Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
Much like Caitlyn Jenner’s coming-out education in “I Am Cait,” “The Bachelor” alum Colton Underwood approaches the process of telling the world who he is almost like an anthropologist in the six-part Netflix docuseries “Coming Out Colton.” It’s a carefully constructed showcase for someone who, like Jenner and her extended family, appears accustomed to life under the camera’s watchful eye.
The series notably follows Underwood during the run-up to the “Good Morning America” interview in which he revealed that he’s gay, documenting a period in which he frets about how his parents, siblings, former high-school football coach and others closest to him will receive the news before telling the general public.
In a classic example of reality-TV gimmickry, a few of those exchanges unfold after Underwood expresses his anxiety about the conservation, then end on cliffhangers, such as they are, leading into the next episode.
Still, sharing his truth with family is just part of the show, and as with “I Am Cait,” the producers turn Underwood’s experience into a bit of a primer on LGBTQ history, arranging on-camera meetings with other football players who have come out — in most instances after their playing days — and using Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy as Underwood’s guide into the gay community, including a visit to the historic Stonewall Inn as part of his personal research project.
As Underwood notes, his existence has been a mass of perceived contradictions that prompted him to keep who he is secret. Concerns about how others would react informed his decision to go on “The Bachelor,” and his roles as a football player (“my second family,” he says) and devout Christian further complicated coming to terms with his true self.
The main problem with “Coming Out Colton” is that practically everyone else peripherally featured in the show — including Kenworthy and Michael Sam, who came out before the NFL draft in 2014 — has a story that’s at least as interesting, and often more thoughtfully articulated, than the program’s ostensible protagonist.
Underwood, now 29, provides an obvious service in using his profile to highlight these issues, addressing thoughts of suicide and the need to find help as well as homophobia he witnessed in football locker rooms, which contributed to his decision to remain closeted. Yet the program also falls victim to the quirks of reality TV, from the awkwardness of conducting discussions in front of cameras to the conspicuously produced efforts to build tension around these situations.
On the plus side, if Underwood’s story helps one kid wrestling with similar doubts and apprehensions there’s clearly a benefit to that. And a few genuinely touching moments emerge, including Underwood’s interactions with his father, Scott, as a source of love and support. (Among other things, dad has the good sense to advise him to stop looking at Twitter.)
“Coming Out Colton” makes the point that Underwood’s story couldn’t be fully done justice in one morning-show interview. Nevertheless, as is frequently true in this genre, expanding that into a six-episode series feels like a bit of a stretch.
“Coming Out Colton” premieres Dec. 3 on Netflix.
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