One thing we learned about 72-year-old Gerry Turner in the first episode of “The Golden Bachelor” is that if the opportunity arises, he’s ready to make out.
And not just a little peck on the cheek, but sucking face. So there’s no telling what we’re in for once he actually gets to know the women vying for his affection, most of whom were not bashful in the least.
At one point in Thursday night's premiere on ABC, while 21 of the Golden Bachelor’s potential forever mates were hoping he’d look their way, Turner grabbed Faith, a high school teacher, by the hand and they left the room. Moments after we saw the grieving widower in tears, he was canoodling with someone he'd just met.
In the same episode, Turner asked Theresa, a financial services professional, what she’d do if he got cupcake icing on his mouth. Theresa did not hesitate. She leaned in and took care of that little problem, which meant that the Golden Bachelor was already being unfaithful to Faith, and that my wife was bent over, head in hands, as she was through much of the one-hour premiere.
“This is cringy,” she declared.
Maybe so, but we've had two decades of young people embarrassing themselves in the "Bachelor" franchise, and it was high time to let older adults turn a private yearning into a public spectacle.
I had wanted to hold out hope, as the Golden State columnist, that “The Golden Bachelor” might be something of a stereotype-busting experience, given the extreme ageism that exists in this country. That was the case to a degree, and the show also touched on the isolation and loneliness felt by so many older adults.
“I think it is wonderful to have … a show that acknowledges that older people want love, connection, sex — that they are zestful and adventurous and interested in dating,” Nan Bauer-Maglin, the author of “Gray Love: Stories About Dating and New Relationships After 60," told me before the first episode aired Thursday night.
I agree, but this is not high art, nor is it about true romance as much as it's about a network digging for gold and contestants hoping for a moment of fame. It’s reality TV, and you have to suspend your disbelief that a handsome widower in good shape apparently couldn’t find a date and decided his only option was to appear in a nationally televised bake-off.
“I’m going to find the woman of my dreams very shortly,” Turner said after inserting his hearing aids. “I hope I recognize her.”
So we got one woman after another arriving at the bachelor pad, ranging in age from 60 to 75, and it occurred to me that sexism, not ageism, might be the problem. One did an awkward and suggestive cheer with pom-poms, one pretended she was about to strip naked, one told Turner her eggs are still fresh, and others poured out of what must be a clown car because it was one suitor after another and another and another.
They all seemed to be instantly smitten and ready to drop everything to be with a total stranger, which did not sit well with my wife.
“They’re dripping with desperation,” she said, wondering if the winner will pull up stakes, say goodbye to friends and family, and move into the dream house the Golden Bachelor had just built with his wife before she died.
“Gerry is in great shape,” a contestant named Natascha said. “I’m not going to need to resuscitate him if we have an intimate moment.”
Natascha’s occupation was listed as “aging coach.” I asked my wife if that meant Natascha was, say, a soccer coach who’s getting older, or if it meant she coaches people on how to age.
We may never find out, but we do know that network TV executives have figured out that in the era of streaming, the only people still watching prime-time broadcasts are older adults. So if “The Golden Bachelor” is a hit, and the advertisers line up, it’s a safe bet “The Golden Bachelorette” isn’t too far off, along with “Leisure World Rascals” and “Golden Girls Gone Wild."
During the broadcast, there was an ad about night sweats, one about moderate to severe eczema and another about arch support, in which a somber-looking man shares the news that his feet hurt so much, he “asked the good Lord to take me.” It can’t be long before the Golden Bachelor himself is hawking reverse mortgages.
Before the first episode aired, I reached out to a few older adults and asked them to share their reactions with me after tuning in.
“I’m glad this group of seniors is having their moment with 'The Golden Bachelor,' ” said Marilyn McLarnan Thomas, an email pal, who liked Turner and gave the show generally good reviews, although she called one contestant's “birthday suit gimmick cheap and not classy.”
In August, while researching a column on golden years romance, I met Roz Walanka at The Nest, a popular Indian Wells nightclub. Walanka, 76 and single, told me back then that she had applied to be on “The Golden Bachelor,” but after watching the first episode Thursday night in Indio, she was glad she never got a callback.
“These women, oh, my God, they were not impressive at all,” said Walanka, who hosted a watch party with three of her girlfriends. “A couple of them were sleazy. If it were me out there, and my son was watching me behave that way, he would have been totally embarrassed.”
Caryl Carota, 81, said she thought four or five of the women comported themselves well and seemed to have caught the eye of the bachelor. But Marlene Dean, who's been married for 62 years, was less generous.
“I think we all feel the same way,” Dean said. “We find it a little bit sleazy, and there were too many boobs hanging out.”
Walanka said she’s not sure she’ll watch future episodes. “That one girl asked him if he liked to dance, and she starts gyrating in front of him. That’s not how you attract a man like that,” Walanka said.
“Maybe it is,” one of her friends chimed in.
“Maybe I’m doing the wrong thing,” Walanka said, reconsidering. “Maybe I’m not gyrating enough.”
I saw her dance at The Nest, where she was quite elegant, and definitely too classy for a certain TV show.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.