By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jan 25, 2022 at 2:46 PM

Have you ever gone to a fancy friend's house, maybe to watch a big game or something, and discovered that they have an awesome TV? The size of an entire wall, made of 128K resolution liquid crystal or whatever Terminator technology makes the best, clearest image these days. Then afterward you go home to your TV – a normal TV you'd never had any complaints about before – and have nothing but distain for it, hating all of its shortcomings now that you've seen what better looks like? 

Anyways, this is a long way of saying you shouldn't invite me to your football watch parties AND more significantly ... did Michelle's season destroy "The Bachelor"?

Not that the franchise was in a sturdy place before, but Michelle's season – with its strong star personality who didn't bother with tedious drama, goofy-at-most rivalries and house full of contestants who genuinely seemed to want the best for Michelle and everyone else – felt like a glimpse into what "The Bachelor" could be at its best. And now, we're seeing the show back to its worst: toxic bullying behavior enabled by the show, a boring lead with no spinal column to speak of and just purely poor, unsatisfying storytelling and craft. Our old friend objectification even made an unexpected return. Weird – WE DID NOT SEND YOU AN INVITE! Especially in an episode that specifically brings up how many of our contestants were objectified and in emotionally abusive relationships! 

In short, I got very close to rage-quitting Monday night's episode because my brain couldn't handle the frustration and my liver couldn't handle the alcohol needed to handle said frustration. Be better, "Bachelor."

I knew it was going to be a long two hours from the very start, when the show botched what should've been a perfect moment: Clayton discovering that smug villain Cassidy secretly has a FWB back home waiting for her and taking her rose back, a scene the show left as a delicious cliffhanger for two weeks. 

Since the beginning of the season, there's been a Clayton-shaped hole where a charismatic lead should be – something even the show knew considering it resorted to "Look! The mansion's back!" and puppies to advertise it. But here it was. Here was a chance for Clayton to have A Moment, where he could show some personality, stand up for something and create an entertaining, satisfying reality show scene. Think Hannah B.'s season when she FINALLY told off Luke P. – a moment that almost single-handedly saved that run from a dirge of tedious gaslighting exhaustion. Or think about how Katie and Michelle showed excessively dramatic and potentially devious guys the door during their respective seasons. After weeks of being a punching bag, this was Clayton's opportunity to finally earn some cheers. 

The show seemed to know it had something good too, cutting to Cassidy bragging to the other women about how she's got the rose and how "I don't consider myself smarter than most people BUT I have a rose soooo." This was primed for maximum cathartic satisfaction. The only question was how would Clayton do it? Would he just take away the rose and lead her to the door with some stern and disappointed words? Would he find a shears in the mansion's garage and snip the rose out of her hand? Would he burn it to ash? Punt the rose like a football? THERE WERE SO MANY OPTIONS!

Much like the Packers' Aaron Jones on the big pass play before halftime on Saturday night, Clayton had several excellent options ... and chose none of them. Instead, what should've been a fun and snappy exit was limp, dragged-out bore as Clayton takes Cassidy aside for an explanation – which she doesn't offer. First, she flatly denies the situation, saying that she's never talked to a man she's interested in since 2019. You know she was THIS close to saying that she hasn't talked to a man, period, since 2019. Anyways, it's an obvious lie, but Clayton's still sitting there all confused as Cassidy goes full guilt trip, breaking down because she can't believe he wouldn't believe her. Again, this didn't have to be this hard; THERE'S VIDEO EVIDENCE OF HER BRAGGING ON THE SET OF THIS VERY SHOW, SURROUNDED BY CAMERAS AND MICRPHONES, ABOUT HER GUY BACK HOME! She's not only insidious; she's also not very intelligent!

Eventually Clayton nags her to reveal something closer to the truth: There's a friend of hers back home that, in her words, wants to be with her but she doesn't want to be with him so he told her that they'd still be friends after she comes back from the show? It's nonsense – blatant, convoluted nonsense. After ten minutes, this should've been settled with a tear-soaked ride home and hopefully a rose going through a paper shredder. BUT NO! We've gotta stall, with a bunch of cutaways to Clayton sitting on a bench sad while the rest of the women wonder aloud "What's going to happen?" over and over. Everyone's eager to see her go – except for Shanae. When the ADHD denier is the lone person in your corner, think about your life, think about your choices. 

At some point, Clayton goes to Cassidy, who's scampered away to cry about being caught. She explains that, yes, she lied – but she loves you, so all good? How's about a desperate kiss on the cheek to make everything better? Spoiler: It does not make everything better. Finally, after five years, Clayton finally comes to the conclusion that he can't trust Cassidy, so she's taking the SUV ride of shame. And I am NOWHERE NEAR SATISFIED! This was not fun! This was not dramatic! This was limp and tedious – and worst of all, for the big "whoa he's taking a rose back" of it all, WE NEVER SAW HIM TAKE THE ROSE BACK! It just got left on a table, never to be heard or seen from again. 

