I wasn’t sure if I was going to watch The Bachelor this season. I’ve analyzed enough of the show in a row that watching it is totally different than it was at the beginning—I can see the edits and manipulations consistently enough that the puzzle is far less of one. But the decision to bring back “fourth time’s the charm” Nick Viall was a weird enough one that I decided to check in. What resulted was the conclusion that his premiere episode is another example of how everything this show does is an effort to adapt to its audience, with the same machinations always there behind the scenes.
To recap: Nick has already been on three seasons of Bachelor shows. He made it to the final two of both Andi and Kaitlyn’s seasons of The Bachelorette, only to be rejected by both of them, and he also made an appearance on Bachelor in Paradise, before immediately ending his fake relationship there to start filming this latest season of The Bachelor. As such, his storyline this season is being promoted as if he may be rejected yet again, to become the most heartbroken man of the franchise.
Nick’s history works as a strong example of how the show has slowly tried to adapt to the demands of its audience. This season features a number of women of color, suggesting that regardless of who Nick picks in the end, there is, yet again, at least a bigger chance than usual that the next Bachelorette could be black. And within half an hour, one of them, Taylor, was talking about how being biracial has shaped her interactions with the world. Additionally, it did not go unnoticed by viewers on Twitter that Nick’s “first impression rose” was given to Rachel, an attorney from Dallas who is black.
Nick’s history with the show also suggests the show is, as it has been in his past seasons, taking a more relaxed approach to sex. In what seems like it will become a central plot point for at least a couple episodes, one contestant, Liz, has even met Nick before—at Jade and Tanner’s televised wedding (she was Jade’s Maid of Honor)—and says point blank that she had a one-night-stand with him. While The Bachelor has often played Puritan to the point of ridiculousness, it’s hard to do that when your lead is known for talking about having sex on the Fantasy Suite with one Bachelorette, and when his hook up with another became a major plot point of her season. (And as an aside, there seemed to be a looser approach to language in this episode, with slightly more curses bleeped than are normally even included.)
Of course, all of this doesn’t change the fact that there’s still plenty of old tropes being used—the aforementioned Liz was brought in “as a surprise” to Nick, as if the producers didn’t tell him she was coming (Chris Harrison went as far as to pretend he didn’t know about her past with Nick, in an unimpressive bit of acting, given that he is a producer on the show and officiated Jade and Tanner’s wedding). And smaller things cropped up, as they always do: a woman cried, the biggest drama was about how like seven of them were wearing red, one dressed up in a weird shark costume masquerading as a dolphin, and blonde businesswoman Corinne was solidified as the villain of the season once she planted a wet one on Nick.
Perhaps a look at the episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! that came after The Bachelor shows how the producers have adapted their format to fit the cultural conversation surrounding their show. Kimmel has long talked about his network’s reality jewel in the crown, but he devoted last night’s “Here for the Right Reasons” show entirely to The Bachelor, playing a game with the photos of past contestants called “Dental Hygienist or Not,” interviewing Nick with exes Andi and Kaitlyn alongside him, and basically making dig after dig at the program while also very clearly giving it a major platform. He took the levity of his past interviews and bits with contestants, a levity seen, for example, on extensions of the brand like After Paradise, and lifted it up further. For as The Bachelor has had to relax its format, what has been relaxed more than anything else has been the seriousness with which the franchise is taken by its own creators. As we’ve seen in the brief bloopers featured at the end of every episode, these are real people—some of them with a sense of humor!—not just characters. In essence, Kimmel and ABC have done what Bachelor producers have been doing on Twitter for years: treating this show as the punchline it regularly is, while still profiting off the giant moneymaker.