Earlier this year, Ben Higgins asked Lauren Bushnell to marry him on the Season 20 finale of The Bachelor. It has been a wild ride since their engagement was announced in March, with Bachelor runner-up JoJo Fletcher -- who infamously also received an "I love you" from Ben -- going on The Bachelorette and getting engaged to Jordan Rodgers and the announcement that Ben and Lauren would be getting their own show on Freeform called Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After, which premiered on Oct. 11.
Ben & Lauren was announced in June, and somewhere between then and the release of its first promo it tacked on a question mark to its title -- it's now called Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After?, indicating that all was not well in the Bushnell-Higgins home.
The premiere shows that while Ben's declaration of love for JoJo has had a lasting impact on the relationship and has been a difficult thing to get through in the early stages, especially for Lauren, the added question mark is probably just typical Bachelor franchise overdramatization. Everything is always "the most shocking finale ever" and every season promo always threatens violence, and that never turns out to be true. If Warner Bros. was a brick-and-mortar retailer, they'd be fined for bait-and-switch advertising.
What actually seems to be the case is that Ben and Lauren have a real relationship with real problems just like anyone else, only their specific problems are unique to their very particular situation. Having strangers come up to you in the supermarket and ask you invasive personal questions is not a problem most people have, but it's a natural result of Ben and Lauren's choice to live in public (though mostly Ben's -- Lauren kinda got dragged into the love triangle without her consent). So the struggles of Ben and Lauren's relationship don't feel like they're being forced for the cameras, which is a refreshing change from the manufactured drama of most Bachelor shows.
Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After? is by far the most honest show ever to come from the franchise. Ben, and Lauren especially, let down the public facade of "everything's great!" and actually talk about and show their real feelings. It was fascinating to see them at The Bachelorette's After the Final Rose live special -- when they're on-camera for ABC, they're happy, smiley, well-wishing. But Freeform's cameras tell the whole story, of how Lauren truly did not want to be there, of how Lauren was staring intently at Ben's face when JoJo came out onstage, of Ben's panicked reaction to what he perceived as Lauren's dissatisfied response to his advice for JoJo and Jordan. Lauren seems to genuinely resent JoJo, and she also seems to genuinely be trying to separate her unhealthy resentment of the person from her still-justified resentment of the situation. And you feel how tired Lauren is of talking about it. The show lets Ben and Lauren be real in a way they couldn't be on The Bachelor.
To be fair, there's still plenty of phony stuff, too. Ben and Lauren's repeated statements that they're trying to separate themselves from The Bachelor ring false when they're filming a documentary about post-Bachelor life. And some of their interactions, both with others and among themselves, felt expository -- their backstage conversation immediately before After the Final Rose in particular felt like they were reciting lines from a script.
But a handful of false moments are unavoidable in making reality TV. For the most part, Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After? is as close to warts-and-all as the franchise is going to get. It's great that it's finally happening, because adjusting to real life after getting engaged on The Bachelor is fascinating and has never been documented like this before -- that is, as it happens, by people who are sincerely trying to make it work.
Ben and Lauren are the perfect subjects to watch, because they really do love each other. I was in the room for the filming of that video at the top of this article, and I could feel it. It was the day after The Bachelor finale, and they couldn't keep their hands off of each other. Off-camera, she was cold, so he put his jacket over her. They were clearly thrilled to be together and out in the world together. Their chemistry comes through onscreen. It's sweet to see how much more comfortable with each other they've grown since The Bachelor. It's a relief to see them have normal conversations about stuff other than "I feel myself falling in love with you, and it scares me" like they constantly had to on The Bachelor.
And it turns out they're funny! It's always been clear that Ben is a goofball, but a fuller portrait of the man is starting to emerge, and he might be kind of eccentric. How else would you describe someone who turns the garage door from his childhood home into a headboard for his bed? ("Sentimental" would be one word.) And Lauren is showing a personality she didn't get to on The Bachelor, and it turns out she's a little goofy, too. She has very strong opinions about toilets, and thinks people were smaller when Ben's house was built than they are now. It's a side of her viewers haven't seen before.
The question mark of Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After? indicates that not every moment of their relationship will be happy (spoiler alert). But we're probably not going to see a breakup at the end of the show. Lauren is still posting photos like this on Instagram.
Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After? airs Tuesday nights at 8/7c on Freeform.