Here for the right reasons: Why "The Golden Bachelor" is already our favorite edition

There's a lot to love about Gerry Turner, but the contestants, i.e. Aunties Who Party, are the reason to watch

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published September 28, 2023 3:00PM (EDT)

The Golden Bachelor (ABC)
The Golden Bachelor (ABC)

The producers of "The Golden Bachelor"  want you to feel for Gerry Turner, perhaps more than any other lead in the brand's history, before rooting for him. Shortly into its premiere, the 72-year-old Indiana man breaks down as he describes losing his wife of 43 years in 2017. His heartbreaking account will probably make you cry too, especially if you consider yourself to be part of the Bachelor Nation. Gerry proves that soulmates are real — he found his and loved her for decades.

Although he met the love of his life in high school as opposed to McMansion kitted out with video cameras in every room, they had the existence many people want — children, abiding love, and eventually a dream house fate saw fit to let them enjoy for a tragically brief time. 

Presenting previous heartbreak as a worthiness test for its lead is a classic "Bachelor" ploy. But Gerry's lament is drawn from a cask of finely aged romance no twenty- or thirtysomething could possibly access, a heretofore unknown cocktail on this show. Never before have we been more assured that a man really is there for the right reasons.

Plus, in a franchise that parades youthful hard bodies before the audience and only recently embraced the concept that its Bachelors and Bachelorettes don't need to be white, "The Golden Bachelor" dares to float the idea that seniors deserve a fresh start at love too. Real ones, not the improbable "…And Just Like That" versions.

Then again, it's only willing to break new ground to a certain extent. The world is full of Black, brown and Asian silver foxes who are north of 70. Nevertheless, for this spinoff's virgin voyage, the producers went with another white man, a Boomer this time. Gerry looks like an older version of Reed Diamond, i.e. he's easy on the eyes, but he still solidifies the producers' long-held picture of an Everyman being white.

By the end of "The Golden Bachelor" series premiere, it become clear that Gerry's quest for companionship isn't the main pitch. That spotlight belongs to the contenders, a pool initially comprised of 22 women ranging between 60 and 75 years old, most of them weirdos.

The Golden BachelorThe Golden Bachelor (ABC)

These women present the broadest array of mature female archetypes that we've seen on TV since "The Golden Girls."

Many step out of their limos sparkling like disco balls in formal grown encrusted in beads and sequins. Some are prop jokesters, like the woman who tells Gerry she grew up on a chicken farm "and my eggs are still very fresh" before starting to cluck like a hen.

Another meekly admits she's nervous before engaging him in a deep breathing during which she sounds an expletive instead of "om." There's a grandmother carrying pom-poms, a nana who launches into a striptease moments after saying her first hello, and a vixen who claims that Prince's 1979 hit "Sexy Dancer" was written about her. One is a ringer, the aunt of a famous ABC star and "Bachelor" stan.

Theatrical introductions come with this gig, but the separation worth monitoring as the season rolls on is how many of those first impressions match a woman's innate personality. That's ever the case in these shows. But unlike their more junior counterparts, "The Golden Bachelor" ladies didn't come of age posing for selfies or constructing brand identities on social media.

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This doesn't mean they aren't aware of the camera – they assuredly are. But most are terrible at playing to it, like the seductress who draws Gerry into a laughing exercise that makes it seem like she's escaped from an asylum.

For now. On the whole, most appear to be there for the adventure as opposed to the exposure, although I'm betting a standout or two could fit into Andy Cohen's Bravoverse.  That also changes the McMansion chemistry — somewhat — from a den of backstabbing into a gathering of Aunties Who Party.

The Golden BachelorThe Golden Bachelor (ABC)All this is said with the greatest affection, by the way, since these women present the broadest array of mature female archetypes that we've seen on TV since "The Golden Girls," and with purpose.

The audience for "The Bachelor" brand is overwhelmingly female, unsurprisingly. But it also skews older, according to 2020 data compiled by that found that a quarter of the women watching these shows are older than 65, part of the slight majority of the Bachelor Nation audience that is over 45. That translates to a viewership that is either on the verge of being contemporaries of these women or that is already among them; either way, they're seeing a lot of more themselves in this spinoff than in other "Bachelor" iterations.  

The audience for "The Bachelor" brand is overwhelmingly female, unsurprisingly. But it also skews older.

At the ripe old age of 21 years and six months, "The Bachelor" franchise doesn't have many new moves. The reality competition may have outlasted the length of the average marriage, but it hasn't made a bulletproof argument that it is an effective path to Happily Ever After.

That's not entirely the fault of this show, or "The Bachelorette," or "Bachelor in Paradise"; mobile phone app gamification of mating and dating shoulders much more of that blame. But men and women were winnowing down pools of potential suitors long before Tinder, Bumble and Grindr were thought of through matchmaking and speed dating.

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Between this brand and the pageant of imitators – "Love Island," "Love Is Blind," "Married at First Sight," "FBoy Island" to name a few – the viewers buying in the ABC show's founding premise are vastly outnumbered by the people just tuning in for the mess. Count on "The Golden Bachelor" to serve that second audience amply and with relish – remember, there's a chicken lady in this house.

The Golden BachelorThe Golden Bachelor (ABC)But there's also a mote of hope that within this small constellation of randy, unfiltered sexagenarians and septuagenarians is the woman Gerry Turner is seeking: "the person who can lay down beside you at night, and not have to say anything, and you feel it," he says in his tearful statement of purpose. "That's love."

Other Bachelors who came before couldn't possibly know what Gerry's talking about. And that makes us want the best for him despite knowing what these seasons eventually degenerate into. "If this hen doesn't get the rose tonight," declares one woman, "there's gonna be a lot of hellraising in this hen house." Love can change a lot of things, but the reality TV camera's effect on the human psyche tends to conquer all.

"The Golden Bachelor" premieres Thursday, Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. on ABC.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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