ABC was barely able to contain its glee when it whipped the veil off its newest bachelor to reveal -- tah-dah! -- Andrew Firestone, superheir. Landing the scion of ''one of the most prominent and accomplished families in America'' was a coup (even if he did twitch and stammer a little on the mansion steps as the limos rolled in). But the way the network yodeled and pounded its chest, you'd think it had bagged someone really ferocious. Instead, this Bachelor displays the trust, tenderness, and faith in a benevolent universe that comes with having a 103-year-old brand name for a patronymic. The boy is a steaming cartoon turkey; even host Chris Harrison can't help licking his chops when the two are alone together.
In fact, booking this Bachelor was so special it inspired its own special. The third season of The Bachelor began with a look at how Firestone stacked up against other finalists' charms -- like one musclehead's ability to wield a giant pencil, another one's Olympic gold medal in beach volleyball, and a third hunk's knack for mixing metaphors while simultaneously balancing a huge but fragile ego. (''Did I paint the total package yet?'' he asked, clearly weary of the interview process.)
The one-hour behind-the-scenes kickoff show also provided some insight into the troubled minds of the ''ladies'' (Firestone's preferred -- and touchingly optimistic -- term), many of whom were so desperate to ''get out of the dating scene'' that they melted down on camera just thinking about it. It would seem that finding a guy who has everything going for him and is ready to get married is no easy task, as one producer points out. This, of course, is the unstated and terribly compelling premise of The Bachelor, and it perhaps explains why naysayers at first doubted that the equal-opportunity Bachelorette would fly.
Of course, they were wrong. And as educational as it was to watch The Bachelorette's suitors rap, draw pictures of tigers, scramble to save face in the reject limo, and wet the bed, it's been just as nice to see The Bachelor return to its bathetic roots. Happily, Trista's runner-up fiance, Charlie, declined to pass out the roses this time around; casting a known quantity -- stud-muffin or no -- is unwise, as it cuts down on the whole ''I'll marry anything'' factor. Bubbly-fierce pronouncements like ''I definitely want the ring on my finger.... That's what I'm here for!'' and ''I would let the guy watch football and have all of his friends over, give him beer, and make him food. And then I would leave with his credit card'' pack more of a punch when the desperate women are speaking about a man they've never seen.
In the short history of the genre, there's never been a lack of brides willing to line up for the millennial version of a Moonie wedding, so it's no wonder that an average of 6.5 million more viewers showed up for the first two episodes of The Bachelorette than for the first couple episodes of the three Bachelors. After all, which scenario is more depressingly true-to-life: the one where 25 guys compete for a hot girl they've seen on television, or the one where 25 girls act out their marriage-rescue fantasies on a guy they've just met? When it comes down to it, there's only so much reality people can take. (A depressing side note: As anthropologists dig through the rubble of early-21st-century reality TV, they'll discover that this was the exact moment in which men succumbed to the same desperation -- Married by America, a train wreck with wedding gowns, features photogenic twenty- and thirtysomethings of both sexes who describe real-world dating as something to flee, like a WWII prison camp, which is why they actually entertain the idea of jumping into marriages arranged by the Fox network.)
Ultimately, a good Bachelor understands that maintaining a mix of personality disorders is an important job qualification. Despite early missteps -- like dismissing the beauty queen who peeled potatoes in her gown and tiara -- Andrew delivers. The ladies are doing their part too; as of this writing, we're enjoying the maladjusted behavior of a weeper (Liz), a barracuda (Cristina), an angry Catholic (Tina S. from Tennessee), a forward Mormon (Audree), a cheese-head airhead (Tina P. from Wisconsin), and a lush (Amber). While it's possible that none of these ''ladies'' will ever set foot in the Bachelor's home, they are definitely a welcome addition to ours. As real TV, The Bachelor earns a gentleman's C. As reality TV, an A.