Wednesday, September 14, 2011

PoP FeaturE - ThE gAy-LisT NeW YorK

 The gAy– List New York 

Deep in the heart of TV land, some wise soul decided that what was missing from our viewing landscape was yet another pointless reality program that showcased the lives of the rich and eternally vacuous, so the rest of us would have people to envy and emulate. Of course, we have seen this played out formula before on the mega franchise Real Housewives of….fill in the blank, and there have already been reinventions of those shows like Basketball Wives, so why bother with another incarnation? Well the twist this time around would be to take the ladies and replace them with gay men. An interesting concept…in theory.

Well along came The A-List New York which sparked debate within the gay community before a single episode had even aired, based solely on the promos that Logo premiered during breaks of the popular RuPaul’s Drag Race. Many of us were hoping for a show that would have a semi-accurate depiction of gay culture that would help promote the issue of equality, while others only wanted eye candy or some fun drama. The reality lies somewhere else.

Season one of the show which was originally titled Kept, and is a far more accurate description arrived  on the scene and immediately divided potential viewers who either loved it, hated it, refused to even watch it, or did so secretly and then bitched about it in public. No matter for the producers, apparently, because season two is past the midway point and LOGO says it is their second most popular show. That, in itself, is not saying much since there is little to watch on the network beyond Drag Race.  But is this merely entertainment, partially scripted to fan the drama, or are we actually watching a slice of reality in the lives of these fame seekers? And what, if anything, is wrong with the show?

An example of what is wrong with The A-List, revolves around the cast, who stretch the limits of the definition of being an A-Lister to the brink of plausibility. The only two who are even known in any circle beyond what was created after the first season aired, are Mike Ruiz and Reichen Lehmkuhl.  Fans of Drag Race will recognize Mike as the hunky photographer who appeared in a number of episodes, but pop art aficionados would know his celebrity portraits, as well as his early work as a model and actor in the film Latin Boys Go To Hell.

Reichen is a former Air Force man who won The Amazing Race with his lover of the moment and gained later fame as the boyfriend of Lance Bass from NSYNC around the time of his less than surprising coming out. He as also appeared in Dante’s Cove, another guilty pleasure that was high on sex and low on quality or good acting. In addition to his “acting career”, he has a calendar, a jewelry line and a fragrance debuting later this month. In other words, he has made a name for himself by being attractive (to a certain segment of the gay population), well built, and for dating someone famous. Oh, and he wrote a book too, though as a former book store manager, I can tell you, I’ve never seen it, let alone sold one. Must be one of those online only deals. His biggest claim to fame now would have to be the nude photos that appeared online of him masturbating in a chat session that someone taped and released.  The verdict on full frontal Reichen…less than impressive. His fragrance bottle is bigger.

Well, we can’t talk about Reichen without mentioning Rodiney Santiago, who was his boyfriend throughout the first season. This Brazilian beauty is a model that is joined at Reichen’s hip and has come with him to New York to pursue his own career, which stalled in Miami. The other guys in the cast, who I will get to shortly, spent much of season one complaining about the complicated relationship between these two lovers and saying that Rodiney needed to get a job and stop living off of Reichen. More on that later.

Derek Lloyd Saathoff did some modeling at one point but later became an agent with one client of note. At least, that was the case in the first season. Now he has started his own spray tan line called TANSXL (pronounced Tansexual), which is a cleaver name for a pointless product. There is no denying that Derek is a beautiful guy, but his gold digging ways are so prominently displayed on the show that I would be shocked if 
he could actually hook anyone.

They hated each other through most of the first season, but by the end of it and the beginning of season two, Derek was best friends with another cast member, Austin Armacost, who is a former boy toy of designer Marc Jacobs. Austin is also a model, or claimed to be, but with his look and physique, it is safe to assume that the majority of modeling he’s done involved little to no clothing in the private bedrooms of wealthy men. He is also the troublemaker on the show, with an obvious crush on Reichen, despite the fact that he is married to the far more appealing Jake, and a serious alcohol dependency. This season, his ambition revolves around being featured in Playgirl magazine, the crème de la crème for any A-Lister, and getting fluffed by a photographers assistant behind the backdrop during a test shoot.

Ryan Nickulas seems to have been included as the voice of reason and heart of the show since he lacks the looks or physiques of his co-stars and wears more make-up than most women walking down the street. He is billed as a salon owner, albeit a tiny one with only two shampoo bowls and from what we’ve seen, just as few clients. His real profession should be listed as trophy wife to a very successful African American man that we rarely see, but whose paycheck affords them a lifestyle that includes a beautiful penthouse apartment.

And then there is TJ, Ryan’s best friend and employee at the salon. That is until Ryan fired him in the current season to save their friendship. TJ is the most flamboyant of all the guys, which is quite a feat to pull off, and the one who most obviously should not be included in a show with this title.

