Life imitates art, or so the saying goes. Actually, I think Woody Allen got it right when he said that life doesn’t imitate art; it imitates bad television.
To understand that maxim, you have to get a clear fix on what bad television is. That’s not as easy as it sounds, because, in many ways, television is now better than it has ever been. If you’re using production values or clever writing or outstanding performances as your yardstick, you’ll discover much on TV that outclasses what you’ll find in your local Cineplex.
For instance, Ed Helms got far more laughs playing Andy Bernard in any 30-minute episode of “The Office” than he did in the 90 minutes of the execrable “Hangover III,” although, granted, that’s not really saying much. But back in the day, actors didn’t cross over from TV to films, because television was considered an inferior medium. These days, that stigma is gone. The phrase “high quality television” is no longer considered an oxymoron.
Of course, if you’re applying a moral standard rather than a technical one when you’re judging the goodness or badness of TV programming, then you find yourself presented with an endless array of terrible television options. Indeed, when considering the state of television, you quickly realize that these are the best of times and the worst of times. Never before has garbage been presented with so much artistry. And every once in awhile, you’ll find one show where talent and depravity perfectly intersect.
Which, of course, brings us to ABC’s “The Bachelorette.”
I discovered this show when my daughter was in the hospital recuperating from an accident, and this was all she wanted to watch. Every time she had it on, I tried to turn away, but I was like an insect drawn to a bug zapper. You know what staring at something like this will do to you, but you still can’t help yourself.
The first thing you learn is that love only comes to those who are really, really good-looking.
Take Desiree, the current Barbie-like brunette whose job it is to thin a herd of suitors by crushing three of their hearts per week, on average. She sure talks a good game about how essential it is to be open, kind and honest, but she’s not talking about open and kind and honest ugly people. Everyone and everything on “The Bachelorette” is ridiculously beautiful if you can ignore the moral squalor at the heart of it all.
In this last episode, Desiree kept talking about the importance of the guys having the “right reasons” for dating her. Those reasons apparently don’t include the million-dollar dowry that accompanies victory, as none of the guys mentioned the big prize. But each insisted that, yes, they have the right reasons, and one guy got mad at another guy who, apparently, didn’t have the right reasons, but the wrongness of the other guy’s reasons was never catalogued with any specificity.
But the right reasons were repeatedly enumerated. They all had hardscrabble stories of tough childhoods and single fatherhoods and things that tore at Barbie’s heartstrings long enough to get her to make slurping noises as the serial couples chewed each other’s faces off. In a more chivalrous era, the rule was “don’t kiss and tell.” Now it’s “don’t kiss and tell until the camera crew is set up.”
The irony is that “The Bachelorette” isn’t life imitating bad television; this was bad television trying to imitate life. In pursuit of the so-called “right reasons,” it teaches all the wrong lessons. If you watch it, enjoy the pretty lights while you can.
Just know you’re about to get bug-zapped.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.