By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jan 30, 2023 at 3:56 PM

Did ... did I actually watch the season premiere of "The Bachelor"? 

I mean, I think I did. I definitely remember sitting in front of my television for two hours and explaining to my significant other, "No, really, this is for work." And I recall seeing the mansion and Jesse Palmer and a lot of ads. But I also ... cannot remember anything else. All I remember is 30 "Men In Black" memory-deleting neuralyzers wearing sparkly dresses trying to impress a "Men In Black" memory-deleting neuralyzer in a suit and tie. Hopefully things will get more dramatic and interesting from here, and a personality – JUST ONE PERSONALITY! – will emerge from the pack. But right now, I feel like ABC just punched "a new Bachelor season" into one of those newfangled nightmarish AI art/conversation things and out popped something that looked like a new season but lacked any actual human input.  

The sad part: ABC totally knew this was coming. It's never a good sign when the first ten-to-fifteen minutes of the episode are spent going, "No, you don't understand: HE'S A REALLY INTERESTING GUY! YOU DON'T KNOW HOW FASCINATING HE TRULY IS! He's ... (*long desperate minute-long pause*) he's got two arms! That's something!" Zach does seem like a decent guy, and the first episode is always a blur anyways – but thus far, besides the fact that he was in a high school band called Public Disturbance (such a high school band name), served as a DJ (though was he a DJ? Or did he just have a solid iTunes setlist and a laptop?) and locks himself out of houses, the show's got nothing. Heck, they're not even really trying. At least for The Unspoken One's season, they surrounded Clayton with puppies. This time? 

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Sean Lowe, the show's lone success story who still wants anything to do with the franchise, drops by to give Zach a pep talk and pitch a better selling point: He's going to train Zach to be the most shirtless Bachelor in its history. Sean then disappears and Zach proceeds to never take off his shirt for the rest of the episode. As a part of his advice, Lowe also tells Zach to keep his mind open, because he wouldn't have picked his current wife at the beginning of his "Bachelor" journey – which isn't something I would broadcast to the entire nation and also to my wife. "I remember when I first laid eyes upon you ... wasn't into it." SWOON! 

OK, so introducing Zach to the world and making him a compelling star hasn't gone great – but hey, the real personalities are always the contestants, so let's meet the ladies!

We start with someone we've already met: Bailey, who's hobbies include wearing swimsuits on the beach and coming up with unsuccessful name-remembering devices. That's right: She's the poor woman from the previous season finale/bonus Zach season prelude where he forgot her name, calling her "Bailen" – which is neither her name nor a name at all, period. In fairness, "On the daily, I'll be thinking of Bailey" is not a terrific mnemonic device – especially when simply giving him a shot of Bailey's Irish Cream would do the trick MUCH better. Anyways, can only go uphill from here for Hailey.

Elsewhere, we meet Katherine, who loves looking at ducks and meandering lost around parks – a favorite amongst this season's contestants, it would seem – as well as Christina Mandrell, a "content creator" who somehow wrangled last-name privileges in the lower third. Guess that's the star treatment the niece of country music icon Barbara Mandrell AND an uncredited student from "Hannah Montana: The Movie" deserves. We also meet Greer, who looks like River from "Firefly" and also has picnics with champagne and squirrels. I know that doesn't sound like the richest personality – but considering the rest of our pretty interchangable cast and bland star, she's a friggin' gold mine. 

So now we've met a few of the women, it's time for Zach to do the same and then say "I like her" or "Oh boy, I'm in trouble" while watching them walk away into the mansion. Who says this show needs a formula shake-up!? Anyways, after yelling Zach's name locked inside the car where no one can hear it and chanting a nice self-confidence mantra, the first one out the limos of love is Jess, who looks like she has no idea what she's supposed to do. She looks terrified, taking Zach's hands while her arms and shoulders lock into a stiff perma-scrunched shrug position like she's Oliver Twist nervously holding out a bowl. It's a little awkward – which is to say she's very relatable. Plus she's the first one out of the limo, which historically means she's got little to worry about. Better yet, she gets first dibs on all the booze inside the mansion. 

