NBC’s dating reality show The Courtship was originally planned for Peacock, and called Pride & Prejudice: An Experiment in Romance.
But this is not an experiment. It’s not even a Jane Austen novel as a reality TV show. It’s The Bachelorette in Bridgerton‘s clothes.
The clothes—and setting—are spectacular. Everyone is in period costume, and the castle setting that makes the Bachelor/ette mansion look like a shed. Everything is bigger: instead of candles, there are caldrons of flame and crystal candelabras.
“I’m absolutely loving this Regency era,” the bachelorette, software engineer Nicole Rémy, says. “These guys are coming up and trying to get my attention. They’re really embracing this idea of chivalry.”
But all this is indiscernible from The Bachelorette, and thus she sounds as if she’s been transported to our time from the Regency era, unaware of all dating reality TV.
There are small differences between the ABC show and NBC’s knock-off: arrivals via horse instead of limo, a ball instead of a cocktail party. Multiple people talking about being there for “the right reasons,” and Nicole’s goal to leave engaged to a man.
The Courtship (NBC, Sundays at 8) has a one-on-one date that includes fireworks. It follows a group date, during which one of the men talks about, uh, riding horses and says “a little bit of bareback when the time is right.” So there’s the same kind of silliness.
This is all very, very familiar, and outside of the setting and clothing, and there’s no attempt to change the well-established foundation established by The Bachelor franchise. But there are two remarkable new features.
First, the bachelorette’s parents, Dr. Claire Spain-Remy and Claude Remy, her sister Danie Baker, and close friend Tessa Cleary are there as her court. They provide counsel and, in the first episode, choose the first group date participants.
Typically, friends and family don’t get to meet the bachelorette or bachelor’s potential spouse until the very end of the journey, leaving that person completely isolated, and with only producers (who have other motives) as people they can turn to for counsel. Is it any wonder so many of those relationships fail?
The Courtship’s process includes people that the show’s star can get advice from and lean on, and that already makes it a more humane and real-life experience—though certainly there’s still plenty of artificiality.
The second change to The Bachelorette’s formula doesn’t work as well. Instead of roses and a dour host popping into announce that he can count to one, the bachelorette fills out a dance card with the names of six suitors.
She dances with each of them, and they have a conversation—or, more correctly, they whisper and gasp for air. In these conversations, Nicole gives feedback and/or explains why she’s sending someone home. It’s not clear if she’s completely decided at the point of the dances, since one man brings her to tears but she sends him home anyway. But if those conversations could change the outcome, that’s more interesting than just handing out roses.
While all of this may just be The Bachelorette, the setting does elevate the standard formula, and makes it feel new and fresh, which is ironic since the setting is supposed to be the early 1800s.
That setting, Castle Howard, is also a filming location for Shonda Rhimes’ Netflix series Bridgerton, where it was used as Clyvedon Estate. And that’s not all they have in common.
The Courtship also takes Bridgerton’s approach toward race: ignoring it.
Bridgerton‘s approach, as Aramide A. Tinubu wrote, was to recreate the era “without an emphasis on race, historical accuracy or the backdrop of slavery, [so] fans can focus on the scandals, costumes, gossip and intrigue at the heart of the series.”
The Courtship does the same, leaning into the fun and silliness of costume drama, borrowing inoffensive fragments of convention, and not bothering to address actual history. I’m not sure I’d trust a broadcast network reality dating show to do that well, so that’s probably for the best.
It does make a silent statement, though, by starting off a potential new franchise with a Black lead. On broadcast television dating shows, having a Black woman as the star is rare. ABC’s The Bachelorette cast 19 Bachelorettes and only three Black leads in its 18 seasons—and all of those have been in the last five years. Most of its life, the show has been very, very white.
For The Courtship to begin where it took The Bachelorette more than 10 years to arrive is admirable, and it does have a few interesting ideas under its visually spectacular surface, but ultimately The Courtship starts by sticking to The Bachelorette’s well-worn template.
The Bachelorette in Bridgerton‘s clothes. B-
What works for me:
- The court
- The location and costuming
- The casting
What could be better:
- Shaking up the underlying format more