Colton Underwood, a former NFL practice squad player, became a reality television personality in 2018. He was a contestant on the 14th season of “The Bachelorette” and was eliminated in week 8. Colton was then cast in season 5 of “Bachelor in Paradise” but he left the show in the fourth week. Then in September 2018, Colton starred in the 23rd season of “The Bachelor” as the star. During the show he met Cassie Randolph and they began a relationship in November that year. It continued until May 2020.
This is about when things started spinning out of control for Colton. Randolph filed for a restraining order against Colton in September 2020 for stalking, sending harassing text messages and installing a tracking device on her car.
Netflix announced on April 14, 2021, that it was in production for a limited series entitled “Coming Out Colton.” This announcement was made on the same day that Colton came out as gay during an interview with Robin Roberts on ABC’s Good Morning America. The documentary series was timed to cover these moments in Colton’s life so it must have been in the planning stages for a while. The six-part series began streaming on December 3.
The Bachelor/Bachelorette television franchise is not one of my favorites, though I did watch the first season of each. I am not a football fan, so I was not aware of Underwood’s brief career either, or his legal troubles following his stint on The Bachelor. In April I was staying with family who gave up television for online streaming channels a couple of years ago, so I didn’t hear the news of Colton’s coming out. Yet I did pay attention when I was asked by a publicist to watch “Coming Out Colton” for a review because it is the story of a man who would reveal his true humanity to the world.
The best things first. This is a highly scripted (it says unscripted but seriously? Someone wrote it, mapped it out and directed it) and tightly choreographed documentary dressed up like a reality series. “Coming Out Colton” begins when Colton, who was raised Catholic, tells his divorced parents Donna and Scott one by one that he is gay, and that he has known he was different since he was very young. It does not seem the parents know what Colton is going to tell them. But they realize they are on camera, so their responses are self-aware and controlled yet positive. Neither parent is expecting this news and it is to their credit that they promise their love for their son no matter what.
If this parental promise of love for their gay son is the only message viewers get from the series, it is enough. As Pope Francis told parents of LGBT children on September 16, 2020, “God loves your children as they are” and “the church loves your children as they are because they are children of God.” . In 2018, Pope Francis advised parents in Ireland “Don’t condemn. Dialogue. Understand, give the child space so he or she can express themselves.” While I don’t know if Donna and Scott were aware of Pope Francis words, they live his advice.
Colton visits a former high school football coach and shares with him how the coach’s locker room macho language made Colton feel; it was a moment of truth and must have taken much courage for Colton. What mentors say matters. I think what this segment is saying is that coaches making fun of gay people doesn’t make teen boys on the football team more masculine or manly; kindness and respect toward his neighbor, without distinction, makes a man more masculine.
From then on, the series addresses why Colton fell apart after breaking up with Cassie and knows he cannot justify what he did to her and her family. He does say, however, that he knew if he broke up with Cassie, he would have to admit to himself the truth of his own sexuality and was reluctant to do so. One can only imagine the inner conflict he was living through – the tension between expectations of this handsome young man by football culture and disposability of media stardom. The series helps us, the viewers, understand why he did what he did regarding his former girlfriend, but, of course, does not excuse it. He takes a beating from social media about his treatment of Cassie and his friends are very direct in their criticism of his behavior, too.
He seems monotonic throughout the series and so his apologies or admittance of regret to Cassie and her family seem superficial, though sincere. Be that as it may, he knows he must own his past in order to move forward. Going public about his behavior to Cassie may be a way of making restitution though Cassie does not appear in the series so we don’t know. There is such an emphasis on this time in Colton’s life, that it often felt like it was more about his well-being than Cassie’s.
As he begins to accept his reality, he visits the famous Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village with some new friends, where gay and lesbian patrons frequent and where spontaneous demonstrations and riots against harassment by New York City police took place in 1969. The current owner tells Colton that he must learn this history of the gay community of which he is a part so harassment and persecution will not be repeated.
How he moves forward in the series, however, in uneven in my perspective. A gay friend introduces him to the world of gay sex toys by visiting a store that caters to gay clientele. I wish they had left out that part.
One of the most meaningful episodes comes at the end. Colton realizes he needs spiritual counseling. He learns he won’t find it in the Catholic Church (at least not the kind of support he is looking for),and meets with Reverend Nicole Garcia, who is a transgender Lutheran pastor. She is very strong, direct and truthful in her advice to him in Episode 6: “The best thing you can do is work on you and face up to what you’ve done before you get into your next relationship… before you go in and f*** up somebody else’s life, take responsibility for what you’ve done and then work on not doing it again. Who are you called to be? What’s in your heart?”
Even if this encounter was a “set up” what Rev. Garcia has to say is relevant.
Colton Underwood is the first man to come out as gay after being on “The Bachelor.” He chose to tell his story via Netflix and came out to the world on network news. It is not clear if all this exposure has been a good idea for Colton in the long run, even if he was paid a nice amount for the series. Sometimes TMI (too much information) can work against anyone who goes as public to this degree. Him being a rich white man seems to exude privilege though he appears to be a nice, quiet guy who messed up badly on his way to embracing his truth. On the other hand, Colton’s honesty about his sexuality and the mistakes he made in the process of owning who he is, may help others know, love and accept themselves for who they are so they can have the freedom to be at peace – as their family members, friends, and colleagues can be as well.
The world must be a place where suicide is not an option for L.G.B.T. people, where parents do not kick their children out of the house but love them. My take away from the series is to work to create a world where all can live in harmony built on respect regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or social status.
If we can learn this hopeful message from “Coming Out Colton” then this is a very good thing indeed.