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Pop CultureMarch 25, 2016

Is the Bachelor NZ falling victim to our reality TV’s second season syndrome?

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The first season of The Bachelor NZ was arguably the greatest of any localised reality import. Unfortunately the second is thus far a disaster. Duncan Greive asks if we have any right to expect otherwise.

A long time ago, before HD and broadband and snackable content, there was a little sitcom that went by the name of Step By Step. It concerned two divorcees blending their families, and starred a still hunky Patrick Duffy, a decade on from Dallas’ peak. The theme song’s payoff went: “we’ll make it better / The second time around”.

The show was a blatant attempt to borrow some of then-juggernaut Full House’s audience, but – as the recently revival Fuller House showed – oftentimes second time around is much worse than the first.

This has been particularly true of New Zealand versions of reality mega-franchises. The first season of New Zealand Idol gripped a nation. Who can forget the gentle giant Luke Whaanga belting out Supergroove and AC/DC? Not me. A few years later New Zealand’s Next Top Model was a sensation, with Teryl-Leigh flying all the way to Rodeo Drive to pose the now-immortal question: “do you think they have Number One Shoes?”

We’re all upset, Hosanna

Season one of our version of The X Factor prompted me to ask myself similarly shattering questions. Would Gap5 be bigger than the Spice Girls? Exactly how much more famous than Taylor Swift would Cassie Henderson end up? And: should Tom Batchelor and Jackie Thomas’ wedding be a national holiday?

Unfortunately the second season of The X Factor NZ, while hotly anticipated, ended up being a large and surprisingly deep vat of toxic sludge. To a greater or lesser extent this has always been true of the mega-franchises. While the likes of Aussie import The Block can coast along in reliable adequacy, such is the scale of expectation around the really big imports that they tend to collapse under the weight of our collective anticipation.

That has been the case, thus far at least, with the second season of The Bachelor, the sole survivor of the trio of local reality shows which opened last year for TV3, and only bright spot in an otherwise nightmarish 2015. It was so magnificently cast: every Bachelorette some variety of classic New Zealand oddball, with Art Green a bronzed Adonis and not nearly so dumb as he first seemed.

So far, the returns are very much diminished. Despite the flasher mansion, it feels a poorer relation on almost every front. The dates are hard work – literally, in the case of a day’s dog washing – but all feel like they wear their budgetary constraints too prominently. The Bachelorettes are a more timid lot, and prone to the kind of in-fighting which proves some of the shows more humourless critics infuriatingly close to right.

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Worst of all is the Bachelor himself, Jordan Mauger. Mutual friends tell me he’s a helluva guy, a a regular riot. But on screen he’s the wettest of woollen blankets, speaking about the women as if they’re prime cattle at auction, or prospective belles of his eldest grandson. His vernacular comes right out of the bluff, plain-spoken ‘70s – if it is scripted, as many have suggested, then it’s scripted by one of our prominent drama writers.

Most troublingly, as comedian Alice Brine has pointed out, Mauger’s nasal twang matches near-perfectly with that of our Prime Minister. So if you close your eyes these moments of aching romance are being advanced by a man many admire and many loathe – but surely no one’s idea of a sex symbol.

Cumulatively it means that if this season were a rose, rather the thorny and fully blooming version of 2015, this one would be drooping limply in the vase, its petals scattered and listless at is base.

 Which makes me wonder if what we have here is simply a population problem. That is to say New Zealand has precisely enough high grade television talents to fill one season of a mega-franchise. But that when you turn around to restock for season two you’ll find the cupboard largely bare.

If true, this bodes well for TVNZ’s upcoming debut of the original reality juggernaut, Survivor New Zealand. But very poorly for what remains of The Bachelor NZ, a once-vital show already showing its age.

This column was originally commissioned for the New Zealand Herald

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