I’ll have a full recap of The Bachelor season 15 premiere when it airs January 3. Until then, here’s my initial assessment of how Brad will fair as our first do-over Bachelor:

By now you know that the upcoming season of The Bachelor is going to be a little different, simply by virtue of the show’s attempt to keep one key element the same as a season past: For the first time, we’re getting a repeat Bachelor. Disgraced Bachelor #12, Brad Womack, is back to try his luck and find a wife on season 15. But for Brad, this return to The Bachelor is about a lot more than finding love: It’s about finding redemption.

In the upcoming premiere, Brad openly admits that America thought he was a total jerk when he publicly dumped Deanna and Jenni back in 2007. Within minutes he’s called himself a jerk, compared himself to his absent father and admitted to seeking years of therapy to change his callous and commitment-phobic ways. “I was a broken man,” he says, and though he peppers these vulnerable admissions with the promise that he’s now a “changed man,” one part of himself still seems to be in pieces: His confidence. This makes for a distinctly different Bachelor premiere than ever before. Because it’s a total bummer.

Your typical Bachelor is desperate for a few things: For love, mainly, but also for fame, for adventure, and for female attention to bolster his ego. He may start his season as a brokenhearted suitor from the previous Bachelorette season, but he almost instantly adapts to having power. These women are here to impress him. It is their job to desperately seek his attention and approval. We are used to this dynamic, and, misogynistic as it is, it works. The girls signed up for a shot with Prince Charming; he’s the one who should be in control.

This Bachelor, at least in the premiere episode that I screened earlier today, is unlike any of those preceding him–including himself from back in season 12. Brad 2.0 is the first Bachelor I’ve ever seen who acts more like the women he’s dating. He is flustered and frustrated, seems almost on the verge of tears at times, as he attempts to prove that he’s worthy of them. While it’s initially endearing to see a man so openly admit his faults, I’d be lying if I said this didn’t quickly turn into a rather pathetic spectacle. Just a few examples:

  • When the first woman out of the limo slaps him, he admits he deserves it.
  • If he has a catchphrase on the first night, it’s, “Give me a chance!”
  • When one woman says she doesn’t know his story, he’s openly relieved: “Thank God. That’s great news.”
  • After meeting all the women, instead of giving the standard, “Welcome, let’s have fun and get to know each other” speech, he gives them all the option of running away now. (Of course, no one does.)

A Bachelor who’s desperate, self-loathing and hoping no one knows who he is? This may be Brad’s second time around, but that’s certainly a first. He’s not “The Bachelor.” He’s “The Bumchelor.”

While some of the women take pity on poor Brad and revert to the old ways–handing him the controls by complimenting his bravery and honesty on his previous season, picking fights over who gets to spend more time with him–others (surely prompted by the producers) are openly, aggressively suspicious. “I watched your last season …” they begin before they unleash on him. Every conversation seems to lead back to Brad’s past failure: Whether he’s “ready” for this, and whether he’s “there for the right reasons.” The girl who slapped him openly mocks him further, warning, “Don’t make me slap you again.” On other seasons, it’s the contestants’ motivations that are under attack, not the magnificent, perfect Bachelor’s. It’s no coincidence that, after a couple hours with these women, Brad sounds like a losing boxer: “They’re not pullling punches.”; “I feel pretty beat up right now.”; “I’ve been run through the ringer.”

I wouldn’t say that I pity Brad. After all, “he signed up for this,” as we say when we want to avoid sympathizing with the “problems” of reality stars. I also think, whether on his own or prompted by producers, he’s amping up the pity-party for the camera: Better to be thought a sad sack than a sack of sh*t, as it were. But while this new Brad is less robotic, more relatable, more “open” than last time, the feedback loop of desperation between the women and him is annoying and sad. One such conversation: “Don’t break my heart!” “No, you don’t break mine!” “Pinky swear?” Get it together, man. You’re the Bachelor! Over-confidence would be a killer, but no confidence is the biggest turn-off.  

All I can hope is that this is the producers, and Brad, getting it out of their system in one dose. By the end of the night, order seems to be, for the most part, restored: Even the women who started out questioning him are drooling over the coveted First Impression Rose by then. Brad does the confident thing and tells one woman, the weird vampire-obsessive with fang implants, to “shoot straight” and stop playing games. One woman says “I’m not here to make friends.” This is the show we’re used to.

Beyond the weirdness of a Bachelor who seems to hate himself just a little bit, two essential elements to a great Bachelor season are intact: Women to root for, and those to root against. In a blur of 30 primped and prom-dressed women, a couple stand out on both extremes:

Emily, a young mother whose NASCAR driver fiance tragically died six years ago, is so beautiful it’s a bit disorienting to find that she’s also sweet and grounded. Ashley, a nanny from North Carolina, wants to be Brad’s friend and shoulder to cry on–and I believe her sincerity. We spend so much time wallowing with Brad that we don’t get to know many of the other stand-outs, but a peppy Rockette, an enthusiastic embalmer who loves to sing, and a dentist who calls her mouth-work “art” all stand out in my memory as probable rose-getters.

On the other end, of course, is the vampire chick, Madyson, who has those fangs and says things in French for no reason and tries to make an Angelina Jolie-sexy face instead of actually being human. Needless to say, within seconds I despised her. The other potential villain who looks like she’ll be around for a while is Michelle, the one who’s “not there to make friends,” and who declares to the camera, “There are a lot of little girls here. Brad needs a woman.”

That may be true. But first I think he needs a hug.

Bottom Line: Watch the premiere when The Bachelor returns at 8pm January 3 on ABC. Even if you’re not rooting for Brad, you are in for one of the most bizarre Bachelor viewing experiences ever. And who knows? You might end up pulling for the guy.

Check back here in the coming weeks for introductions to the 30 women when they’re released by ABC, and join me on January 3 for the full recap of the premiere. Until then, check out spoilers from the upcoming season.

(Image courtesy of ABC)

Meghan Carlson

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

Meghan hails from Walla Walla, WA, the proud home of the world’s best sweet onions and Adam West, the original Batman. An avid grammarian and over-analyzer, you can usually find her thinking too hard about plot devices in favorites like The OfficeIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and How I Met Your Mother. In her spare time, Meghan enjoys drawing, shopping, trying to be funny (and often failing), and not understanding the whole Twilight thing. She’s got a BA in English and Studio Art from Whitman College, which makes her a professional arguer, daydreamer, and doodler.