There are two ways to watch The Bachelorette — as a cynic or as an optimist — and it’s hard to say which results in a more enjoyable television experience. On the one hand, as a cynic, the show becomes one of the funniest comedies on TV this summer. Watch the self-described “country girl's” bafflement when donkeys become enamored with her, as well as her confusion as to why dropping the feed bucket solves her donkey-stalker problem. Watch a man describe an outing on a beautiful, seemingly deserted Irish resort and golf course — one that ends with him streaking without a hint of worry of a public indecency charge — as a “normal day.”
On the other hand, for an optimistic viewer, the show says more positive things about the human spirit than many an Oprah special. A suitor’s family reminds him that he’s been in the top two on the show before, when he was dumped spectacularly and publicly, yet, this time, this time, he’s sure it will be different. A rose-less man doesn’t cry on his slow car ride of rejection, but insists, “I was definitely changed by Kaitlyn,” (I still can’t believe the producers didn’t soundtrack that moment with Wicked’s “For Good,” but that’s beside the point).
Whichever mindset you bring to the two-hour session of Champagne and Fantasy Suites, it’s hard not to imagine certain improvements to the reality dynasty. To help her chose the guy she wants to spend the rest of her life with, Kaitlyn rides with them through the gorgeous Irish countryside while they wear matching Irish sweaters. But unless she plans on spending the rest of her life in a tourism brochure, she’s probably not getting the info she really needs to make her decision from that experience. What if the date was trying to find their way out of an Ikea after both their phones have died? Or planning to make dinner for their friends, and when one gets back with the dessert, they find the other got sucked into a House Hunters marathon and didn’t defrost the chicken? Those are the kind of scenarios that would really give a couple insight into whether they have a future together. I don’t have the stats on relationships that started on Survivor, but those are the couples I’d bet on — if you fall in love while tired and hungry, everything’s only going to get easier when you suddenly have a tub of ice cream and a couch.
I also feel like there’s got to be a way around the constant tick of talking heads. They’re a staple of reality TV, but while they can bring secrets out into the open on shows with more of a group dynamic, here they're often more like an instant replay feature — Kaitlyn tells Nick she’s having so much fun, then tells the camera that she’s having so much fun with Nick. Maybe they should get thought bubbles with corresponding emotion emojis in case the audience is really stumped.
Optimist or cynic, Kaitlyn’s decision to boot nice, safe Ben for Nick and Shawn and their manly, manly rivalry kept the drama going. Possibly the best moment of the night was the three minutes of tense silence as the two dudes angrily sip Champagne and fiddle with their jackets. The editing people know what they're doing — the eerie quiet had me analyzing the details. Shawn slammed his empty glass down while Nick gracefully placed his on the platter — obviously, he’s the sensitive soul.
Meeting the family was the most realistic moment of the night — no amount of mood music could mask the palpable judgement and underlying threat radiating off Nick’s giant family. He seemed to regress about 20 years as he told his nervous mother that his beloved is “great at making out,” but the sentiment coupled with his grin is a moment for the optimistic viewer. He believes the relationship can work.
On the other hand, it’s painful to watch someone hedge after they get an “I love you,” the way the show leads Kaitlyn to do. Sitcoms have had the unrequited love formula down for years. When an "I love you" isn’t returned, there’s hurt, anger, and worry — that can sometimes resolve into understanding and the decision to be patient by the end of the 30 minutes — but never right away. There was a part of me that hoped when Kaitlyn answered Nick's little sister Bella’s question, “Do you love him?” with “I care about him a lot,” Bella would reply, “Dude, that wasn’t my question."
When it's time to meet's Shawn's family, Kaitlyn insists "sisters are my jam," and they talk a little bit about the fact that this is not a super normal courtship, though that subject was mostly glossed over with endless positivity. It's interesting that, in the promo, Shawn's dad was painted as a tough-love figure who would be asking the questions actual people would ask — how much time have you really spent together? Is it lust? Yet he ends up backing up his approval with some old-fashioned faith in love at first sight. It's a final fairy-tale bow — even the tough guy becomes a softy in the glow of true love (cue cartoon hearts).
It's hard to be a cynic watching a show full of optimists. As Kaitlyn ends the episode mulling over which of the two guys she wants to spend her life with, Shawn confidently tells the camera that, while he's bummed he didn't get an "I love you, too," he's confident she does love him, wants to say it, but can't. Foolishly hopeful? Probably. But sometimes hope is fun to watch.