For me, the title Bachelor Pad automatically conjures up memories of Playboy's Penthouse and its successor, Playboy After Dark, those weird, pseudo-sophisticated variety shows where Hugh Hefner would wander around a crowded set decorated as a space-age pad, talking to the camera and sneaking up on the likes of Lenny Bruce and Ike and Tina Turner as they were admiring his shelves of first editions. How quaint to recall a time when celebrities used to go on TV to try to impress the audience with how cultured they were. By contrast, Bachelor Pad is an elimination-contest reality show set in a house stocked with people who have previously appeared on The Bachelor and/or The Bachelorette, "real people" who are prepared to be as shameless as they have to be to realize their ultimate life goal of being on TV.
Sitting down to watch the season premiere, I'm a little nervous about being able to keep up, because I've never seen an episode of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. (I don't know what I was doing while the rest of you were watching them, but trust me, it wasn't re-reading Shakespeare's sonnets or curing Alzheimer's.) The only things I really know about the shows are the bare bones of their shared premise and the remark offered by an anonymous ABC executive who was asked to explain The Bachelor's appeal and said that it was "Jackass for women." I hope that my not having followed these people through their previous TV adventures won't leave me lost without a map. But I tell myself that a reality show star whose show I never watched is just an imaginary friend I haven't met yet.
7:00 P.M. : A fellow named Chris Harrison, whose mild, bland exterior cannot conceal that he has the soul of someone who feasts on broken hearts washed down with the tears of children, explains the ground rules, for the benefit of myself and any other piss-ignorant son of a bitch who just tuned in by mistake by sitting on the remote. He promises "passionate romance" and "devastating breakups", all performed by such mainstays of the series as "the sexy fan favorite, the hated villain, the guy that got the tattoo."
7:03: A fast-moving montage re-introduces viewers to the cast members, starting with Justin, identified as "The Wrestler", A.K.A. The One Who Got Caught with a Girlfriend Back Home. Wearing a hoodie and posing against backdrops borrowed from Lights Out and Wild Style, Justin says a few words meant to convey the impression that he is an uncontainable and unapologetic bullshit artist who, depending on his mood, will take the house either by stealth or by storm.
7:06: "Hi! I'm Gia!" The vivacious and camera-friendly Gia is a survivor of The Bachelor Season 14, as is Vienna, characterized by Gia as "crazy. All she cares about is wanting to be on TV." Hearing anyone on a show like this say that about anyone else, it's hard not to think of the one about what the pot called the kettle. Still, when Vienna shows up a second or two after Gia started bad-mouthing her, she does come across as maybe just the teensiest bit batshit. Her eyes, the words coming out of her mouth, and the tone of voice in which she delivers the words often seem to be working to convey three different messages, one or more of which presumably reflect what she really feels, while another is meant to reflect what she wants people to think she feels. (It doesn't take long to figure out that, as with most of the people here, what she thinks is pretty much a moot point.)
But to hear her describe her broken romance with Jake, the star and intended catch of her season of The Bachelor, it stands to reason that she might still be a little shaken up from the trauma of it all. Jake asked Vienna to marry him, on live TV. They then enjoyed a hot eight-month engagement, at the end of which he dumped her, acrimoniously, on live TV. That does put the time I got shot down while standing in line at the DMV in perspective. "I have a target on my back," she says, while a woman is spraying something from an aerosol can all over her front. Happily, she has since found true love with Kasey, who's the one who got the tattoo. Kasey wants you to know that he and Vienna are soul mates and he isn't the least bit threatened by any residual feelings she may have for Jake. He's so unthreatened by Jake that he can't shut up about him. "Jake is a joke", he huffs.
