When it dropped in early March, Logo's Fire Island trailer set off a veritable firestorm of drama. One side of the gay community argued the reality show, about six gay men summering in the New York queer mecca, was practically a sign of the apocalypse. The other side put on the brakes — and noted we've seen nothing but a 90-second trailer. The battle raged on until something else extra happened and gay culture vultures moved on.
Tuesday, another stone fell into the gay media river: the trailer for What Happens at the Abbey. Set at The Abbey, a mediocre restaurant masquerading as a gay club in West Hollywood, the E! series will follow the sexy waitstaff and bartenders who work there. (Listen closely and you can hear the cast of Vanderpump Rules, who work down the street at SUR, chortling.)
The trailer, which clocks in just over two minutes, promises hookups, infighting and lots of wild times. What it actually looks like is a series full of sweaty would-be actors thirsty for fame. It also makes the Fire Island trailer look a hell of a lot better in retrospect.
Let's start with the latter. Take a look:
Sure, it's not reinventing the wheel, but in 90 seconds, this trailer pretty smartly sets up the show's six characters and gives us an idea of their relationships. As soon as Patrick says "Get your jockstrap on, shut up, let's have a good time," you immediately know he's the chill-to-a-fault member of the group. Justin, meanwhile, makes an instant play for fan favorite by aiming to control the conversation during a heated dinner. He gives Yolanda Hadid on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills vibes.
It's clear from just this clip that the production team behind Fire Island is working on another level from something like, say, Finding Prince Charming. It recalls the best Real Housewives trailers in structure; say what you will about that show, the editors and producers know how to craft a story.
That said, the complaints about Fire Island were less about how it appeared to be edited and more about who was being represented. It's true: All six cast members on Fire Island appear to be attractive, physically fit, gay men, with one black member of the ensemble. If that is indeed your primary complaint, the more diverse cast of What Happens in the Abbey may suit you better. Give the trailer a watch to see:
Is your head spinning? My head is spinning.
First of all, I have no idea who's actually a cast member on this show. That one supercut of a bunch of different couples kissing (from 0:38-0:42) featured seemingly a dozen people. Are they all main crew? Why do we only get any real face-time with less than half of them?
Among the seemingly endless crowd of What Happens at the Abbey are quite a few women, including one lesbian (whose introduction to us is through her saying, "I am a lesbian") and four straight and/or bisexual people sleeping with each other in some combination. A few of them are even people of color. So by pure numbers, yes, this is a more diverse crew than Fire Island's.
But representation is more than just numbers. Mere presence of a queer woman isn't enough when her entire story as teased in this trailer is her chasing after a straight girl. "When a lesbian gets involved with a straight girl, it never ends well," one cast member muses. Groundbreaking stuff in 2017, no?
Now, reality TV doesn't need to be about good people — in fact, a large part of my love for Vanderpump Rules comes from how it allows its "characters" to be three-dimensional and flawed. But if the argument for What Happens at the Abbey over Fire Island is that the former is more inclusive, the actual nature of that inclusivity has to be examined. From this trailer, it seems this is a show about a gay bar that more prominently features straight couples than any gay couples — save one engagement announcement from two women (one of whom says she "manned up" to propose) who we don't see anywhere else in the trailer. That doesn't pass the smell test.
Quite frankly, there's no other argument to be made for What Happens at the Abbey over Fire Island. The characters seem like stock reality personalities, while the story editing seems like nothing special. Even the cinematography, never the primary strength of a reality show, looks especially gaudy.
Now, you could say that the question of these two shows isn't a matter of "which," but "neither." That's fair; not every show is for everyone. As a fan of Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules, Fire Island is up my alley in a way it may not be for someone else.
But What Happens in the Abbey's trailer should serve as a swift shut-down of any conversation that Fire Island looks poorly made. Something not being to your taste is different than it being bad. What Happens in the Abbey looks bad, on every possible level. Fire Island, on the other hand, looks well-done. Who knows: Maybe it'll steal hearts despite its imperfections. It's hard to imagine that, considering the sturm und drang created by just its trailer, but a boy can dream.