In the end, nobody won. The audience didn't get an entertaining exit. Clayton didn't get a satisfyingly assertive moment. The rest of the women still have to live with Shanae. It's a waste of a perfectly good cliffhanger – and if this show can't deliver on reality show ridiculousness, then what are we doing here?

Maybe the problem is this isn't "The Bachelor." No, this is "The Shanae Show" – a program I DID NOT SIGN UP TO RECAP! Starting with the rose ceremony, every action, every moment, every breath of oxygen, requires input from Shanae. Clayton gives Elizabeth a rose; cut to Shanae whining. Clayton gives the rest of the women roses; cut to more Shanae whining. Clayton offers Shanae the final rose over three women who had a combined four lines of dialogue? (Tessa, Kate and Ency, by the way.) You guessed it: Time for whiny Shanae. The woman can't even stand the sight of OTHER WOMEN CARING ABOUT ONE ANOTHER, grumbling about how they're horrifyingly hugging one another goodbye. Basic decency and human consideration? WHAT A BUNCH OF BITCHES, AMIRITE!? 

I know the season needs a splash of personality since its star is a large wet sunburnt blanket that's good at forts. But this is trying to flavor a bland dish by emptying your recycling bin onto the plate – just a bunch of toxicity and digust AND STILL NO FLAVOR. Unlike Demi, Corinne or other recent villains of note, Shanae isn't even clever or funny with her bile – she's just annoyingly grumpy. And when she's not one-note mocking everything for existing, she's straight-up mean, most notably mocking Elizabeth's ADHD – all the while not even seeming that interested in Clayton. She talks less about falling for him and more about strategies and "next moves" like she's playing "Survivor."

So this has all been a joyless slog, but maybe the first group date will lighten things up ... oh, it's a group therapy session with Kaitlyn Bristow, talking about the very serious traumas and mental anguish everyone's endured. OK then. Listen, I don't want to minimize the things these people have survived – in Hunter's case, an emotionally abusive and controlling relationship that went so far as to change her hair and even eye color to appease her partner – or undermine the bravery of opening up about these difficult matters in such a public venue. But ... I'm not sure this is what anyone's coming to "The Bachelor" for, nor does it tonally fit into an episode where, 45 minutes from now, they'll slip women into "Baywatch" swimsuits to rub reach other with sun tan lotion for Clayton's approval.

Plus, the implication that you're somehow not being open or vulnerable enough if you don't want to discuss your most emotional traumas and experiences in front of people you've known for maybe a week – much less in front of cameras broadcasting to strangers across the globe – doesn't feel entirely healthy. There can be a gross transactional nature to these intimate reveals – a sense of "I'm telling you this to prove something about our relationship and get ahead" as opposed to "I'm telling you this because you're someone I trust and feel close to." That's not on the contestants, but on the show for using genuine and real emotional distress in an competition setting. At its best, these moments can feel earnest and even powerful rather than cynical. Unfortunately, despite these people's remarkable candidness and strength, last night was not its best. 

ANYWAYS! It was time away from Shanae, so maybe I shouldn't complain. By the way, Eliza got the group date rose for being open, standing in front of a mirror with Clayton and wearing her best outfit. You know who never wears their best outfit? Clayton. This constant hoodie-and-jacket techbro combo will not stand. 

We move on to the one-on-one date of the episode, which goes to sweet and funny Sarah. It will not surprise you to discover that Shanae has thoughts on this development – mainly that Sarah sucks for getting the date and everyone else sucks for being happy for her. I'm really glad we're giving this woman practically as much screen time as Clayton; she's really full of good spirit and positive energy. I bet you she hates the puppies from Clayton's poster too because SHE DESERVED that time with Clayton. 

Anyways, Clayton and Sarah meet up with surprise guest Becca Kufrin for the special date she planned for them. Her choice: a scavenger hunt across Los Angeles ... all while stripped down to your underwear. I DECLINE! THIS DOES NOT SEEM FUN! But hey, if you don't want to run around in public mostly naked, I guess you're just not open, free and fun enough to find love. So the two run around the city and find a bunch of icebreaker questions hanging up in the air in fun packaging – in this case pinatas. You know, that thing they've done about four seasons in a row now. FIND A NEW CUTESY ICEBREAKER GAME, SHOW! In the process, though, we find out that Clayton's go-to dance move is the bland "this is your home" dance from "Hitch." Yeah, that tracks.

After singing their love to one another to an empty park with some annoyed security guards, Clayton and Sarah go off to dinner – and the show must've felt really bad about the whole "public embarassment" thing because they booked them a lovely dinner at that gorgeous traveling interactive Van Gogh exhibit. LUCKY! I wanted to go to that! For the first time, I'm genuinely jealous for somebody on this show – and that's BEFORE they topped off the night with a small string quartet playing "Clair de Lune," only one of the most beautiful musical pieces ever written. Congratulations to this show: You finally did something right. And best of all, Sarah and Clayton seem cute together, genuinely bonding during the date. I hope they go far (far away from this show, for their sake).

