Well, well, well, here we are again. We are just days into this new year and ABC has already went and said “fuck your new years resolutions.” That’s right, a new year means a new season of our favorite American horror story: The Bachelor! It’s time to put all of your new year’s progress on hold (all three days of it) and indulge in last year’s trash. By “trash” I am of course referring to our new Bachelor, Clayton Echard, a man so bland and mediocre that even the audience base who still shops at Vera Bradley and measures the weight of their existence solely by the presentation of their monograms was like “ugh, this guy? Seriously?” Yes, seriously.
By the time the episode’s opening credits roll, it’s clear that ABC is still working overtime to sell us on Clayton. What does this “overtime” consist of, you might ask? Well, I’ll tell you what it doesn’t consist of. Instead of asking Clayton any personal questions to capitalize on, finding out if, say, he has a quirky hobby like that he secretly learned Elvish during a college recruiting trip, or that he has some sort of fun interest in the art of charcuterie–they decide to double down on the shit we already hate about him. They tell us that Clayton is just a simple guy from a simple town and then show us footage of a town that could have doubled as the one that banned teens from dancing in Footloose.
CLAYTON: I just want a soul mate to show my hometown to
My god there are so many white people in this town. And so many white people doing white people things! A middle-aged woman bleaching the shit out of her hair, teen girls somehow—in the year 2022—wearing Aeropostale’s spring line from 2007, two middle-aged guys manspreading in front of an American flag draped over a fire truck. Is this a real town or a manifestation of one of my stress dreams from when CNN used to show too much footage of Trump rallies?
Next up on ABC’s highlight reel for Clayton: his journey on Michelle’s season. Not sure you can use the term “journey” for a stint of time that’s shorter than a CDC recommendation for COVID quarantine, but okay. Clayton himself even jokes that he was only on the show for eight minutes. I worry that he doesn’t understand the actual joke he just made. The joke isn’t that you only lasted on The Bachelorette for a brief amount of time and then somehow landed a leading role on the next season. The joke is that ABC, knowing they had already picked you to be said lead, could not find more than eight minutes of footage to air about you. The most interesting parts of you amounted to a total of eight minutes. That’s how dismal the state of this season is.
We are also reminded that even though Michelle didn’t love Clayton, kids loved Clayton. Kids also love eating dirt and leaving skid marks in their underoos. What’s your point, ABC? The producers took special care to air the footage of the “children” writing Clayton a pity note about how awesome he is after Michelle dumped him. This is the only evidence they have that Clayton is worthy of being our Bachelor. That’s their story and they’re sticking to it. Speaking of the “children,” the producer who had to write a letter to Clayton in the voice of a kindergartner probably has a tenuous grasp on his mental health right now. Can we get someone to check on that guy? I’m worried.
Despite the fact that ABC signed us all up to watch the consequences of drinking whole milk your entire life embark on a journey to find love, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the episode. Dare I say… I was even entertained? *immediately waits for God’s smiting* Look, just because I took mild pleasure in viewing this episode that doesn’t mean I was able to find any sort of narrative arc to adhere to this recap. Sorry. This first night had all of the structure and organization of some sort of demonic entity breaking down the gates of hell and it must be recapped as such. No, instead I shall touch upon the night’s highs and leave it at that. Let’s get into it:
The Girls Have Gone
I thought Matt had it tough last season when he tried to find love in the middle of a global pandemic. During his season the women were still getting human interaction through zoom happy hours and so seeing a real live human man—not just sending sexts through Snapchat to an ex or emotionally masturbating to the IG accounts of the cast of The Outer Banks—was like watching the unraveling of the human psyche in real time. But if I thought those ladies were unhinged and horned up, it’s nothing compared to the stock of psychos they found for Clayton’s season.
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Normally on the first night we see a few kooks, but I am genuinely recommending a wellness check for every woman on this season. You can tell that half of these women have not been on a real date since March 2020 and the other half have been on dates and are appalled at the caliber of men the pandemic somehow left untouched. Take for example, Daria, a Yale law student, who says—looking directly at the camera with all of the feeling of someone who just crawled out of a bunker—to hell with getting an education, she needs a husband. I mean I think her exact words were something like “Clayton looks like the type to be a protector, a provider, and that’s really attractive to me” which is… sinister to say the least. Daria, sweetie, you were smart enough to get into Yale law but you want to hitch your wagon to a man who definitely answers spam calls and then, like, gives them the time of day? Put down the banana bread and let’s talk this out.
And the gimmicks! Don’t even get me started about the quality of the gimmicks this season. The girls have not just gone wild, they’ve gone absolutely feral. One girl brings a boa constrictor, which has to violate several wildlife protection laws. 32-year-old Kate asks Clayton to feel her “nips” and then produces airplane bottles of whiskey straight from her bra. Kira, A DOCTOR, shows up in a lab coat and red lingerie. Gabby brings a pillow with Clayton’s face on it and says it’s because she wants to—and I quote!—“sit his face.” Another girl brings in her ex-boyfriend’s ashes and casually insinuates that she murdered him. Like, where are they finding these women? Under bridges selling their souls to magical trolls for passage?
