Since Logo first announced they'd be airing a gay version of The Bachelor called Finding Prince Charming this fall, there's been nothing but drama. The very idea seemed dubious, the trailer was a mess and that was all before Prince Charming himself, Robert Sepulveda Jr., got swept up in his past.
That incident, of course, was the reveal of Sepulveda's past sex work — which Logo reportedly didn't know about before casting him. Sepulveda all but refused to discuss his past, though he did allegedly lash out on Facebook in a now-deleted comment.
It's a lot of Sturm und Drang for a reality show — and after seeing the first 30 minutes of Thursday's series premiere, all the drama now seems fully not worth it. No matter how hard the show tries to package itself as historic or barrier-breaking, the truth is that Finding Prince Charming is dull, poorly produced and not deserving of anyone's time or energy.
The show's setup is simple enough: 13 suitors vie for one man's heart as he eliminates them week by week. It's the gay version of The Bachelor, not a reinvention of the wheel.
Sepulveda is a dud of a leading man. He's just not charming enough, ironically, to carry the numerous confessional sequences. Every time the show cuts to his talking head, all the momentum crashes. He's looking for a man with "family values," saying he wants the "white picket fence" ideal, and is obsessed with honesty.
To give the show some credit, it plays with the fact that both the suitors and the titular Prince Charming are all men in a pretty clever way in the premiere. The show can't even get that right, however, because the twist requires Sepulveda to keep a secret. We get almost a dozen confessionals in which he's sad about lying, but then the twist basically goes nowhere.
The suitors are a collection of pretty similar men, though Finding Prince Charming is selling the differences. The 30-minute abbreviated screener provided to press ends on a fight between two white men, Sam and Robby, about how feminine and flamboyant Robby is. The fight is infuriatingly retrograde; this is where we are in 2016? A fight about not being "masc" enough?
Creator Brian Graden is selling the fight as about exposing internalized homophobia. "I would never do anything that perpetuated stereotypes that I thought were destructive," he told the Wrap. "What happened was the honest reaction and we thought it was important to explore."
That's a noble intention, but the execution is poor. Any viewer enlightened enough to know about internalized homophobia won't be surprised by this, and the viewers who think like Sam aren't likely to be swayed.
It is shocking that this show airs on the same network as RuPaul's Drag Race, which often prominently features complex and resonant conversations about queer identity. If that show is a master's thesis on queer theory, Finding Prince Charming is a remedial high school course.
Many critics of Finding Prince Charming will chalk its failures up to it being "trashy" or "typical reality TV," but that's missing the point. Reality TV, even at its trashiest, can be incredibly compelling. Vanderpump Rules is about a bunch of waiters flirting and fighting, and it's some of the most lowbrow brilliant work on TV. The Bachelor, even at its worst, runs circles around this show from a production standpoint. Contestants are more dynamic; the story editing is sharper and more purposeful. They're not even comparable in quality, frankly.
No, Finding Prince Charming's problem is not that it's reality TV — it's that it's bad reality TV. This is an iffy premise, and it needs expert production to work. But the editing, story planning and casting all fail this show, making it something far worse than the offensive mess many assumed it would be: It's just dull, and it's not worth even a hate-watch.