Reluctant Townie: Juan Pablo the man who will rule them all

While the Polar Vortex took a road trip south Monday, bringing with it frigid temperatures and wind chill factors as low as minus 45 degrees, many a living room in America was being thawed by the scorching hot sex appeal of ABC's newest Bachelor, Juan Pablo.

The former professional soccer player, devoted single father and owner of at least one tuxedo took to a well-lit mansion in the hills of Pornlandia, Calif., to try his luck at picking a dream lover out of the proverbial reality-television hat.

What awaited him were, as always, limousines packed with women — some of them crazy, most of them desperate, one riding a bicycle with a piano mounted on the front. (#physics?) The piano bike was the newest in a long line of stunt entrances (a bona fide trope of "The Bachelor" formula, as synonymous with the brand as tear-streaked eyeliner and commercials about yogurt) that has in the past seen contestants entering on horses, wearing suits of armor and/or bringing her grandma.

January has long been considered, by at least as many persons as myself, to be the worst month of the entire year. So the annual emergence of "The Bachelor" (this year lovingly dubbed by ABC, in a mildly offensive manner, "Juan-uary") either completely dismisses my theory or provides it undeniable proof.

Why a January premiere?

It's a new year. A new beginning. A new chance for love and sexually transmitted disease.

In reality, I assume that the producers test for STDs before they allow anyone near the unlimited chardonnay. In the real world, a Bachelor situation in which two dozen women date one man simultaneously would play out less like a globetrotting romantic comedy and more like Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion" via sex tape.

This season, I did myself a major disservice by stumbling upon "Burning Love," a Ben Stiller-produced parody of "The Bachelor," mere days before "The Bachelor" premiere.

"Burning Love" is such a pitch-perfect send up — from the pathos to the mood lighting to the musical cues — that after "The Bachelor" on Monday night I had a hard time distinguishing between the two in my mind while I was noshing on a cupcake in my bubble bath.

In a way, Juan Pablo is kind of his own parody of "The Bachelor." Ladies squealed when he walked in to Desiree's "After the Rose Ceremony" last fall, and I officially hate myself for having been able to cite that fact, without a shadow of doubt, from memory.

As I sat down to watch "The Bachelor" preview Sunday, then the two-hour premiere the next night, I found myself wondering what anybody gets out of a show like "The Bachelor" — a program that purports to document the spark of true love, but whose only real consumable byproduct is schadenfreude.

But I realize that is a question I should be first asking myself.

How did I come to be a person who stubbed his toe rushing into the living room to catch the cold open of "The Bachelor: Countdown to Juan Pablo"? I wasn't always this way, you know.

Once upon a time, I thought "The Bachelor" was righteously stupid. Dangerous to society, even. And if I was being honest with myself, deep down, I still do. OK, not even deep down. Right there on top I feel that way. And it feels good to say it out loud.

"The Bachelor" is stupid. It's shallow. It reinforces unrealistic expectations of love and romance. (Talk to Juan Pablo a year from now: I bet it's a lot harder to impress on date night when network television isn't picking up the bill.) It sometimes makes my body cringe in places I didn't know my body could cringe.

I suppose the compulsion that drives me to watch "The Bachelor" is no different than that which drives children to crowd around in a circle when a fight breaks out on the playground: We gotta see what's going to happen. Only in this case, the fight isn't between Fluffernutter Pete and Marcus the Mouth Breather, it's between 25 ticking biological clocks.

Why does America love "The Bachelor"? Because when it's the middle of January and dark outside 20 hours a day and you've already broken your New Year's resolutions, nothing is going to provide a better emotional pick-me-up than watching a bunch of nines and 10s get their feelings soccer-punted off the Hollywood Hills by a walking underwear commercial like Juan Pablo.

At this point, I will concede that there is another viable reason someone might watch "The Bachelor." An element that might provide reward for a certain demographic: the topless men.

Although producers seemed to have slackened the shirtless requirement on the Bachelor this season (and even referenced it during a meta credit sequence coda that verged on being too self-aware for a show in which people compete for the affections of a stranger), before the two-minute mark Monday viewers were treated to a sweaty Juan Pablo jogging shirtless down a sidewalk.

Only one time after that did I catch the program cutting to a close-up of Juan Pablo's chest before crash zooming out to a wide shot.

Imagine if they gave that kind of treatment to "The Bachelorette."

I sure have.

Ryan Jackson wants you to read that last line in the creepiest voice possible, and he can be reached at thereluctanttownie@hotmail.com.

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