Next out of the limo is Ariel, who missed the plane to the show, her suitcase broke and her original dress ripped. Girl, those are called omens; you should've heeded them. Can't blame fate or the universe if this all goes cattywampus; it tried. She's followed by Charity and then apparently the drinking portion of the premiere. OK, yes, I guess everything after their first meeting in the mansion qualifies as the drinking portion of the premiere – but apparently everyone thought Zach looked parched. Davia brings Zach some booze – smart thinking – followed by Gabi, Charli D'Amelio's stunt double from Vermont who brings maple syrup for him to chug. Less smart thinking. I love me some maple syrup, but straight swigging it from the jug seems like a great way to introduce oneself to their true life partner: type two diabetes. And then there's Greer the squirrel picnic lady who brings him Starbucks – a kind offer, but now our man's drunk, caffeinated and on a sugar high. Hey, whatever makes him interesting. 

The parade continues with Viktoria from Austria and Madison from Fargo, who introduces Zach to the phrase, "Oofdah." Finally, I feel seen and represented. Only thing she was missing was an "ope, just gonna squeeze past ya here" on her way into the mansion. Then comes Aly, who exists, and Anastasia, who HOLD ON A SECOND, IS THAT A PANTSUIT SHE'S WEARING!? IS THAT EVEN ALLOWED?! Wild that that qualifies as bucking the "Bachelor" system in the year 2023. What's next: short hair?! Someone over the age of 35!?

The show moves back into its comfort zone with people Zach's already gotten comfortable with thanks to the early intros in last year's live show, starting with Cat from New York. The two start dueling Brooklyn accents at each other, though I think Zach is just scatting? Man's just saying "bibbity boppity" like a malfunctioning robot. He's NOT getting a part in whatever "Sopranos" reboot happens. And speaking of Brooklyn, Brooklyn – a rodeo rider from Texas – is next out of the car, joking about how she swore on live TV when she first met him. Truly a memorable TV moment; I think we all remember where we were when Brooklyn from Texas swore. (Zach does not.) The last of the repeat arrivals is Ballin, who shows up with a nametag to help with any confusion. Zach feels bad about awkwardly screwing up her name the first time, so to make things better ... he awkwardly leans in for a weird cringey apology kiss. I DON'T LIKE IT! So I guess that's the first kiss of the season? That was ... odd. Man, you don't need to kiss everyone whose name you forget. 

The barage continues with Kaity from Texas – and when you're from Texas, you're contractually obligated to make an "everything's bigger in Texas" joke. Then there's Genevie, who forgets her name. WILL THE ZANY THRILLS NEVER STOP!? Seriously, this around the time of the arrivals when we should be getting some oddball personalities and people bringing the weird intros – but instead we get some bad puns (Katherine asks Zach to "SPF her," which is a STRETCH), one whole trumpeter to ring in NOLA native Vanessa's arrival and one really bad rhyme ... thing from Kimberly, who clearly didn't have the gall to go full rap verse. (Smart choice.) This is it? Where's the people in shark costumes or ridiculous props? Davia's inside the mansion nervously talking about how the girls are going big on their intros – only to smash-cut to a lady who brought two lucky pennies for Zach. A WHOLE TWO CENTS! Clearly the concept of going all out has not been hit by inflation. 

We get a few glimpses of personality during the parade; Lekha licks Zach's ear to claim her territory (welp, early condolences to Lekha for getting sent home on night one) while Mercedes brings Henry the pig, who needed WAY more screentime. But otherwise it's a strangely bland bunch – in a season that desperately needed the contestants to bring the energy and personality to balance out Zach. Victoria brings her own compliments for Zach to read. Kylee heckles him through a blowhorn ... for some reason. Christina Mandrell shows up in a party bus – because of course she showed up in a party bus. All the "content creator's" arrival was missing was one of those glowing neon Instagram-ready signs that say something like "#UpForWhatever" or "It was all dream." WHERE'S THE DYNAMIC PERSONALITIES!? WHERE'S THE DRAMA?!

OK, maybe we've got something as the girls start grumbling about how Brianna isn't there yet. She's the contestant who earned the people's first impression rose during the live show finale – and in case you forgot, Brianna arrives to the mansion holding the rose while wearing a dress that looks made entirely of roses. Well certainly THIS will kick off some spicy resentment annnnnnd nope, nevermind, everyone's just relaxed and chill about it, and there's no sense of competition or gamesmanship yet. Listen, I know we're trying to move away from the vicious toxicity between contestants in some recent seasons ... but some drama IS still allowed, yes? Please tell me SOMEBODY isn't here to make friends!

