PASADENA, CALIF— Joel McHale isn't shy when it comes to his disdain for ABC's hit reality dating series The Bachelor.
"It's basically a parade of unstable sluts," says the comic, pop culture critic and star of the CBS sitcom The Great Indoors in an interview, having breakfast at a Mexican restaurant in West Hollywood.
"The strange thing is people really do hope they find love under the guise of what is basically a 30-day game show. Which is really, really weird."
McHale ignited a firestorm and some blowback from Bachelor contestants after he dissed the show on Jimmy Kimmel Live! after the season premiere of City's The Bachelor last week starring 36-year-old Milwaukee man Nick Vaill. He also voiced what many who are dismissive of the genre have thought — although perhaps not voiced in such a confrontational way.
"No one cares who wins. I don't care. They have what? Four couples who hooked up after 71 or whatever tries. What's up with that track record," says McHale.
Still, the Bachelor is a cultural property that seems to be immune to criticism. The premiere of the show handily trumped NBC's Celebrity Apprentice starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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Ratings have stayed strong and even improved over the years despite a string of parodies such as Ben Stiller's Burning Love and the more incisive Unreal, which takes a satiric chisel to the genre.
But current star Vaill, a seemingly reformed villain from earlier seasons who is now the bachelor, is having none of the controversy after being reminded of McHale's comments.
"I'm going to stay away from that one," says Vail in an interview at an ABC cocktail party at the Langham hotel in Pasadena on another day.
Asked about the war of words between McHale and Bristowe, the cagey Vaill says he "didn't see it," even after sitting next to Bristowe on the couch at the Jimmy Kimmel show.
On that same show McHale said former Bachelor Jake Pavelka "looked like he should have starred in American Psycho."
He says his favourite Bachelorette is "Kaitlyn, because there were like, five Kaitlyns."
"You mean the Kaitlyn (Bristowe) who's here tonight?" Kimmel asks.
"I don't care," McHale replies.
Bachelor nation fans weren't happy with McHale, and neither was Canadian Bristowe, who appeared on the show right after along with Vaill and another former Bachelorette Andi Dorfman.
But the show turned out to be less about The Bachelor and more about what seemed to be a developing feud between the former Talk Soup host and a former Bachelorette. It also pits one Canadian against another, albeit, half-Canadian since McHale's mother is from British Columbia. Bristowe said she saw the comic and told him "Guess what? I don't like you."
"If you take them out, there will be a response. I expected that. I don't worry about that," says McHale. "The weird thing is people actually believe this stuff. But it's endlessly entertaining."
Meanwhile, back at the ABC party, Vaill is happier to talk about the latest episode of the show which features the cliffhanger of him telling the contestants that — sigh — he already had sex with one of the contestants.
"How the women take the news is a big reason to tune in," he reassures me.
Vaill is a controversial choice, although he seems to have tempered his arrogance from his earlier showings into someone who has allowed himself a veneer of vulnerability.
"I feel like people have thankfully gotten to know me a little better. I feel thankful if people see me in a more positive light. So I appreciate any support I can get," he says.
The show has been bulletproof against the snark of cultural critics such as McHale for good reason. And that's demonstrated by the fact producers now have the confidence to put someone once seen as thoroughly unlikeable in the drivers seat. It is after all, a show about love — warts and all. And the more warts the better.