Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bachelorette Recap Episode 4: The Arc of the Show is Long, But It Bends Toward Being OK, I Guess

(here you can read the recaps for:
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3)

Apologies readers. This series skipped over the second half of the Chad saga. In short, two vascular sybarites accompanied JoJo into the woods and only one came back - Alex, the diminutive Marine, prevailed over the show’s archvillian. The episode suggested that Chad might worm his way back into our Bachelorette’s good graces, but the beginning of episode 4 proves this to be yet another well-edited deke. Chad indeed returns to confront the rest of the men, and, following much grimacing and grunting, departs without resulting to the violence his pulsing neck veins intimate. The boys celebrate his vanquishment with streamers and toasts, smashing the conquering hero Alex’s face into a large cake - the significance of these meathead rituals is uncertain but the relief is not. While they are freed of Chad's psychotic reign, we the audience are not - a commercial break reveals he will appear on Bachelor In Paradise, a grim reminder that ABC, like every other network, holds ratings uber alles.

The post-Chad joy fades rapidly as the men each begin to realize the vacuum Chad left. Wells, the least-imposing and most-insightful of the contestants, nails the implications: without Chad as a focal point for the group’s animosity, the remaining men will begin to turn on one another. While Wells does not mention it outright, the parallels to Saddam Hussein’s downfall and the subsequent rise of ISIS are too stark to ignore. Ousting Chad was satisfying, but has already begun to foment instability in the region. JoJo returns to the Pennsylvania lodging and the men clamor for time alone with her. In short order, she smooches Robby, Alex, and Rodger Rodgers, as the others wallow in anxiety. The night ends with the rose ceremony we were denied last week. Among the evictees are James F, whose primary contribution to the show was forcing people to clarify that they were referring to James T, and, most disappointingly, the resident Canadian, Justin. His confessional, however, makes it worthwhile - he attempts to indict JoJo by suggesting she was interested in more than just the candidate’s looks; if it were a strict aesthetic meritocracy, Justin fumes, no one would hold a candle to his physique. He reasons that with so many people in the world, it’s extremely unlikely that he and JoJo were meant for each other. Casting about for an adequate comparison proves too much, though, and he ends up falling down the staircase of his own analogy: “it’s more likely that I’d…get…hit by lightning……while…..shaving” he manages.

Daniel stares way off in the distance at his original point. Photo from ABC.

After a commercial break (which all seem to feature blandly handsome actors that could easily be switched into contestant roles with no one the wiser), JoJo and the fellas pack up and depart Pittsburgh for Uruguay. The guys’ cheers are low key as they struggle to remember to which continent this unfamiliar country belongs, then swell as they realize it’s South America. Given that they spend 90 percent of their time idling around lavish hotels, it seems a bit extravagant to fly them so far for the few cultural experiences they’ll encounter - surely holing them up in an LA Hilton and occasionally screening Planet Earth episodes would suffice.

Rodger Rodgers win’s the new locale’s first one-on-one date, and his run of success with JoJo inspires some jealousy in the other candidates. He and JoJo embark on a date that the producers must have hoped would be jaw-dropping, but comes across unremarkable. The two take a yacht to an isolated cove and frolic with Seals, but there are diminishing returns on seeing two genetically flawless beings strip to their skivvies and embrace in a secluded Xanadu. The show starts to feel stale as we are subjected to so much of the same thing and I hope to see more of the oddball contestants in the future - the Wells’, Evans, and James Taylors provide a refreshing honesty about the human condition just by slouching there.

Great. Another two perfect human specimens delighting in the grandeur of nature. Awesome.
Photo from ABC.

The next day features a group date that, for once, is not tailored to one of the men’s skill set. It turns out to be sand-surfing, and the group’s collective haplessness is a light moment in the episode. Unfortunately for those of us who would happily watch another hour of smarmy raconteurs falling downhill, a thunderstorm cuts the activity short. The extended hangout time gives the candidates time to make strides in their individual areas of weakness. Luke, painted as emotionally distant, listens as hard as he can to JoJo, fixing her with such an intense stare I was nervous she’d catch fire. James Taylor (now the only remaining “James”), nervous about romantic compatibility, attempts to up his sexual magnetism by cradling JoJo’s head like a rare vase as he smooches her. And Derek feels as though he has faded into the background since his strong start in Episode 2, so he tries the most straightforward approach and lays out his insecurities to JoJo directly.