Maybe – but they certainly didn't reveal themselves Monday night. Instead, after announcing that he loves family, football and frozen pizza (thin crust or rising crust? THIN CRUST OR RISING CRUST!?) the cocktail party pretty much goes perfectly and pleasantly ... and ploddingly, as Zach has a number of fine interactions with nice people with little to report on. There's few weird games or breakdowns or clumsy flirtation attempts; it's just a lot of icebreakers and A LOT of kissing. Indeed, everyone was getting Zach's lips on Monday – and thankfully he improved quite significantly since that weird Bailey smooch from her welcome to the mansion. 

OK, in fairness, one contestant does have a meatball-eating contest with Zach, so that was ... certainly something. For a whole 30 seconds there, I turned into a vegetarian. Genevie also builds off their forgetful introduction by bringing Zach a baby to change – because you really want to get him thinking about the absolute best and most romantic part of any relationship: the baby poop.

But really, the night can be wrapped up nicely by Christina Mandrell's solo time with Zach, the two hanging out on the party bus and asking the important questions like "what do prefer: dinosaurs or dragons?" (Obviously dragons; dinosaurs can't breathe fire, easy win.) In the middle of their quiz, though, a throng of ladies calmly barges on board to break up their date with an impromptu club rave. And while it seems set up for people to start getting mad – and the women are all, "Oooooh boy, this is turning into a real fight for Zach" – everyone's just happily dancing around and smiling and having a good time. The premiere in a nutshell: Everyone keeps talking about drama, tension and wild competitive antics that just ... aren't actually on screen anywhere. 

The closest we get to drama is our fellow midwesterner Madison from North Dakota, who's very excited to hang out with Zach ... until she actually hangs out with Zach. During their alone time, she offers him a bunch of winter gear (good deal! How come none of my dates ever peppered me with much-needed hats and gloves?!) and ... gets a polite hug in return. Considering how busy his lips have been on the night, Madison's DISPLEASED she didn't get a kiss, but she knows their chemistry is electric so she goes for a double dip and steals him away from a woman on her first chance to meet Zach. In fairness, though, the woman was telling Zach that she thinks he could sound like a chicken – so he might've been happy to escape that. But hey: DRAMA! PEOPLE BORROWING HIM FOR JUST A SEC! It took 90 minutes but this episode's finally starting to cook ... or at least boil ... or OK, the stove's just finally turned on to lukewarm. 

So how's Madison going to utilize this critical second chance at luring Zach into a kiss? By teaching him how to do The Griddy. Poorly. Well, congratulations, white people: We've officially killed The Griddy. It's dead now. Justin Jefferson of the Vikings is gonna have to come up with a new celebration dance, because this one is officially murdered. Not content with simply killing off a dance craze, though, Madison's hopes for a romantic connection with Zach also die a painful death as she finally snags her kiss, only for both of them to totally hate it. Zach says that he just felt nothing during the lip-lock while Madison's upset that it was barely a kiss, just a peck that was seemingly over before it began. 

While Madison sulks about their forehead-smacking lip-smacking, Zach heads off to have better makeout sessions with Charity and Jess (man, that man's lips are sure racking up the frequent flier miles just one episode in) before using that assumably exhausted mouth to tell Greer that she's earned his first impression rose. YAY FOR OUR SLOPPY CHAMPAGNE SQUIRREL PICNICKER!

Not so yay, however, for Madison, who's the saddest Fargoian since that poor guy in the woodchipper. After the first impression rose reveal, she wanders off in a stupor, wondering what's the point. She apparently did not hear Sean Lowe at the beginning of the episode, because she is not here to play the long game or win somebody over. She wants to know NOW if Zach's interested – and I mean NOW, because she walks right into one of those canned Zach-and-Palmer interactions to clear things up. And Zach very much does, telling her that, though she seems like a great person and he appreciates what she's done to go on "The Bachelor," he doesn't feel like they have a connection, now or in the future. Oofdah, indeed. So that's that for Madison, who tearfully walks off the show as its first romantic casualty – and what a walk it is, having to journey all the way down the mansion's long-ass driveway. COULD THE UBER HAVE NOT PARKED ANYWHERE CLOSER?!

Good news, remaining ladies: The title of first one eliminated has already been claimed! Bad news? There's still a bunch of you joining Madison on the long way down the driveway. In the end, nine additional women are sent home – none of them particularly impactful in the previous 110 minutes. Both of the Olivias were sent home, so I appreciate that at least for the sake of clarity – but otherwise it's a list of nine question marks.

Not that any of us bonded with the remaining 20 that much more – but here's to the rest of the season delivering on personality and drama where the premiere couldn't. It's off to a cardboard start, but hey, so did The Unspoken One's season and that worked out great in the end. Well, "great" isn't quite the right word ... 

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.