MTV launched a reality show set in WeHo. Even WeHo was not impressed
Last Friday, as Trunks in West Hollywood hosted its weekly “RuPaul’s Drag Race” viewing party, laughter, chatter and excitement filled the air — just as it must have at bars up and down Santa Monica Boulevard as the reality competition’s drag performers revealed their outfits for their latest challenge: making clothing out of furniture.
But the ebullience quickly drained away when “Drag Race” ended and an episode of a much newer series began. One person even got up from his seat and yelled “cut it off!” before the bar finally switched over to music videos. To an outside observer, the negative reception might have been all the more surprising because “Drag Race’s” unpopular lead-out show is set in the same neighborhood as Trunks.
But the bar patrons are not alone. Since it premiered in January, social media has largely delivered a similar message to “The Real Friends of WeHo”: Sashay away.
The MTV reality series, pitched as the LGBTQ answer to Bravo’s successful “Housewives” franchise — a teaser for the show says, “If you like the wives, don’t miss these house guys” — has spawned a Snatch Game’s worth of digs and derision. A video that has gone viral on social media among “Drag Race” fans shows bar patrons booing the new show. Daily Beast critic Coleman Spilde called it “a colossal gay nightmare.”
“Drag Race” was shortened from 90 minutes to an hour, and its spinoff series, “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked,” featuring the show’s dramatic backstage moments, now airs after “Real Friends,” rather than immediately after its flagship. An online petition with more than 33,000 signatures is calling for “Drag Race” to be restored, and the new show to stop airing.
Then there are the ratings: The show premiered with 186,000 live total viewers, while “Drag Race” attracted 578,000 viewers the same night, according to Nielsen. That made “Drag Race” the sixth most-watched cable show of the night, while “Real Friends” ranked at 69.
Featuring “some of Hollywood’s most influential and successful LGBTQ celebrities’’ as they perform, make business deals and experience life milestones, as the network explained in a release, “Real Friends” stars entertainer Todrick Hall, stylist Brad Goreski, actor Curtis Hamilton, skincare brand chief executive Dorión Renaud, TV host Jaymes Vaughan and digital entrepreneur Joey Zauzig.
So why the backlash? For one, would-be viewers told The Times that “Real Friends” doesn’t feel real enough. Culture writer Justin Kirkland says the new show “drips with opportunity,” with producers attempting to capitalize on LGBTQ audiences.
“This feels much like, ‘We’re going to use the ‘Housewives’ template, and we’re going to throw gay people in and they’ll love that,’” Kirkland says. “And I think that queer people were able to see quickly what that strategy was. It feels a bit reductive and insulting.”
Carlos J. Harris of Los Angeles says many “Drag Race” fans saw the show as a missed opportunity to show more diverse, underrepresented members of the LGBTQ community.
“Even with [multiple] Black castmates, it still felt that we’re still centering white and gay men,” Harris says. “Honestly, if you want to do a show, why not include trans folks? Why not include nonbinary?”
Cast member Hall may not have helped matters with his response to the criticism. On social media, he addressed the diversity issue by claiming there isn’t a “large pool of gay celebs to begin with.” He argued that the anger was misdirected, saying “instead of taking it up with the programming people who made these timing decisions, they’re attacking us as if WE had something to do with it.” He also said, “Fun fact: The average annual earnings for gay men in the U.S. is $59,618 compared to $57,032 for straight men. We are successful, we work hard, and we deserve to see ourselves thriving on TV.” (MTV declined to comment.)
The torrent of hate “Real Friends” has received exemplifies the trickiness of producing LGBTQ stories in entertainment. The Oscar-nominated film “The Whale” and biopics for Freddie Mercury and Elton John were criticized for failing to cast real LGBTQ people. Yet, productions including “Real Friends” and the 2022 Billy Eichner film “Bros” did just that and arguably received a heavier pillorying than all three of those previous works.
Scholar Anthony Christian Ocampo talks about drawing on his earlier years as a queer Filipino from Eagle Rock for his book ‘Brown and Gay in LA.’
Kevin Terrell of Los Angeles says the dearth of movies and television shows featuring LGBTQ characters means that productions are under a microscope.
“Because we’re in a marginalized community, all of our representation is under more scrutiny,” Terrell says. “Straight people can put on a show about whatever, and it doesn’t represent all straight people. But when there’s a queer show, because there’s so few, we feel as though that’s one of the only things that we have.” But Terrell admits that preventing LGBTQ creators from featuring certain segments of the community is also wrong, calling it a “form of oppression.”
For those who live in L.A., the show has another problem: being associated with an area that many believe fails to welcome all members of the LGBTQ community. “Anyone familiar with that part of Los Angeles knows the prototype of WeHo, which is a cis[gender], queer, white, thin male,” Harris says.
Terrell says he no longer goes to the neighborhood because he doesn’t feel he fits in, and it is for this reason that he sees a potential unintended consequence of the new show.
“When I went to WeHo, I felt like I was the only person there who looked like me for blocks. How is it that we’re so segregated as a community? [The show is] kind of like putting it in our faces in a way,” Terrell says. “Maybe that’s a good thing.”
But for many prospective viewers — and “Drag Race” fans — the main problem with the new show is its time slot: When it comes to RuPaul’s Emmy-winning queens, don’t fix what isn’t broken.
As Augusto Lopez, 22, of Salt Lake City put it: “Y’all could put this at any time slot. Like, why is it that one? I don’t understand.”
‘The Real Friends of WeHo ’
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)
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