At this point I must remind you that these recaps do not maintain any objectivity. Derek has been my pick as the show’s eventual winner since his erudite turn on the “choices” date, and so I view his actions with rose-colored glasses. I like Derek and Wells and I make no promise that I will not lavish them with undue praise and editorial favoritism.

Derek’s "Crisis of Confidence" speech wins JoJo’s approval, and she bestows the group date’s rose on him. The other candidates, however, see his admissions as a calculated, phony display. The chief dissenter is once again Alex, who may be looking to recapture his moment of glory by rooting out yet another malcontent from the show. This time, however, the marine goes a bridge too far. Derek is no Chad, and Alex’s scorn feels misplaced. As he mocks Derek for needing reassurance, Amy rightfully points out that our little leatherneck is displaying quite a bit of insecurity himself by jumping so quickly to criticism.

Though the tension between Derek and the jocks is palpable, ABC shunts us over to yet another tepid date - this time with Robby. In a cadre of mannequins, Robby somehow is indisputably the most Ken Doll motherfucker of the bunch. He and JoJo jump in the water and walk in the street and he holds forth on his emotional hardship over dinner. The needle has run over this track so many times that it begins to distort reality: our TV starts emitting a tinny whine during Robby’s sob story, making it even more unlistenable. Then they smooch with fireworks in the background. Amy and I sprain our wrists doing dismissive jackoff motions.

photo from ABC

When we finally return to the meat of the show, Derek decides to confront the schoolyard bullies, and tells them he sees them forming a clique. The clique scoffs at the accusation, as cliques do. Rodger Rodgers’ pencil head quivers with indignation. Thankfully, Wells, ever the voice of reason, steps in and plays peacemaker, defusing things as the men are lined up for yet another elimination ceremony. As the usual suspects are granted their roses, I find myself roped in by the mounting anxiety - with one rose left, Evan, Wells, Grant, and Vinny remain. I cross my fingers and shrink back in nervous anticipation as the music bores in mercilessly. But JoJo hears my silent prayer and grants the last flower to Wells. Amy looks on bemused as I celebrate as raucously as I had the previous night, when the Cavaliers clinched Cleveland’s first championship in over 50 years. While I was exultant to see my favorite contestants survive another week, this episode saw one of the immutable Bachelorette laws come to pass - this round of cuts bleached the remaining color out of the contestant’s racial tapestry. Congrats to JoJo, as she continues her now unfettered search for Mr. White.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Even As a Liberal, I Can Admit PC Culture Is Ruining Comedy

Sorry for tricking you. That was a clickbait headline and this is a clickbait picture. This is really my Bachelorette Episode 3 recap. Sorry.
sorry. Photo via snopes
(Episode 1's recap is here.)
(Episode 2's recap is here.)

Episode 3 of The Bachelorette doggedly pursues the plot line laid down in Episode 2; that of The People vs. Chad. While it was my intention to ignore the ignoramus until he had been served his just desserts and shunted off the show, Chad left little cinematic meat on the bone and so we must reflect a little while on his cartoonish villainry.

We open on champagne flutes, half-eaten hors d'oeuvres, and men, all strewn carelessly about the grounds. The footage is meant to convey the messiness of the rose ceremony and intramural drama, but instead provokes questions about the Bachelorette lifestyle: who usually tidies up after the parties? Is there a chore wheel? Such domestic mysteries are left to audience interpretation as Chris Harrison, our waxen host, intrudes upon the scene to lay out the ground rules for this week's dates. One-on-ones now have more tension than Alex's dress shirts, as failing to obtain a rose means an automatic ejection. With that, Chase is dispatched to join JoJo on the first rendezvous of the episode.

Chase is a boilerplate hunk, a mathematical average of the other men in the mansion. When Hollywood eventually deems it time for a gender-swapped Austin Powers reboot, Chase will make a fine male Fem-Bot. He and JoJo venture into a yoga studio, where an instructor leads them through some pelvic and vocal warmups. The outing is an old Bachelorette fallback - a mildly exotic experience that allows our wonderbread-white contestants to roll their eyes to the audience. ABC's music reinforces how wacky the activity is, because it is from a different culture, because the show is tacitly racist. As they flail their limbs hesitantly, Chase and JoJo take solace in each other's discomfort, highlighting the abysmally low threshold hot people have for feeling weird. The instructor uses a silent, male assistant for a demonstration and his thousand-yard stare bores into the camera.

