Wednesday, February 21, 2024

TV: Race Invades “The Bachelor” After All These Years and Ends The Season with A Thud and Embarrassment


For all the years “The Bachelor” and its distaff “Bachelorette” have been on TV, race was skirted as if it did not exist.

Then came Matt James, the first Black Bachelor, and all hell broke loose.

Tonight, James’s season ended in tears. James, a good looking guy who had managed maybe never to encounter a life speed bump, was confronted with reality in a harsh way. The woman he chose to give his “final rose” to and perhaps spend the rest of life — Rachael Kirkconnell —  was revealed to be racially clueless and insensitive. She had appeared in photos back in 2018 at a plantation party, an event most of us didn’t know existed.

The rumors of these photos had been all over the internet. But then Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette back in 2017, asked “Bachelor” host Chris Harrison about it in an interview on “Extra.” Lindsay elicited from Harrison his own cluelessness as he tried to defend Kirkconnell and said maybe in 2018 such a party would have been alright. Lindsay’s response was deadly as she asked him what role he thought she, Lindsay, might have played at such a party. Harrison’s life must have flashed before his eyes. He was toast.

Meantime, James, the “Bachelor” wrapped and waiting to reunite with Kirkconnell, got the message. He broke up with the girl. She had taken a long time to apologize before the “After the Rose” special tonight, which was hosted not by Harrison but by a Black substitute, Emmanuel Acho, who was just the right person for the job. Even though Acho was another intellectual plane than James, he made his points. Kirkconnell, dressed inappropriately for a cocktail party, came from a place of no education about the world. James, even though weeks have passed for him to process all this, was inarticulate and gobsmacked by reality. His pain was raw. It was something you never ever see on live American television. Sociologists should study this episode.

And so the two are parted for good. Acho suggested a final embrace, which was hilarious. James looked as if he was going to throw up. (It did not happen.) What Kirkconnell got from this is anyone’s guess. James, I think, had a full education distilled in short. This was a tragedy for him, but also maybe an ice bucket of reality that will just make him smarter and wiser. (Earlier in the show we’d met his mom and brother; I wish we’d heard their reactions to all this. They could sense the whole thing was a disaster.)

At the end of the show, Acho introduced two of James’s castoffs as the next Bachelorettes. Did they learn nothing from watching all this? I thought they’d say, “You know what? This is barbaric and we’re not doing it.” But, no, they each think they will “find love.” That they paid no attention to what happened in the last round is itself tragic. But as Phil Donahue always said to me, “One day we will see televised executions.” In fact, Will Forte is supposed to be in a “comedy” soon about a man planning his own suicide.

Don’t we have that already?

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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