It’s been a long crusade but we’ve long last arrived. Finally, gay love has reached the ultimate equalizer: a dating series that is boring as hell.
When Logo announced Finding Prince Charming, reduced in shorthand to “The Gay Bachelor” by cynics like myself, it was met with perfectly coiffed raised eyebrows.
The Problematic Police sounded their wee-oo, wee-oo think-piece alarms. Why are we forcing the heteronormative, possibly outdated notion of one true, monogamous love on the gay community?
One upside to being ignored by the dating show craze has been escaping the saccharine fairy-tale narrative, after all—a big deal considering how so much work has been done in recent years to diversify the portrayal of gay romance on TV, so that it isn’t merely the Mitch and Cam happily-ever-after neutered tradition that makes gay life more palatable to conservatives.
Straights have gotten to be messy and complicated for years. Shouldn’t gay love get to be, too?
Is Finding Prince Charming harming that?
No. Well, maybe yes.
The answer is it doesn’t matter, really, because Finding Prince Charming is so lifeless that it’s impossible to imagine any broad cultural aftershocks from its existence. It’s less a pop-culture earthquake than it is the gravest disaster that could befall a piece of entertainment in 2016: It is bad reality TV.
Still, as aggressively groomed host Lance Bass rightfully acknowledges early in the episode, “This is a game-changer. It’s 2016 and there has not been an all-gay dating show.”
This is, for better or worse, a watershed moment. It’s a big pop-culture milestone when it comes to normalizing the gay experience.
It doesn’t happen in Thursday night’s first episode—nothing really does—but the season trailer shows men making out with men. A lot! On a dating show! That’s still a really big deal. Frankly we wish there was more of it. If nothing else, we should at least be getting a boner out of watching this TV show.
In the push for diversity in TV, the idea of a gay suitor on the actual Bachelor series has always seemed a provocative one. This is basically a version of that, and as such is wish fulfillment for some, and a lightning rod to others. Yet we met it the same way we meet all Big Gay TV Shows: with immediate snark, dismissive cynicism, and intense scrutiny for—dear god I can’t believe I’m about to use this word—“wokeness.”
Me? I retired my Problematic Police badge, at least temporarily, when the show was announced. As we learned with Looking and just about every TV series featuring gay characters, no show can be representative of every gay experience.
Rather than saddle the show with the responsibility of being everything for everyone, I thought I’d just watch the show for what it is—some hotties looking for gay love—and have a little fun. Relish in the camp. Maybe hatewatch a little. (But actually love it.)
Finding Prince Charming fails at even that. It’s not even bad enough to hatewatch. It’s worse than bad. It’s a snooze.
The fatal flaw lies in the suitor, Prince Charmless himself, Robert Sepúlveda Jr. For the love of Lance Bass’s tan is this guy a drag.
We are introduced to Robert as B-roll of him walking around the beach plays in montage. That’s fine with me! Sexually exploit the hell out of this guy, sure. Shirtless shots, wet and shirtless shots, pensive and shirtless shots: This is what we came for. Then he starts speaking, and his personality is its own cold shower.
“I’m looking for that white picket fence dream,” he says. Cool. That is the conceit of this show, and if we’re going to buy into it for 300 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, we’re happy to buy into it here.
But it’s the sheer lack of charisma that makes us weary. We’re ready to go on a journey for love. With him, we’re just not sure if we’re going to be able to stay awake for it.
Then the guys arrive.
The cheeky thing about a gay bachelor is that everyone is of the same gender and sexual orientation, living in a house together with boundless booze. As Funny or Die, enlisting George Takei and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, hilariously mocked all the way back in 2013, there’s the very real possibility that the contestants would start falling in love with—or at least start hooking up with—each other instead of the suitor.
Would that make the show a failure? On the contrary, that should make the show all the more entertaining.
Bass acknowledges this possibility from the start, suggesting that Robert disguise himself as one of the contestants before unveiling himself as Prince Charming, in order to get a better idea about their intentions.
It’s a clever twist, taking advantage of the fact that the suitor and the contestants are the same gender to do something that a dating show has never done before. But boy does the cleverness wear thin fast.
