Here we go again. Later in the summer, we’ll be treated to the Olympics of athleticism. Tonight, we once again begin a slightly less ancient and much less honorable tradition — the Olympics of televised dating. Tonight, 25 men began this harrowing race. This decathlon of emotions, embarrassment and ego. But by the end, only one man will be left standing with the shiny and coveted gold medal. Or, rather, the coveted woman who’s wearing a shiny gold dress tonight — Emily Maynard. And at the end of all this, she hopes to have something that many women would probably prefer over a gold medal: A diamond.
This is truly epic stuff, you guys! If only Morgan Freeman were here to do voiceover.
OK, now back to reality (television): Heartbreaking as it is, our newest Bachelorette Emily Maynard’s backstory bears little to no repeating, as most/all of us remember it well from her first time around on The Bachelor. But tonight’s premiere, when Emily will attempt to finally step out of the role of untouchable tragic figure to sassy, multiple-man-kissin’ star, starts with a refresher on Emily’s past anyway. She had a NASCAR driver fiance; he died in a plane crash; found out she was pregnant a week later; named her daughter after him; been a happy but lonely single mom (save that brief few months she was one of Brad Womack’s girlfriends) ever since. Emily says it’s been a long time, and she’s ready to move on, and I think we all believe her. What a hard thing to live in for so long; it must have been difficult, and exhausting, for her when ABC and the media and the viewers began to dwell upon it all anew last year. I get the sense that part of the reason she’s doing The Bachelorette is to actively change the conversation and give a better sense of herself than simply the tragic single mom. And I’m excited to see that!
Now Emily wants to find the right guy to complete her family, and to be a father figure for little Ricki. We see Emily and Ricki feeding the ducks, playing with Barbies and making breakfast in their matching pink pajamas (and in full hair and makeup for Emily, just like normal life!) and we get the picture. Emily’s daughter will play a major role (at least, in abstract) this season, as any guy who gets down on one knee at the end is actually proposing to both of them. Husband and father (figure). That is some truly, multiple-lives-altering, important sh*t. While we’re always — OK, usually — rooting for the Bachelor/Bachelorette lead to find the right one and settle down, the stakes are higher this time. It didn’t work out last time with Brad, but Emily did open herself back up during that season. “Coming back to be the Bachelorette is a huge risk, but finding the person I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with is worth it,” she declares. We see her pensively sitting by an urban fountain, and then commandingly riding on a horse, so we know that she knows what she’s doing. She’s putting on her “big girl panties and moving on with it!”
The Cream (or Crap?) of the Crop
But just because Emily wants a serious relationship doesn’t mean all of her candidates will fit the bill. What’s a good Bachelorette season without some good ol’ stunt casting? We meet a few of the guys before Emily gets to, including Kalon, who calls himself a “luxury brand consultant” by occupation, rides in a private helicopter and seems more into himself and his money than he could ever be into her. Kalon claims he’s had a moment of self-realization and turned sweet after years of being “obnoxious,” but we know better than to believe that. He still carries himself like a d-bag, and his name sounds like a villain’s from Harry Potter.
Ryan, who used to play pro football and now runs a pro sports training facility with the help of his muscles.
Tony is also a fitness enthusiast, as well as a lumber trader, but his most important role is that of a single father. I want to like him, but then he does the whole, “What has two thumbs and is gonna marry Emily? THIS GUY!” thing.
Then we meet Lerone, who’s a real estate agent and a self-described family man. He also appears to be the only black guy in the mix — notable if only given the recent racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the show.
David is a singer/songwriter from New York City who loves his Word of the Day calendar (I counted “ineffable,” “disparate” and “facets” in just his intro) but can only sing, “Emily, Emilaaay, Emileeey” when he sits at the paino. David says that writing songs comes naturally to him. To be fair, he never said they were good songs.
Charlie led a perfect, boring life until he fell off a balcony and broke four ribs, punctured a lung, fractured his spine and sustained a brain injury. Whoa. AND he has an English bulldog. Immortality AND great taste in dogs? Sign me up!
Next up is Jef, who rides a skateboard and has a pompadour hipster haircut and wears a denim jacket. He is also the CEO of a charity bottled water company that helps build wells around the world where people can’t get clean drinking water. The latter part is saving him from my mockery about the former.
Arie is an Indy car driver originally from the Netherlands, but now he’s from Arizona. He’s worried that he might bring back some painful memories for Emily, since her fiance was also a racecar driver. “And we wouldn’t want thaaaaat!” an ABC producer says, then laughs maniacally, in the background.
