After weeks of debate in gay media and culture vulture circles, Logo's Fire Island is finally formally debuting (after a sneak peek on VH1) on Thursday. We no longer have just a 90-second trailer to argue over; in fact, three full episodes were sent to critics for review. Could this be the next brilliant reality show, learning from the lessons of the Real Housewives franchise? Or is it as vapid and uninteresting as Finding Prince Charming was?
The answer: Neither! Fire Island, which follows six gay men around, you guessed it, Fire Island, is perfectly fine, with a lot of potential. But it desperately needs to turn up the drama dial if it wants to grab attention.
The series' premiere is solid enough, introducing our six characters efficiently and setting up some season-long dynamics. There's Khasan, the Kyle Richards-esque center who knows and likes everyone. There's Jorge, who — despite not being romantically involved with Khasan — latches onto his friend at every available opportunity. There's Cheyenne, an Instagram model with strangely intermittent communication issues, and his roommate Brandon, a 21-year-old who is here to share the plight of being young, gay and hot.
Finally, we've got the stars: Justin, who understands he is on a TV show and is actively working to produce good group dynamics, and Patrick, who understands he is on a TV show and is actively working to make himself the star. Patrick is so far achieving his goal more effectively than Justin, the latter of whom spends the first three episodes vacillating between passive-aggressively digging at his housemates and aggressively digging at them.
Patrick is working on a level all these other boys wish they could fathom. He's sex-positive and a fan of both partial and total nudity. He's aware of the balance between his masculine and feminine sides, while embracing them both fully. He knows how to get screen time and can get involved with drama without ever being pegged as the one who started it.
The problem with Fire Island so far is that no one else is playing the game Patrick is. Even Justin seems to be acting more like a producer than a cast member at this point. He reminds me of Lisa Vanderpump, who has gotten so used to her role as executive producer on Vanderpump Rules that she now acts too much like one on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
I keep using Housewives and Housewives-adjacent references because that's so clearly the tone Fire Island is going for. This is not Dance Moms or Love and Hip-Hop, where what happens on the screen is a warts-and-all depiction of "reality." The fighting is all a bit more aware of the cameras. At best, this should prove compelling, with different experts of the form clashing to create the best possible TV. But that requires everyone to be on the same level.
Worse, this Housewives-esque tone brings the same traps that befall the Bravo shows. Cheyenne, for instance, immediately shies away from revealing too much (both emotionally and physically, in case of one underwear party) when he gets a boyfriend. It's reminiscent of Lala on the last season of Vanderpump Rules, who felt entitled to not reveal much about her personal life despite signing up for a reality show.
If I had to bet on anyone stepping up in a major way, it'd be Brandon; in the second and third episodes, he gets a bit messier, and it helps that he's one of literally two single men in this cast by episode two (The other is Patrick, god love him). Brandon's got an odd monotone thing going on that makes him kind of dull to watch — like he needs a Red Bull before his confessionals — but his unabashedness about revealing his hookups to the world is refreshing.
You can feel the building blocks of something really good here. This isn't Finding Prince Charming or, god forbid, The A-List. The production value is high, the casting is mostly good and the editing is pretty strong (though a third fewer mentions of the words "family" and "Fire Island" would be so appreciated). Given some time, this fire will likely rage. Right now, it's merely a flicker of hope.
Fire Island debuts Thursday at 8 p.m. The first episode sneak peek can be watched online now.
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