Robert just keeps sweating—literally sweating—about the fact that he’s lying to these men, when the bedrock of a relationship he hopes to have with one of them is based on strong family values. He mingles with all the contestants. A few are interesting. All think they are profound.
In the episode’s most laughable segment, Lance Bass introduces a game called Tell Me About Your Hashtag Self, in which the men all have to describe themselves in a hashtag. Lance’s is #IfICanFindLoveYouCanDefinitelyFindLoveAlright. That is not a good hashtag.
We hear from flamboyant Robby, the larger than life beauty expert who is poised to be the breakout personality from the show, if not the most annoying goddamn thing about it. Earlier, Robby had made a whirlwind entrance by monologue: “Party starting, bitches! I joke! I kid! How lucky am I? Oh darling, can you stand it?” His hashtag was #LanceDontMakeMeDance. He’s just kidding! It’s #WhyBeA9WhenYouCanBeA10.
Paul is #perfectionist. Sam is #hopefulromantic. Nick is #imlivingforlovebuthaventfoundityet. Eric, Hot Eric With the Amazing Smile (I love Eric) is #bemyself. Meh. Chad is #flexible. Saucy. “What I meant is that I’m mentally flexible,” he clarifies, blushing. Sure, Chad.
Throughout all of this Robert is insufferably anxious about revealing that he’s been undercover. “I’m super nervous because I know that my hashtag is coming up,” he says with such seriousness and sincerity that you actually think he doesn’t realize it’s the most ridiculous sentence ever said on TV.
Following Robert’s anticlimactic reveal, we’re left with a scene in which Sam questions whether Robert is putting on a personality.
There are not-so subtle digs about Robby’s femininity. Everyone’s tsk-tsk-ing them for fighting on the first night, calling them petty. “This whole night went from 0 to 100 really quick,” Sam says. Dear lord I promise you it did not. More like 0 to 25 at a responsible rate of acceleration in a school zone.
Now, I know I said I retired my Problematic Police badge. But I would be remiss to not acknowledge how choosing to air this fight, the episode’s only truly dramatic altercation, sets up a femme vs. masc shaming battle that is a real and complicated issue in the gay community. Dealt with in a nuanced way, it could be interesting in the context of this show. Handled so flippantly here, it merely perpetuates internalized homophobia.
The next day, during a mixer at the pool, things liven up a little. Mostly because we’re treated to some abs. The conversations? Perhaps even more wooden than before. Pressed by Lance Bass to name who looked best in a swimsuit, in other words begged to show a personality, the milquetoast man of our dreams refused to give an answer. (It was Eric. *Swoon.*)
The rest of the show was as laborious as Finding Prince Charming’s version of “the rose”: putting a black tie on each of the contestants invited back for another week.
Before its premiere, the show has already been marred by negative press for its decision to erase Robert’s past as a sex worker, particularly during the press tour. The network instead preferred to keep Robert on message—to “unify the community”—and highlight his work for the ambiguous nonprofit Atlanta Rainbow Crosswalks.
At best, this is a missed opportunity to have a necessary conversation about sex work in the community and the effect it can have in the long term, especially as a person, like Robert, is striving for that picket fence. At worst, the decision to keep it secret stigmatizes sex work and betrays a TV show’s potential audience.
In a deleted Facebook post, Robert railed against those who attacked him for keeping his past secret. In a more measured interview Thursday with Access Hollywood, he clarified how he ended up as an escort and talked about how he felt violated by a sex tape he made with an ex being leaked.
The conversation, maybe now, is starting. The way so many conversations should be getting started because of a show like this. Reality TV is great at igniting cultural debate, and always has been, whether we’re talking about The Real World confronting how we deal with sexual orientation and race or The Real Housewives bringing everything from empowerment to depression to aging to eating disorders to light.
For all the courage of finally producing a gay dating show, Finding Prince Charming, at least on our first impression, doesn’t have the courage to go deep on any of a host of issues it could be introducing. Heck, it doesn’t even have the courage to be entertaining.
That’s a feat in and of itself. Because, really, how do you put a dozen gay men in a house together and make it boring?