Not only are the women going completely off the rails, but it’s clear that ABC will just be allowing the inmates to run the asylum. There are no rules anymore. Case in point: Salley’s storyline. Before we even get to limo entrances we’re introduced to Salley, whose job title is “formerly engaged.” Goddamn, these producers are ruthless. We learn that Salley recently broke off an engagement because of “trust issues”, which means her fiancé definitely cheated on her with the ex from high school he told her not to worry about. Not only was Salley recently engaged, but she was actually supposed to get married ON THE FIRST DAY OF FILMING?! We absolutely know that ABC rearranged their filming schedule to psychologically torture this girl for ratings. In fact, I think the producers might also be making her capture her tears in little airplane bottles so they might chug them before particularly grueling filming schedules to boost their life force.
SALLEY IN THE LIMO ON THE WAY TO THE BACHELOR MANSION:
And this is not even the most shocking part of the Salley storyline. The most shocking part is that Salley is allowed access to Clayton BEFORE THE LIMO ENTRANCES. That’s right, they give Salley Clayton’s room number and then encourage her to breach his safe space as if she is not a complete stranger. This is right up there with storming the Capitol in terms of violating the sanctity of our societal norms.
Why does Salley need access to Clayton, a man she’s never met and only heard of a few days ago when her mother admitted that she accidentally sent her American Idol audition tape to The Bachelor instead? Well, Salley feels that Clayton deserves to know why she’s leaving before filming even started despite there being literally no need for this confession. In fact, if she never said anything to him, his life would actually not change at all because he didn’t even know she existed. That’s just facts, honey.
SALLEY: *emotionally diarrheas on Clayton’s couch*
CLAYTON: If you don’t mind, could I step away for a second?
Please tell me he’s leaving to go scream into a pillow. Anything else and I’ll think less of him (if that’s possible). ABC, he asked for a wife, not a head case!!
Here’s how I know Clayton is too simple to be our lead. After Salley, a stranger, shows up at his door and delivers the plot line to a Lifetime movie, he handles the situation by *checks notes* giving her a rose?! Okay, this is the wild fucking west now. They aren’t even at the Bachelor Mansion yet! You can’t just give out roses off the premises unless you want to enact a centuries-old witch’s curse! Everyone knows that! And Clayton, the answer to this woman’s deep-seated emotional trauma is not gifting her a rose you stole off the housekeeping cart mere moments before. My god, read a book.
To no one’s surprise, Salley declines his pity rose and goes home early where (hopefully) she can take her pain and channel it into something more productive. Like, carving her name into her ex’s car. Good luck to ya, girlfriend!
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Senior Superlatives: Bachelor Edition
My bar for being impressed this season seems to rely on two factors: one, the absolute willingness of these ladies to debase themselves and their reputations for our viewing pleasure; and two, watching literal stars be born. Mark my words, Clayton deserves the human equivalent of low-fat yogurt for a romantic companion, but in the process of giving him that ABC has actually found some genuine talent. Let’s reflect on the biggest wins of the episode:
Most Grounded: Susie. Never did I ever think I would associate the word “grounded” with a girl who spells her name with an “ie”—and the “i” most definitely had heart over it for the majority of her life. As the rest of the girls gamely asked Clayton to lady and the tramp uncooked sausages with them, Susie watched on in abject horror. Throughout the evening you could see her mentally calculating how she ended up in this hellscape and recoiling at her unfortunate life choices. I’m awarding her most grounded because she seems cute and super judge-y. A winning combo, IMO. I’m sure she’ll go on to get the villain edit (as all the best hoes do) but for now I’m truly enjoying her presence on my screen.
Best Vibes: Teddi. Teddi reminds me of every character Mindy Kaling has ever written about herself—the smart and charismatic horny virgin. Clayton is immediately gobsmacked by her presence and even ends up giving her the First Impression Rose. I already can’t wait for Fantasy Suites when production layers audio of her whispering “okay, but only the tip!” over footage of discarded khakis (Clayton’s) and a half-drunk bottle of champagne (Teddi’s).
Most Deserving Of A Purple Heart: Claire. Last night I watched a hero be born in the form of Claire, a 28-year-old “spray tanner” from Virginia. We all have our origin stories, I suppose. Claire had the audacity to say what we were all thinking out loud, which is that Clayton ain’t shit. It started when she put together a cornhole, tailgating moment for the two of them, and Clayton allowed another woman to derail their alone time by stealing him for a sec (FYI my master’s degree just physically recoiled at watching me write that sentence). Claire’s response? To down a chicken wing and drunkenly declare “I could never date America’s sweetheart.” Iconic. Thank you for your service.
Most Romantic Gesture: ABC, for capping the episode at just two hours. That’s right people, despite rumors of a three-hour opening episode, ABC actually showed they do understand the concept of self-restraint. This episode clocked in at exactly two hours, and, dare I say, all 120 minutes were actually enjoyable? Is this me eating crow?
And that’s all she wrote, kids! The trailer for this season looks positively delicious. If I thought the women seemed emotionally unbalanced on night one when they knew absolutely nothing about Clayton, that appears to be nothing compared to the emotions we’ll witness later in the season. You know what they say: There’s nothing like a mediocre white man to bring out the worst in women. Until then!
Images: ABC/John Fleenor; Giphy (2); @bachelorettewindmill /Instagram (1); thebetchelor /Instagram (1); @Schitt’s Creek /Netflix (1)