7:10: "I'm Jake!" The man at the center of this fiery triangle turns out to be a good-looking, not dislikable doofus with a pilot's license and a camera in his cockpit. When he's not doing his best to look like Tom Cruise in Top Gun, Jake wrings his heart out over what his public breakup with Vienna meant to him. It seems that she sold the story of their breakup, for beaucoup bucks, to a tabloid, icky-poo blecch. In fact, now that Jake thinks about it, Vienna herself is "like a tabloid. You're getting about 40% of the truth." That strikes me as a generous estimate of how much truth there is in the average tabloid, especially if we're talking the Murdoch papers, but let's try to stay on track here. Jake is a little nervous about entering the house, since "I'm gonna walk around with a target on my back." Did he and Vienna get matching targets when they were an item, and now neither one has had the heart to have them removed? You might be in trouble, there, Kasey.
7:16: The hit parade continues. Erica, "the princess", looks disconcertingly Paris Hiltony and has a voice like an electrocardiogram after the patient has flatlined. Her astrologer thinks she has this in the bag. Graham, whose hobby is giving back to others, hopes to win the prize so that he can distribute the money to "children's charities." Ella lives with her two-year-old in a small house that appears to be decorated with framed Wacky Packs one-sheets and allows the camera to tag along with her to the cemetery, while she relates a family back story out of a Martina McBride song.
7:20: Then there's Holly. If the Jake-Vienna-Kasey triangle is the show's big blockbuster emotional tangle, Holly and Michael have the quiet sleeper. It seems that after being dumped by the star of her season of The Bachelor, Holly met "the love of my life", Michael, who had been a contestant on The Bachelorette. The two of them hit it off so well that they got engaged, but then her "commitment issues" flared up, she "panicked and freaked out", and called it off. Then the two of them got back together, only to have him break up with her because he couldn't get past her having broken up with him. "I broke Michael's heart," she says, "but I also broke my own." If it turns out that Michael is going to be in the house, Holly promises to "freak out" again.
7:24: For his part, Michael, who is of course going to to be in the house, allows that if Holly is there to, it'll be "awkward."
7:27: Finally, the contestants begin to arrive, one by one, at the house, where they are greeted by Chris Harrison before being permitted to go inside to towel off the smarm. First to show up is the fetching and assured Michelle, who manages to say, "Things are about to get interesting" as if she'd been rehearsing it all week.
7:29: Holly arrives, asks about whether Michael is on the premises, and heads inside, saying, "Things are gonna get interesting."
7:30: The tiny group assembled inside makes small talk. Somebody says, "So far it's a good vibe. No crazies."
7:31: The golden era when the people inside the house could say "No crazies" comes to an end with the arrival of Justin. "The rated R reality star is here!" he bellows. "Love's a waste of time. I'm here for the money." He looks as if he'd like to grab the woman of his choice and try to scale the Empire State Building with her in his paw. He doesn't, but maybe that's just because they're on the West Coast.
7:32: Talk turns to the whole Jake-and-Vienna drama. Erica, who hasn't met Vienna yet, offers us a quick interpretation of her character, based on some stuff she's heard. Vienna, she says, "can be bitchy and untrustworthy," and "doesn't even have her own apartment, like she just moves from one guy's apartment to the next, and is kind of like a gold digger."
7:33: Vienna arrives. Someone actually cries out, "Speak of the devil!"
7:34: Gia arrives. I thought she was wearing a nightie, but the voice from the other end of the couch assured me that she was wearing a proper dress that was simply "lingerie-inspired."
7:41: Kasey arrives, wearing a Magic Eye pattern necktie and Rand Paul hair. Justin, who the producers cannot restrain themselves from identifying as "The Wrestler" every time they flash his name on the screen, is not impressed. "You got Kasey," he says, "who sounds like Kermit the Frog, and Kermit the Frog went out with…uh… Miss Piggy." Okay, nobody said he beat his wrestling opponents using his mouth.
7:47: Michael, looking like a somewhat prettier Walton Goggins, appears in the doorway, much to Holly's confusion and dismay. "It's weird to see Michael," she says. "I don't think it's normal for a couple to break up and then have to move in together."
