“The Bachelorette” season 16 finally kicked off Tuesday night after too many months without polyamorous drama, and Bachelor Nation was here for it. What we weren’t here for was yet one more source of entertainment with the coronavirus as its focal point.
Fans have been waiting so long for this moment, having gone through quite “The Bachelor” drought since Peter Weber’s latest season wrapped up way back in March, just over a week before New York City went on lockdown over the Wuhan virus. Then after a “Bachelor” spin-off show aired (it was horrible, and nobody watched it), September’s scheduled production of bachelorette Clare Crawley’s season was halted over pandemic precautions — but the showmakers eventually prevailed.
After a lengthy quarantine for both Crawley and her host of 30 men, production resumed. This time, rather than galavanting around the world to exotic sites, the troupe remained in a sort of quarantine bubble in California, and since they all tested negative for the virus and were cut off from all of the outside world, life inside the bubble could resume as if the pandemic were nonexistent.
A virus-free, sanitary bubble meant no masks, no social distancing, and no compulsive hand sanitizing. While things will certainly look different this geographically stationary season, contestants are free to engage with the bachelorette business as usual, with all the kissing and canoodling they so desire.
This maskless paradise would have created the perfect opportunity for the showrunners to provide a source of entertainment untainted by all the irritating aspects of a global virus — but the first episode was full of it.
All viewers want is a diversion that makes us forget about the lockdowns, but the coronavirus pervades everything we consume. Every news broadcast includes mention of how many lives the virus has claimed or vicious digs at the president. Sports are littered with distracting mask rules and canned spectator sounds. Even commercials are capitalizing on COVID-19, using this unique moment to sell products and emulate empathy.
It isn’t just on television either. Coronavirus seeps into every facet of our lives. One can’t log into Facebook without scrolling past political rants about vaccines and stimulus relief. Grocery stores require one-way shopping cart traffic patterns, and department store dressing rooms are dark. Church remains distant with masks muffling worship, and many students interact with their teachers over a webcam.
Instead of affording Bachelor Nation the pleasure of forgetting about coronavirus for two hours, producers instead gifted us with footage of Crawley’s quarantine experience, even as we continue living through different versions of our own. Watching men get COVID-19-tested was unpleasant, and we listened to the bachelorette share the story of her sad separation from her mom, who has Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and is in a care facility. Contestants repeatedly referenced the pandemic, noting how good it was to hug another person and how lucky they were to be able to continue pursuing physical relationships even while other people’s dating chances are stunted.
This unprecedented experience created the ideal opportunity for “The Bachelorette” to facilitate a pandemic-free entertainment zone, where we could watch a show we all know and love, without masks and with participants far closer than six feet apart. Instead, this season is just one more reminder that no matter where we go, no matter what we do, we can’t get away from this politically charged virus that’s been wreaking havoc on our lives for the better part of a year.
We can’t evade the pandemic in our real lives — and “The Bachelorette” just confirmed once again that we can’t escape it in entertainment either.