This season, instead of the iconic, candelabra- and STD-laden mansion outside of L.A. where they typically film, the show is kicking off in North Carolina so Emily can live at home and still be a mother to Ricki. The men will stay in a gorgeous mansion in Charlotte, where Emily will meet them tonight. She arrives in a seriously sparkly gold and nude gown. It’s a little bit figure skater-ish for my tastes, but it feels appropriately glamorous and romantic, and she looks stunning, of course. I don’t think there’s any way for her NOT to. After a brief conversation with human ottoman Chris Harrison, it’s time for her to meet the 25 guys who will try, and each systematically fail (except for one!) to woo her.
As far as Bachelor(ette) introductions go, this batch of guys seems tame. Maybe too many of them saw Emily, got paralyzed and forgot the cheesy line they intended to open with. If that’s the case, it’s a welcome side effect and I thank Emily for her ridiculous beauty.
Some of the highlights:
- Single dad Doug is sweet and open, but seems poised to fall into the friend zone if he keeps talking about kids only.
- Jackson opens by getting down on one knee and reciting a cheesy quote. This is national TV, dude. Get creative.
- Joe may be a leprechaun. Or on cocaine. Either way, he loves to yell and prance!
- Aaron the biology teacher immediately has two strikes against him: Huge hipster glasses that he dramatically removes like he’s the President in an alien invasion movie; and a terrible line about “finding chemistry” (instead of biology) with Emily. Too bad. He’s a good looking one.
- Alessandro is a warm, touchy-feely native Brazilian who tells Emily that she looks beautiful in Portuguese.
- Jef shows up on his skateboard, probably because limos are for OLD FOGIES and DWEEBS! Then, like he’s the bad boy in a Disney Channel sitcom, he throws the skateboard into the bushes and it magically dissolves off-camera without a sound. Is TV magical, or is it just Jef?
- Stevie the PARTY EMCEE arrives with a boombox in hand, and dancing like a dipsh*t to disco music. He’s wearing a heinous bright green shirt and has a goatee. Everything about him is so wrong. More Stevie all the time!
- Tony, bless his cheesy and misguided heart, arrives with a glass slipper and satin pillow, calling himself “Charming … Prince Charming.” Emily is a good sport, and allows him to put the shoe on her and give his little speech about finding his princess and believing in fairy tales. Her eyes say, “MUCH TOO MUCH.” The shoe fits, but that doesn’t make it right.
- Of course, Tony’s stunt looks genuinely charming next to Randy‘s, who shows up in a “grandma” costume in a misguided and frankly depressing play on last season’s premiere, when one contestant brought her actual grandmother to meet Bachelor Ben. He does a grandma gimmick for a minute. Emily doesn’t laugh, so he awkwardly rips off the costume and then forgets to introduce himself as himself. The irony, of course, is that he’s a marketing manager. Some self-marketing, what’s yer name!
- Brent puts a nametag on himself and tells Emily that once she’s got his name down, she can come rip it off of him. Nothing’s sexier than a stick-on nametag, right ladiessss?
- Taking his cues from high school health class, Travis shows up holding a massive egg and says that “throughout this journey” he’ll take care of the egg the same way he would take care of Emily and Ricki. Does that mean he’s going to sit on them, or eat them?
- Ryan the football player “reads” a note to Emily that says “You are beautiful” on one side and “I’m so nervous” on the other. Gotta admit, it’s a good play.
Of course, last and extremely least to show up is Kalon, who descents in his candy-red helicopter like he’s Donald Trump’s long-lost son. Emily is too polite to say that the stunt is obnoxious, but thankfully she’s not such a great actress, so I can tell she agrees with me. The chopper doesn’t win Kalon any fans in the house either. The guys look at him with a mixture of disgust and jealousy when he walks in. “Where’s the bar?” he asks. Crickets. (Literally.) Yep, you’re really gonna need that drink now, you grandstanding idiot.
Emily greets the guys with a sweet “golly, I’m nervous!” and thanks them for showing up to get in line to win her over. She’s effortlessly and warmly charming in her sweet Southern way, and I cross my fingers for a season, unlike the last few, of not needing to cringe or roll my eyes every time she speaks. Of course, the guys are all so fixated on her beauty that she could just deliver a series of grunts and they’d still be all over her.