It is obvious that LOGO is taking liberties with the definition of what it means to be A-List, as none of these guys, with the exception of Mike Ruiz, would ever be included in any exclusive, high society function. The search for real A-Listers came up short as most would probably not be interested in doing a reality show, so the producers settled for this bunch of self absorbed wanna-bes for sheer entertainment value. And that would be fine if the bulk of them were not so thoroughly unlikable. At a time when organizations are pushing for equality and trying to show the world that gay people are just like any other group, this show promotes nothing but the negative gay stereotypes we have been fighting to remove.

Every week we are treated to another episode that features such self-indulgent behavior as shopping, pedicures, facials, Botox injections, club events, backstabbing and deceit. The laughable side is that for all the shopping they do, we never see them actually buying anything. Every restaurant or club even is practically empty, as if the budget could not afford extras, and the Botox sessions took place in a dentist’s office. That’s pretty low budget for such high living characters. It would seem these A-Listers are only able to afford D-List amenities.

As for the cattiness and backstabbing within this toxic circle of frienemies, I can only wonder who these people knew before they met each other. If Austin is Derek’s best friend after all the drama between them in the first go round, then he must have had zero friends to start with. Ryan is constantly stirring the pot or playing both sides of the fence. When he is with one cast member, he offers support, only to dip into bitch mode as soon as he is with another where he will promptly talk trash about the very person he was supporting. His oft too repeated line is “Sweety, I’m here for you if you need me.” I’d rather have a rattlesnake set loose in my apartment.

Derek, bless him, already feels he needs Botox and he’s not even out of his early twenties. He has yet to be able to keep a man, switches loyalties at the drop of a hat, is mainly supported by his family and has a fabulous Chelsea apartment filled with IKEA exclusives. Good thing he is cute or there would be nothing of interest to even mention about him.

Reichen is clearly shown as the intended heartthrob and sex symbol, but his look, demeanor, and style are so vanilla that it is hard to find him really attractive unless you gravitate towards that type. Add to that the fact that he is the weakest macho man that I’ve ever seen depicted on television, with a co-dependency issue and the inability to feel whole unless he is in a relationship, and you have got yourself the most undesirable man on the planet.

Austin is just a complete mess, period. If there are any redeeming qualities about this guy, I’ve yet to see them. Perhaps I’m not looking deep enough, but if I need professional tractors to unearth the goodness in a person then it’s not worth the effort. His drinking issues make him a sad example of gay youth, as does his judgment, his violent outbursts and the lingering elements of former prostitute that emanate from him like cheap perfume. And that was not a dig at Reichen’s new fragrance. It’s not cheap.

TJ reminds me of that guy in the clubs whose just moved to the big city and adopted the mannerisms that he sees the city queens doing, which makes him believe he is one of the cool kids. He struts around with a Berkin bag on his arm while dressed in thrift store khakis or jeans that he has cut off to look like coolots. His lack of style or big city attitude is so embarrassingly apparent that it almost makes him endearing.  Almost.

Rodiney is the real beauty of the cast and his inclusion has started to pay off for him in terms of modeling. He had a successful calendar last year with the very talented photographer, Carlos Arias, and is launching a new one this year with Mike Ruiz.  We get to see him in his underwear a great deal and this is a good thing because when it comes to sex appeal, this man has it in spades. While his accent may be thick, it’s no match for the bulge prominently displayed in his briefs, and he manages to come across as humble and relatively drama free, which is a notable accomplishment when surrounded by this cast.

Mike Ruiz is beautiful inside and out, and his humanity shines through in his scenes. His inclusion, along with his partner and father, provide real heart and soul to a superficial mix and allow those who are searching for substance something to embrace.

And then there’s Nyasha, who was added this season and created the biggest spawn of hate posts on the A-List Facebook page. It is unclear exactly why the producers chose to include a woman in the mix, and more precisely, this woman, but she has amped the drama up to ear splitting decibels, rendering an already terrible show practically unwatchable. She runs a wig and extension company, many of which we get to see on her own head in each episode which is not the best endorsement for her product. She is loud, self absorbed, obnoxious, confrontational and under the impression that her opinions are worth the time and effort it takes to sit through her scenes. At first, I actually liked her because she put the others off guard, clearly unable to handle a strong female who might be annoying but is undeniably articulate and unafraid to go head to head with any of them. My opinion changed abruptly in episode six where her antics illuminated her in a light that was harsh and unbearable. It might be safe to say that keeping her on the show could spell doom for this series.

There’s much to dislike about The A-List, but it hasn’t stopped LOGO from making another one, to be set in Dallas, and from the looks of the promos, we are sure to be treated with the same bit of nonsense that is currently airing, complete with yet another female addition. In other words, same crap, different city. If this is what being A-List is all about, I won’t bother with the R.S.V.P.

©2011 – Sean Dibble

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