Let’s state the obvious: Yes, producers had to amp up the drama when they inexplicably gave the sweet-but-very-dull couple Ben Higgins and Lauren Bushnell their own reality show. Titled “Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After?,” the Freeform series follows Ben, 28, and Lauren, 26, as they embark on life after reality TV, where millions of viewers saw them get engaged on “The Bachelor” finale in May 2015.
But while drama is the main ingredient for any reality show, it’s not always fun to watch. While you may think that extreme boredom would make watching “Happily Ever After?” a nightmare, the scariest aspect is actually the emotional manipulation on display in the show. In the first two episodes, Lauren is forced to relive over and over (and over and over) a terrible time: When she learned that before Ben proposed when he was the “Bachelor,” he told the season’s runner-up, JoJo Fletcher, that he was also in love with her.
The debacle made waves during Ben’s season because it’s considered a major “Bachelor” faux pas to say “I love you” to any contestant. After all, it theoretically gives away whom you’re going to choose: Why would you say “I love you” to someone just before you dump them on TV and propose to someone else? This nuance was apparently lost on Ben, as he told both Lauren and JoJo he loved them during the season. JoJo was heartbroken when he chose Lauren, though quickly bounced back when she was named the new “Bachelorette.”
Lauren claims the whole situation still stings; naturally, “Happily Ever After?” repeatedly rubs salt in this particular wound. During last week’s premiere, Lauren admits that watching Ben’s “Bachelor” season (and seeing how close he got with JoJo) led to arguments between them. She says she wants to move past it, given that she just moved in with Ben and is adjusting to her new life. Of course, it’s impossible to move on — because they signed on to a reality show, and producers are pulling all the strings.
“For a while there, I didn’t know if him saying ‘I love you’ was as meaningful as it should be, because he said it to someone else,” Lauren confesses. “Thinking back to that time is not very fun for me.”
With the show, she has to think about it all the time, which results in some twisted scenarios. In one scene, a “random fan” just “happens” to approach Ben and Lauren in a grocery store, and grills Lauren about JoJo. “Were you shocked watching the episode, hearing him say that?” the woman asks. Even if she voluntarily signed on for this questioning, Lauren looks about as thrilled as anyone would be to discuss the scenario with a stranger. “The roller coaster of emotions from reliving Ben being ‘The Bachelor’ has been really difficult for me, especially because at the end, he was torn,” Lauren says.
Right after Ben and Lauren assure the woman that they have not watched JoJo’s season of “The Bachelorette,” Ben’s phone rings: It’s a “Bachelor” producer! “How would you feel about doing a favor for JoJo?” the producer chirps. The producer invites Ben and Lauren to attend JoJo’s “After the Final Rose” special, the annual episode where the star and the winner are interviewed in front of a live audience. Anyway, producers would just love if Ben and Lauren would stop by and give JoJo and her new fiancé some advice.
What, like they’re going to say no? They spend most of the episode fretting about going back to the “After the Final Rose” taping. Lauren is especially concerned, particularly after they binge-watch JoJo’s season of “The Bachelorette.” “What if he’s attracted to her? Or thinks about any regret that he may have? I don’t know,” Lauren sighs.
It gets worse, as they see how frequently JoJo discussed Ben breaking her heart and how she’s a little afraid of trusting anyone again. “For someone who’s supposedly moved on, JoJo talks a lot about Ben,” Lauren says doubtfully.
Ben tries to calm Lauren down. “I never could picture my life without you. I could picture my life without JoJo,” he says.
“Did you realize that after you told her those things? Cause you would have made all of our lives a lot easier if you hadn’t said those things,” Lauren says pointedly.
Things are more painful during JoJo’s “After the Final Rose.” Ben and Lauren wind up in a brief fight backstage, as Lauren says she felt pressured by Ben to attend; Ben claims he had no idea she would be so uncomfortable. (Really?) They sit in the audience while viewers are reminded of every excruciating detail of the love triangle. Though viewers couldn’t see it at the time, now cameras reveal that Ben and Lauren were quietly bickering in the audience as well.
In the second episode on Tuesday night, this storyline continues as Ben and Lauren are forced to go to lunch with JoJo and her fiancé, Jordan Rodgers. Ben is excited to get some closure; Lauren dreads the whole thing. At first, the two couples have little to say to each other. “I understand this could be a little awkward, but I’m glad we’re doing it. To all of us moving forward,” Ben says, determined, as they all clink mimosa glasses.
Eventually, they chip away at conversation. “Were you annoyed with how much I talked about you this season?” JoJo asks Ben. “I know this season I kept referencing you so much.” She explains that it was only because she needed to compare situations, and now that she’s been forced to choose between so many potential soulmates, she understands what Ben was going through.
Soon, they slowly start bonding about the crazy experience of being on the show. At the end, Lauren admits that seeing them all together may have actually been helpful. “JoJo and Ben don’t have any chemistry there anymore, and today really helps me move forward,” Lauren confirms.
As they leave, they’re bombarded by definitely-not-planted TMZ cameramen who demand to know if lunch was awkward. Later, back at home, Lauren sighs to Ben, “So glad that’s over with.”
To viewers, it’s clear: As long as Ben and Lauren seek a paycheck for being a reality TV couple, reliving that emotionally hurtful experience will never be “over.” And no matter how they feel about each other when the cameras are off, time will tell whether that’s really worth it.