Time for some party mingling, and Emily’s loving all the attention. “This is so not like my normal life. When I go to the grocery store, guys are not pulling me … in fifteen different sections of the grocery store.” Charlie tells Emily about his accident and jokes that his face was rebuilt with titanium. He’s the Five Million Dollar Man! (A little less sexy than the Six Million Dollar Man.) We learn that Brent, he of the name-tag, also has six kids. The way things are going, we should probably just call him “Dealbreaker Brent.” Chris pulls a couple bobbleheads out of his jacket — one in his likeness, and one in hers. They enact a little scene with them. It’s a risky move, but luckily for him, Emily thinks it’s cute, and brings her bobblehead in for a little peck when she says that she likes him.
Jef is one smoooooth operator, and Emily says that he “makes her feel like a nerd.” She’s legitimately nervous around him, like in high school when you have a crush on the popular guy. “He’s super cool, and I hope he thinks I’m cool, too.” Doug gives Emily a note that his 11-year-old son wrote to her, and it’s precious. An excerpt: “I think you should know that my dad is one of the greatest dads ever because he always tucks me in at night.” Emily almost tears up and says, “Just from that I can tell that Doug has done a really great job of being a dad.” With all these conversations, the trick is to find a way to stand out and let her know who you are without going over the top and being unnatural. Doug hit the nail on the head.
The first impression rose comes out, and some of the guys are sweating about not getting enough time with Emily. Everyone agrees that Kalon shouldn’t get it, especially Stevie, who has it out for Kalon, whom he finds unbearably superficial and obnoxious. Unfortunately for Stevie, Kalon brings out his softer side with Emily — and Stevie’s so fixated on criticizing Kalon that he doesn’t seem to put any effort into getting to know Emily. They get into a little disagreement that culminates in Kalon saying, “Why are you so hostile?” and Stevie making a face like he has indigestion. Not exactly grade-A drama, but we’ll take what we can get.
Right away, Arie confesses to Emily that he’s a racecar driver, and asks if it will bother her, but Emily brushes his concerns away, saying that she loves racing and it’s really the only sport that she knows about, and she loves it. “That’s like, a huge … relief,” he says. I think he was about to say “turn-on,” but thought better of it. Good man.
Emily grabs Single Dad Doug to give him the first impression rose. “You made me feel really comfortable,” she says, and pins the rose on him. Stevie: “I’m just glad the helicopter guy didn’t get it.” Kalon: “I’ll at least get *a* rose, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters to me.”
Chris Harrison descends to whisk Emily away, as it’s time for her to decide which guys will get roses and be allowed to remain another week.
Doug has his first impression rose, and the rest go to…
Chris the Bobblehead Guy
Ryan the Football Player
Kalon the Awful
Arie the Racecar Driver
Charlie with the Titanium Face
Jef the Super-Cool Skateboarder
Nate the Unknown
Sean the Blond Bombshell
Joe the Hyper Schmo
Kyle the Effeminate
Aaron the Biology Teacher
Alejandro the Sexy Colombian
Alessandro the Other Latino
Michael the Long-Haired Musician
Stevie the Party Emcee/President of the Kalon Hate Club
Tony the Overenthusiastic Prince
Chris Harrison arrives to say this is the final rose of the night. And it goes to…
Travis the Egg Man
He accepts the rose, egg in hand. Is he really going to carry that thing around the whole time? I hope Emily takes him on a tight-rope walking or rappelling or paintball date.
So, for Randy the grandma impersonator, Jean-Paul the marine biologist, Jackson the fitness model, Brent the father of six, David the singer-songwriter and Lerone the only black guy, it’s the end of the line. Brent cries. Jackson rips off his shirt for the camera to show us what Emily’s missing. Both of them sort of just prove that she made the right call.
Emily toasts to her remaining 19 guys, and to “finding love in Charlotte!” Then we see a montage of what’s to come this season, including lots of kissing, hand-holding, dancing and cheering in exotic locales. The guys will be tested on how good they are with kids, but one guy won’t pass the test when he calls Ricki “baggage.” The implication seems to be that Kalon, apparently our villain this season, is the guy who says it, and Emily will tell him to “get the f*ck OUT!” But he’s not the one crying in this promo. Doug and Tony (and maybe some others) are. Elsewhere this season, Emily will meet Dolly Parton (AHHH! YES!), make out on the floor of the Beast’s castle library, and other exciting adventures that we’ll just have to wait and see.
What did you think of Emily’s first episode? Any stand-out guys in the bunch so far? Are you excited to see her as the Bachelorette?
(Images courtesy of ABC)