden to—will likely only be a subtext of the rest of this season. We will see them planning their wedding, and debating whether it will be televised (the promo makes it look as though they will call the whole thing off, a classic Bachelor trick) but we will likely only get hints of the good stuff that went down during filming. That good stuff is, of course, Ben’s decision not to run for office because of producer/network pressure, and the concern that he would politicize their pure franchise.
That’s a bummer, because if there is one thing Ben and Lauren make clear, it’s that Ben would make a very good politician and Lauren a very good politician’s wife. They are mostly boring, calm, and clearly know that sometimes life means making tough choices, even if those choices mean your honest look at your relationship is still a lie to the world.