The way sweat merely enhances our attractiveness is, like, soooo awkward.
Photo via ABC
Following their brush with a different culture, the two adjourn to a special surprise that Chase has in store - live music. Amy and I crumple at the awkwardness of the setup - to us, nothing is worse than these "pathetic little concerts" (her words) performed by desperate groups to an audience of two. The camera swoops up and away from the revolving duo and languid crooning, as grateful to depart as we are. Chase gets the rose, but nobody cares.

The serenity of their date is juxtaposed with the crockpot of testosterone simmering back at the mansion. Chad, and his flunky Daniel, exercise outdoors, their bodies throwing the sun's light back up at it in anaerobic defiance. Their muscles are an affront to a God they neither recognize nor respect. The other contestants mutter about Chad's behavior, and when the men congregate, the agitation boils over into verbal scuffles. Chad, ever unwilling to participate in the rules of the Bachelorette universe, balks at attending a group date with "12 other dudes." Rodger Rodgers and the others make the extremely fair point that the mansion itself is home to many more than "12 other dudes." One person suggests Chad recuse himself, reminding him that "Chris [Harrison] said there's no rules." This is yet another mystifying comment on the uncertain autonomy of the show's contestants - how much freedom do the men really have?

In the end, Chad compromises by participating and sulking the whole time. The cadre of beefcakes is shuttled to a small blackbox theater. Amy and I grip the sofa arms in terror, praying they aren't about to perform improv comedy, then relax when the nature of the date is revealed - it's a sex-themed story-telling show. Far, far less embarrassing. ABC underscores the naughtiness with a lascivious bassline riff. While the guys brainstorm their anecdotes backstage, Evan confides to the camera that he intends to use his spot to submarine Chad. In Evan's words, "the man gloves might come out today," which is a saying used exclusively by Evan. Feel free to weigh in with your interpretation of "man gloves" - for me the phrase conjured something fingerless and leather, gloves you'd see on the frontman of an 80's hair metal band. I'm unsure what that says about me.
Vinny describes being caught by his mother and oh whoops shows off his body too how embarrassing.
Photo via ABC

Evan's apparel-based Rorschach test aside, the date goes remarkably well. Several of the men have a natural onstage charisma and good sense of humor - Amy and I were impressed with Grant, who seemed totally at ease regaling the audience with an embarrassing tale of being caught by the police. Rodger Rodgers leans too much on standup for our taste, and Chad, predictably, phones it in. Evan's monologue is a not-exactly-veiled insinuation that Chad is on steroids and a warning about the sexual side effects said steroids can cause. He's valiant but extremely nervous, and doesn't get the audience reaction he's hoping for. As he steps offstage, he and Chad have an altercation that leaves Evan's shirt ripped and Chad fuming about the allegations. "I'm not mad about what he said," he proclaims, massaging his knuckles. As he walks out, he throws a haymaker at the stage door.

Afterward, JoJo and her harem reconvene in what appears to be a frontiersman's Ikea, milling around wagon wheels and rough-hewn furniture. Multiple guys turn their conversations to Chad's violent behavior, while he stalks in and out of the room, like a creatine-infused dad who repeatedly wanders by "just getting something from the kitchen" to spy on his daughter and her boyfriend. His time with JoJo does little to redeem himself and he admits to resorting to physical altercations when he cannot figure out another way to confront someone. Chad's simian confusion when JoJo gives the group date rose to Evan is a delight to those of us rooting against him.

The second one-on-one date is with James Taylor, the self-deprecatory good guy. He and JoJo take a swing-dancing lesson with an elderly dancer, and he earns a few points with his cheerful enthusiasm in the face of ineptitude. While JoJo seems to harbor a soft spot for the underdogs, Amy and I spot the cracks beginning to form in the ice. She confesses that her hesitation with James is about "getting past the friendship stage," coded language in the Bachelor universe for discussing the friendly uggos that get wiped out before things get too serious. James savages his own looks while talking with JoJo, which must put her in an uncomfortable position: he's being unkind to himself, but he ain't wrong (relatively speaking, of course).

The episode concludes on a cliffhanger. Chris Harrison confronts Chad about his behavior but allows him to stay on, and Chad shows no signs of penitence. He lumbers back into the mansion as the others confess their concerns about him. On a positive note, Daniel, who seemed fairly clueless in episode one, uses the word "exacerbate" correctly. Perhaps there is hope after all.
He also successfully navigated a Hitler-Mussolini-Trump analogy. Great job!
Photo via ABC