Escape From Reality

New seasons of ‘The Masked Singer,’ ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ and ‘The Bachelorette’ give us contests that we know will end

Now well into its fourth season, The Masked Singer continues to mesmerize. The show’s weird groove remains firmly entrenched, and its COVID-19 precautions almost seamlessly blend in with the pre-established format.  To wit, a “clue package” full of gobbledygook plays to provide obtuse insight into the identity of the performer wearing that Popcorn costume. This season, they’ve animated these sequences for safety, apparently. Then, Popcorn takes the stage, singing a party anthem from 2004. A panel of judges barely suited to choose their own wardrobes vacillate between shouting inane commentary and weeping over the performances, before lauding that mystery genius while guessing who it might be. Their guesses start with people who are legitimately stars to tweak our wildest expectations, but gradually scale down to that guy from that one YouTube video people enjoyed before, and that’s usually who it is.

Masked Singer
Popcorn sings on The Masked Singer.

Yes, there is a loose contest happening here, as the ultimate winner will take home The Golden Mask trophy to treasure for the ages. This prize matters almost zero, though the performers act like this may provide the ultimate validation for their existence, except the one performer who stumbled through an ear-bleeding rendition of Stand By Me before taking off the costume immediately and quitting. What a shock!

There is also now a sub-contest thrown in for the Masked Singer judges, too, probably because people like that on The Voice, maybe? There is no need for logic in this hour of entertainment. We are here to lose our minds along with the in-person audience, an ecstatic group of enthusiasts who the producers must either gas or drug before cameras roll. This year, they’re risking their very lives to emphatically cheer for The Sun, and because they’ve lessened the crowd size for the Rona, their burden of joy becomes even heavier. And they are here for it. And us. And we are dutifully sucked into this bizarro Masked Singer world, and it blissfully distracts us.

Lawrence Welkian dance contest

At the other end of the spectrum, Dancing with the Stars churns out more of its trite brand of barely-a-celebrity centered competition for those of us pining for the yesteryears of Lawrence Welkian entertainment. Tyra Banks is on hand as the new host, presumably to liven up this senescent snoozer. Yes, she’s still trying to make smize happen, and no, she cannot bring this cumbersome clunker to life. The weirdly sterile airlessness feels particularly pronounced this season, as both the audience and the band stayed home because COVID. The contestants and judges maintain safe distances from each other, reminding us all that they have to, and we have to, and man, this all sucks, doesn’t it? So much for escapism. This is like entertainment the looming Dark Future overlords would force all good citizens to watch in order to curb our need to think and feel.

A heaping plate of delicious escapism
Clare Crawley and Dale Moss on ‘The Bachelorette’.

After denying us the summertime delights of Bachelor in Paradise this year, ABC finally delivers a heaping plate of delicious escapism with The Bachelorette. While promising the most dramatic season ever yet again, they also take extreme lengths to make the viewer aware that they not only take love seriously, but also, C-19 precautions.

There is much hoopla surrounding Clare’s test, and her boring wait for results. The men are shown wearing masks as they wait for brain swabs of their own. That’s right, those geniuses ruling Bachelor Nation found a way to make it seem like there could be nothing more romantic and noble than looking for Love In the Time of COVID. These people really, really, really want love, because they were willing to put something up their noses and pause their everyday lives even longer than they normally would, see? Sure, they can’t jetset around the world, but that’s okay, too, because no one signed on for adventure. They’re there for love, dammit. Love! It’s quite clever, really, the way the show adapted to squeeze all the romance they can out of this godforsaken pandemic.

As for the titular star, Clare isn’t there to disappoint us either. She’s famous within the world of the franchise for blowing up the format by screwing The Bachelor Juan Pablo right there in the ocean when it wasn’t even the fantasy suite week before calling it quits once she realized he was the worst. She competed on two seasons of Paradise, then took a fourth franchise-backed stab at love on The Bachelor Winter Games. This is a woman who wants a mate, and seems to think the only proper way to find someone is via a televised love hunt. Sure.

In addition to her track record of passionate failures, it is also important to note that Clare is 39. That’s right. She is almost of an age where the dating gods will need to euthanize her, and they will be absolutely justified, because she is 39 and still seeking a mate. Typically, The Bachelor spends the entire season referring back to the contestant’s career, and theming everything around that, but for Clare, we are straight up running with her near senior citizen status. It makes for hilarious distraction from anything resembling reality.

Spoilers indicate there are even more confined-for-safety twists and turns ahead, and I imagine casting someone as unpredictable as Clare had those brilliant producers nearly peeing their pants with anticipation even before the whole world shut down. Teasers promise home viewers a season packed with drama. We’re here for it, because, after all, it’s not like we can go anywhere else.


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Paula Shaffer

Paula Shaffer has worked on shows for a variety of networks including ABC, Hulu, A&E, HGTV, and WeTV. Her family zom-com script, Chompers, was a selected work of the Stowe Story Labs Feature Campus in 2021, and a 2022 semi-finalist in the Emerging Screenwriters contest, which led to placement on the Coverfly Red List.

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