Friday, November 12, 2021

My Weekend Crush

It almost pains me to say this, because reality television has all too often been an cynical cesspool of toxic stereotypes and lazy tropes, but I kinda sorta actually liked “Tampa Baes.” And by “liked” I mean, is maddeningly watchable. The new Amazon Prime Video documentary series about a group of lesbian friends who live and party in the Tampa Bay area is everything I should hate about reality television. Handpicked pretty people, manufactured drama, sensationalized in-fighting, endless partying. Mix, take a shot, flip a table, repeat.

But somewhere along the way the show figured out that the interior lives of these young queer women was just as interesting – if not a lot more interesting – than all their exterior fighting, fucking, crying, drinking et al. Granted, the first couple episodes are heavy on the flashy, trashy stuff. But if you stick it out, you’re rewarded at times with unexpected warmth and depth.

“Tampa Baes” works best when instead of dwelling on the inevitable bar fights of pontoon boat fights or Pride float fights, it lets the queer women simply talk about their lives. One woman grew up in a conservative Christian household and still struggles with her alienation from the church while creating a new sense of spirituality for herself. Another women has yet to come out to her grandparents, and allows cameras to follow her process in a raw way that will feel universal to many, many LGBTQ+ folks. While some of these frank moments barely break the surface, the earnestness with which these queer women recognize and share their own issues (be they with mental health or unaccepting families or struggles with finances) is commendable. That is the stuff I care about, not who is the self-proclaimed It Couple of Tampa. If only more reality TV realized that.

The show works best in those moments, when the superficial drama of the moment gives way to these underlying issues or long-festering traumas. The more we learn, the less each women remains a cardboard cut-out of whatever archetypal persona we thought we knew – the fuckboi, the party girl, the drama queen, the disaster artist. I was surprised by how some of these conversations actually felt organic, instead of the Very Special Episode-y.

Granted, it’s not all introspective or existential. The show is, as mentioned, packed with pretty people. All the same complaints about the original “The L Word” could be copy and pasted onto “Tampa Baes.” A mostly white or light-skinned cast. A mostly thin and largely feminine-presenting cast. BIPOC cast members are too often peripheral. And, again, we are treated to too many dumb, drunken fights and annoying, superficial “It Couple” posturing.

Drinks get thrown. Trash gets talked. Stupid shit happens. Characters get the Villain Edit and the Hero Edit and the usual other manipulations of so-called “reality” television. But that’s only to be expected. What I didn’t expect is that they’d be able to, at times, break through reality TV’s worst impulses and let the shared messiness of figuring out our queer lives shine through instead. Bottom line, for still sometimes for worse but luckiy also sometimes for better this show is just damn watchable. So happy watching and weekend, all.


Carmen San Diego said...

Gonna watch it this weekend

FemWitchFromOz said...
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FemWitchFromOz said...
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FemWitchFromOz said...

The last reality show I watched was The Real L Word…is this better, worse, a different beast…?!