Once you get past the cheap jokes about pharmaceutical ads and early-bird dinners, “The Golden Bachelor” has the potential to strike a blow against ageism in a media and entertainment industry that has long practiced it. Watching the premiere, though, reveals a show that simply replicates the established formula with more gray hair, mostly squandering that golden opportunity.
The dating competition series opens by setting up its emotional underpinnings as 72-year-old Gerry Turner tearfully discusses his 43-year marriage to his high-school sweetheart, who became ill and died in 2017. James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” quietly plays in the background, a reminder of how slickly produced and manipulative this whole franchise is.
After that, “The Golden Bachelor” basically becomes just “The Bachelor” with an extra adjective, as the 22 women vying for Turner’s attention – age 60 to 75, among them former “The Bachelor” Matt James’ mom, Patty – slavishly follow the extroverted patterns of the younger cohort that usually populates the show. They stage dramatic (and occasionally just plain silly) entrances, desperately try to make an impression and discuss their “journeys,” the reality-TV equivalent of white noise.
Occasionally, some evidence of the lives they have lived, and what separates them from the gang on “Bachelor in Paradise” in the subsequent two hours, seeps out. One contestant is participating in part because a friend has been battling cancer. Another, 64-year-old fitness instructor Leslie from Minneapolis, references that she “dated Prince,” reminding viewers that there was a lot of partying going on before 1999.
“We’re all breaking the stereotypical view of what a senior looks like or acts like,” one of the women suggests.
That sounds good in theory, but as constructed, not really. For the most part all the usual “Bachelor” tricks and tropes apply, from the stilted awkwardness of the initial meetings and banter with Gerry to the pained expressions and carefully cultivated suspense during the rose ceremony.
As for Turner, he comes across as earnest and little goofy, if perhaps a bit more pained about the thinning-the-herd aspect of the job than some of his younger brethren.
Still, beyond demographics and a septuagenarian “star” there’s not much to separate “Golden Bachelor” from the familiar show following it, “Bachelor in Paradise,” which, bloated at two hours, includes a discussion about sucking on toes and a full three minutes devoted to its “This season on” tease.
“Who will find love? And who will leave here devastated and alone?” host Jesse Palmer, performing double duty, asks on the latter.
Whether “The Golden Bachelor” ends up being just a passing novelty – one of the few new shows to generate much enthusiasm in a fall TV season depleted by the writers strike – remains to be seen. But in the context of all the previous bachelors and bachelorettes it just feels like more of the same-old routine – or rather, the new-old routine, without, ironically, enough wrinkles to truly distinguish it.
“The Golden Bachelor” premieres September 29 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC and repeats the next day on Hulu.