7:50: And, finally, Jake is here. He tells Harrison that he thinks he has "an opportunity to get some closure with Vienna." Kasey has been holding forth about how he's just waiting for Jake to show up and start some mess, so he can pound some manners into the louche heartbreaker. Now that the two of them are in the same place, they embark upon an edge-of-your-seat conversation about the weather. Jake argues that it sure is cold around these parts after dark, even though it sure can get hot during the day. Not to be outdone, Kasey takes the bold position that it sucks when it rains. Stepping away from the red hot center, Kasey gives himself a gold star for how he's handled himself: "I can't physically punch the guy, because I'd go home, but mentally beating the crap out of him feels good."
8:04: Man, that commercial where the guy is late getting the text message about how his flash mob has been rescheduled never gets old.
8:10: Harrison announces that the contestants are to pair off, boy-girl, boy-girl, for a physical challenge; the winners will have immunity for the week, and also get to have a "date" outside the house, and even those who most desperately wanted to get inside this house must be thinking by now that a night spent away from it sounds pretty good. Of course, Kasey and Vienna team up, with the specific intention of denying Jake immunity so they can drive him from the house. Jake, who feels a strong bond with Gia, explains that he's teaming up with Jackie, because if he teams up with the woman he likes the best, then they'll be identified as a "power couple" and earmarked by the others for destruction. I can sort of see a logic to it, but it still reminds me of when, during the first season of Survivor, Sean decided to avoid hurting anyone's feelings by voting for people in alphabetical order.
8:12: For the challenge, each of the women grabs hold of their teammate as hard as they can, wrapping their arms and bare legs around his body, while he is attached to a harness and lifted ten feet off the ground. The team that can hang there together in mid-air the longest is the winner. It soon becomes clear that Jake/Jackie and Vienna/Kasey will be the last couples standing, so powerful are Jake's alpha-male strength of will and Vienna's desire to rub his face in hot coals. As the minutes tick by and the physical strain becomes greater and greater, Jake tells us, "I'm trying to find a place where, if I have to vomit, I'm not gonna hit this beautiful girl" beneath him. That's the closest you'll come to hearing anyone on this show rewriting the book on chivalry.
8:25: Jake and Jackie triumph, and Vienna, with Kasey hot on her heels, stalks off. She tells him she expected more of him. She complains that he promised to protect her at all costs, and he broke his word. He mildly replies that Jake and Jackie performed honorably and deserved to win. She expresses outrage that he's fighting with her on-camera. "You're such an [bleep!] sometimes!" she says. "I couldn't feel my pelvic area," he pouts.
8:35: With Jake and Jackie out for their date, Kasey starts trying to pull together some kind of alliance. He decides that Justin "The Wrestler" would be a key swing vote and a good man to have on the team: "He's sneaky." Okay, sure. "He's obviously very schematic." "Okay, so… wait, what!? "He likes to scheme things."
8:37: Justin quickly overplays his hand, stirring up shit just because he sees it as part of his mandate to "be the rebel I was born to be." Catching wind of this, Kasey says that he's like to "put his ass on a glacier, because that would be ironic, and karma's a bitch." Okay, now he's just randomly stringing cliches together.
8:45: Wow, Desperate Housewives has been on the air for seven years, huh? I never guessed it would outlive Boston Legal by that kind of margin.
8:47: Jake and Jackie head out along Hollywood Boulevard for their date. First, though, they run into a third-grade girl who, upon recognizing Jake's realty-TV-level famous mug, breaks down crying ecstatic tears, as if she'd just seen Jesus's face in a croissant or something. The kid tells them that it's her "dream to be on TV", and now, by having a meltdown at the sight of someone who achieved meaningless fame by being on TV for no good reason, her dream has come true.