(*checks my watch*) Welp, it's been four minutes without a Shanae update, so OFF WE GO! At least this Shanae news, however, actually borders on entertaining as back at the mansion, Elizabeth makes everyone some garlic butter shrimp. And while Shanae may hate Elizabeth and, well, everything in existence, she will make an exception for garlic butter shrimp, chowing down on pretty much the entire plate of seafood before anyone else can get a bite. And yet, somehow SHANAE is the one doing the most whining about the situation, complaining about Elizabeth and everyone else in the house not liking her – even thought she can make garlic butter shrimp too! Harrumph! Everything on this planet is living in Shanae's head rent-free. It's gotta be exhausting for her – it's certainly exhausting for me! Her bad sulky vibes and passive grumpiness are polluting this perfectly ... well, never mind; this wasn't going perfectly without her either. 

With the fishy scent of ShrimpGate hanging in the air, the women head to the beach for group date number two, which seems at first to just be a hangout date. OH GOD, NO! These NEVER go right on this show! Anytime a group date involves just playing games or hanging out a candy shop, somebody ruins the day for everyone else by being too competitve or hogging all the time, and everyone leaves in tears and disappointment. Just what this episode needed: more bummer vibes. 

Thankfully, a special guest star arrives to save the day: former "Baywatch" star Nicole Eggert, who was unsurprisingly available. She's there for some "Baywatch" training and the return of shameless objectification, with the contestants dressing up in the iconic swimsuits, learning to run in bouncy slow motion, doing a sexy bad job of CPR and rubbing one another in suntan lotion. Gabby smartly pairs up with Clayton for the rubdown challenge – though, judging by the bachelor's brutal tan lines by the end of the date, that might've backfired on her. Certainly did for the newly charred Clayton!

By the way, if you thought "well this 'Baywatch' date was very random," well, it became far less so when the following ad break prominently included an ad for the upcoming Pamela Anderson/Tommy Lee sex tape miniseries on Hulu – which, like ABC, is owned by Disney. HOW CONVENIENT! I look forward to next week's one-on-one date, which will probably take place inside a sarlacc to tie in with "The Book of Boba Fett." 

Anyways, despite Shanae trying to slo-mo run into Clayton's heart with a makeout session in front of everyone – and despite her poor Coppertone approach – Gabby wins the title of best of "Baywatch," earning some bonus time on the beach with Clayton. She also earns the night's group date rose, flirting with him some more by rubbing him with some healing aloe – maybe have someone else do that; you didn't do great with the lotion in the first place. Best of all, though, she gets him to remove his TERRIBLE leather jacket. Because Clayton's not a regular "Bachelor," he's a cool "Bachelor." Nice job making the hoodie and jacket seem better by default. 

BUT OF COURSE sweet and silly Gabby is not the story from the group date. No, this is The Shanae Show, so she hogs all of the night's attention by going to Clayton to – surprise! – complain and cry about how she's being bullied in the house by Elizabeth and others. GIRL, PEOPLE NOT WANTING TO HANG OUT WITH YOU AFTER YOU WERE MEAN ISN'T BULLYING; IT'S CALLED REAPING WHAT YOU SOW! But Clayton fails to pick up on that – and to lock in the deceit even more, Shanae summons some crocodile tears in front of him for maximum pity points, a move she even brags to the camera about, saying how brilliantly strategic it was. I see she learned well from Cassidy: Always brag about your deceptions in front of as many cameras and micrphones as possible. Always leave evidence. 

Elizabeth is brought before Clayton to answer for these accusations, at first calmly explaining that she's done nothing wrong before eventually falling apart into a sobbing mess because she's tired of having to defend herself from an insanely rude person time and time again. Back with the rest of the women, Elizabeth and company question Shanae about her remarks, with the latter obviously having no ground to stand on, relying on half-hearted smacktalk and tedious villain speak that convinces no one that she has a point.

This, I would point out, would be a GREAT time for all of the women to come to Clayton and say, "Hey, Shanae is a liar and is the cause of all the bad energy in the mansion; you should remove her." But because this season is everything wrong with "The Bachelor," no one does that – and neither does Clayton, who he walks into the tension-filled room with a cluelessly doofy smile, talking about how he had a great time today. THE MULTIPLE CRYING WOMEN WOULD CARE TO DIFFER, CLAYTON! After giving the rose to Gabby – cue requisite Shanae insults – he does say he's going to do something about the toxic atmosphere growing amongst the women ... the next day. That's fine. Shanae ends the episode by throwing Elizabeth's ADHD into a final insult, so I'm sure everything's fine. No rush, buddy.

In case I've been too subtle about this point: I hate this season. I hate that our lead is a boring invertebrate. I hate that Shanae is such a tedious one-note villain with nothing fun to say and no genuine connection to Clayton. I hate that the show is once again giving so much airtime to toxicity – and not even delivering on the base satisfaction of eliminating it in an enjoyable manner. And I hate that we all know it doesn't have to be this way, that this show can be better than this wretchedness. 

I must now rage-walk into frozen Lake Michigan to cool off and hope next week improves. (*sees footage of Shanae still around in more group challenges*) Or maybe I'll just stay in the lake. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.