If you feel like ABC has been churning out a never-ending stream of content under the “Bachelor” franchise for the last year, you’d be correct.
We endured a frustrating “Bachelor” season with lead Matt James, a lengthy and at times toxic run with Katie Thurston and a season of “Bachelor in Paradise” that felt a little more like a simulation of the show than watching actual people date and fight and fall in love. In short, a lot of fans are feeling the bachelor burnout heading into Michelle Young’s season, but that didn’t stop people from tuning in on Tuesday night.
Like tons of other fans, I had anticipated Michelle’s season ever since she got left out to dry by James in favor of Rachael Kirkconnell. Michelle, a teacher from Minnesota, was poised and cool — at the same time, she was goofy and easy to like. She was the perfect “Bachelorette” and during a time when the franchise was attempting to rebrand away from its racially tone-deaf past, a natural pick to be the bachelorette.
Michelle talked about Black Lives Matter on her dates with Matt, and how she processed the events of 2020 as a Black woman and an educator. She toed the ever-present line in reality television between looking like you care but not being overtly political. She was a “Bachelorette” candidate for a new generation of fans: younger, more diverse and ready to see more than just surface-level conversations about issues that matter to them on their favorite show.
Michelle’s season opener had a few noticeable differences from previous seasons: gone again was franchise veteran Chris Harrison, replaced by former bachelorettes Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe as hosts. In promos for the rest of the season that played during the premiere, viewers noticed that the show seems to be returning to its standard practice of traveling the world for dates, instead of being filmed in a bubble due to coronavirus concerns.
Kicking off on a strong note, Michelle welcomed her contestants out of the limo with the grace and humor it requires to watch grown men parade by you on national television in absurd costumes. Twitter's Bachelor Nation lost its mind over Nayte Olukoya, who had the luck of being first out of the limo and receiving Michelle’s first impression rose. Olukoya melted the hearts of many a millennial when he was introduced with his Cocker Spaniel puppy and stated that he’s looking for “a teammate for life.”
In an early slip-up, contestant Ryan Fox was called out for having a file of notes in his hotel room on how to appear positively on TV, how former contestants had found success and how to act around Michelle and the other men so as not to become the season’s “villain.” After a tense confrontation, Michelle sent him packing.
Guess Ryan will have to find another girl to watch the sunset with on his family’s raisin farm. Fans applauded Michelle’s conviction in putting herself first and trusting her red flags, and Ryan has since been banished into the abcesses of “Bachelorette” history.
Another minor snag came along in the form of Joe Coleman, a contestant from Minnesota who appeared to recognize Michelle when he came in. Michelle explained to Joe that she had slid into his DMs on social media during the summer of 2020 to no response, immediately embarrassing him and prompting a discussion about why he ghosted her and if she felt that he should continue on the show.
It marked the franchise’s first conversation about Black men seeking therapy and the impacts of George Floyd's murder on Black mental health. Joe ultimately ended up sticking around after Michelle awarded him the final rose of the evening (or was it early morning?).
Overall, it was a solid first episode that mostly won in its showcasing of a really fantastic lead. Without Michelle as the bachelorette, this episode and these men would have turned on their sides in the first 15 minutes. We saw some potential connections starting to form, and the fans were given both some early favorites and the necessary scapegoats. Throughout it all, Michelle rose above the noise of endless teacher jokes and basketball innuendos to be a lead that everyone can root for. Just when you’d think that the “Bachelor” franchise has lost its touch, it brings you back around with newer and better people.
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