8:52: Back at the house, Vienna is turning out variations on the theme of Jake's bottomless perfidy. "The only way to really see the real Jake is to put a fly in the house alone with him and glue a little tiny camera to the mouse, I mean the fly." No doubt the producers looked into what the technology would cost before deciding that they didn't really want to see the real Jake that much.
8:54: Jake and Jackie have been given a third rose that will confer immunity from eviction on whoever they choose to give it to. Now Jake has started thinking that he should give it to Vienna, so that she'll realize that he's actually a sweetheart and a nice guy; it will help them both achieve the "closure" he's so keen on. Jackie thinks he's probably nuts but decides to let him do what he wants, the better to keep herself out of the crossfire. Jake, noticing that she's letting him drive, tells us how touched he is by her show of faith in him.
9:00: Someone refers to the third rose as "a game changer." This is certainly true, in the sense that they're playing a game, and the rose will change things. There is something deeply annoying about hearing people use cliches that are meant to be metaphorical and use them in situations where they apply literally. And when is somebody going to say that they've been "thrown under the bus" on this show? At this point, it's the other shoe I'm waiting to hear drop.
9:03: Jake seeks out Gia and reveals his ingenious plan to give the rose to Vienna. She asks him if he's really stupid enough to do such a thing. He argues that it's a good strategic move to gibe your enemy a gift: after all, "How did the Trojans beat the Greeks?" Rather than correct his history, she tells him that what he's proposing would be like playing chess without the queen. "Lots of people win without the queen," he says. I'm starting to wonder just how dumb you can be and still get a pilot's license. I hope I'm not on the ground beneath this dude when he's up in the clouds and realizes, too late, that he forgot to refuel.
9:10: Jake gathers everyone together, gives Vienna the rose, and, leaving Gia to cry her eyes out, asks for a private audience with Vienna and Kasey. At some length, the poor stupid bastard apologizes for having been terse with her on TV during their "breakup special", salutes her and Kasey's love for each other, and says that he wishes her nothing but happiness. "I am happy," she snaps, and she and Kasey stalk out. Then, while Jake is congratulating himself for having mended his bridges and brought peace of mind to all involved, Vienna tells the camera about how it was "torture" to have to listen to him, but that it was also "very funny", even though it "literally made me sick." Brought back together by their shared triumph over the monster, she and Kasey fall into each other's arms, as she begina whispering that she loves him and wants to marry him and have his babies. Then, for some reason, there's an insert from what appeared to be grainy, black and white security camera footage of Marilyn Monroe frolicking in bed with JFK.
9:24: As people begin to deliberate over who to vote off, it quickly becomes clear that the prime candidates are Justin, because of his general skeevy two-facedness, and Alli because—I'm not really sure, I don't think I noticed her before everyone was agreeing to get rid of her. Someone said that they needed to get rid of Justin because of "his wishy-washy behavior", which I'm betting is not an adjective he ever imagined being applied to his "rebelliousness".
9:44: Justin laments that he didn't even get the use the pool, and calls Alli "a drunken moron who threw me under the bus, which basically put this target on my back." Ding-ding-ding, we have a twofer! Voted off, along with Alli, Justin snarls at his rivals and refuses to shake anyone's hand as he dives into his limo. "Keep it classy," says a voice.
9:59: After the preview of coming attractions, there's a brief skit showing a masked Justin breaking into the house so he can… well, for a minute, I thought he was going to use the pool, which I admit I thought would have been kind of cute, but instead, he's shown reading a fan magazine while sitting on the toilet. Keep it classy!
[update: It has been brought to my attention, in the nicest way possible, that the fellow who I thought looked like Justin in a mask was in fact some other dude from "Bachelor/Bachelorette" history who was notorious for wearing a mask, going to the bathroom, breaking and entering, or some combination thereof. My only defense is that one man can only carry around so much pop culture detritus in his head; it goes along with my assurances that a mistake like this makes me feel stupid as hell. Apologies to "Bachelor/Bachelorette" fans everywhere.]