It is possible to know all these things and still adore The Courtship. You just have to see it as a psychosexual adult dress up game, which is exactly what all dating shows are anyway. It’s an elaborate erotic role play, funded by a major network, that casts a certain kind of female gaze on modern heterosexual dating. A broad fantasy, the show fulfills a need: to see straight men embarrassing themselves. In one scene the suitors have to beg Remy for her attention as they perform memorized dance moves. NBC only released the first episode of the show to reviewers ahead of the premiere, but that one episode is possibly the most fun I have ever had watching reality TV.
The Courtship directly riffs on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette—contestants demand to know whether others are “there for the right reasons,” they’re obsessed with stealing Remy away for “one-on-one time,” and they get sent home in tears. The Bachelor franchises have an uncanny, sticky feeling; they’re shows about finding “something real,” but they tend to feel fake. Adding ball gowns, breaches, and made-up etiquette improves things immensely. As does adding the heroine’s parents, best friend, and sister, who watch Remy date from the sidelines, providing gossipy, loving, commentary. (“I want to like him, I wish he was a little bit less of a personality,” says Remy’s best friend, channeling the spirit of Elizabeth Bennet.)
And it’s deeply gratifying to see a Black woman be a protagonist in a story that–both historically and in modern fantasy versions—excluded and degraded women of color. Remy is the perfect heroine in every sense: accomplished and lovely and funny and kind and occasionally moved to sing her feelings. On night one, Remy performs a choreographed partnered dance with the bottom three men, taking the opportunity to whisper constructive feedback to each of them. “I appreciate humor,” she instructs a stunned doctor, twirling in his arms, “but sometimes it’s gimmicky.” At the ball, in another suitor’s embrace, she murmurs, “Obviously I’m attracted to you. I just feel like I need you to show me a little bit more flirtatiousness.” He looks nearly speechless. “I can do that,” he mumbles.
“Anything that points new audiences towards Austen is potentially a good thing, in my view,” says Wells. Amen to that. When modern malaise calls and even a blessed hour away from Zoom won’t do, consider The Courtship when it premieres this Sunday, March 6 on NBC.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.