There should be a conversation about “The Real Friends of WeHo,” a new reality series from MTV billed as an “unfiltered and honest look at a select group of friends living, loving, and pursuing their passions in the West Hollywood community.”
The show, which premiered on Jan. 20, drew immediate backlash mere seconds after the trailer was released online. Admittedly, I’m guilty of helping lead the pile on because based on the preview alone, it looked like a show created by people with no real attachment to the LGBTQ community. The trailer further perpetuates the myopic representation we’re used to seeing of us in mass media: white, privileged and/or elitist — with sprinkles of color. Worse, it appeared that once again, “representation” would be invoked as a means to draw viewers despite how flawed such a marketing strategy is to audiences regardless of their sexuality.
That’s partially why I take issue with comments made by choreographer, artist and “Real Friends of WeHo” co-star Todrick Hall.
“I want the queer community to have a conversation about why it is that we will praise women when they are in a similar position,” Hall said about the poor feedback. “I hope our show will break that mold and create a conversation about why there is negativity from within our own community.”
Hall did not stop there. In a lengthy Instagram post, he addressed the “insane influx of hate.”
“When our LGBTQ+ show was announced, you’d think any pushback would’ve come from the church or conservatives upset with three hours of queer programming,” Hall wrote. “But a closer look would show you that the call was coming from inside the house.
Hall is right about some of those vitriolic responses.
One review, “The Real Friends of WeHo’ Is a Colossal Gay Nightmare,” from Daily Beast editor Coleman Spilde, bluntly describes the show as “choppy and unfocused, blithely assuming that its audience has an innate interest in its whiny circle of friends who were cobbled together at the last second.” Spilde also slammed the show for being “comprised entirely of narcissists, who threaten to run the show into the ground from the very first episode and are too focused on themselves to create even one second of compelling gay drama.”
Other reviews, like “The Real Friends of Weho’ Review: A Show We Don’t Need About People We Don’t Need to See More Of” from The Wrap’s Lawrence Yee and The Decider’s Brett White — which slams the series as “a reality show train wreck that will live in infamy”— are technically kinder but ultimately no less forgivable in its savaging of the show.
I can understand how painful reviews in addition to an outpouring of online criticism must feel, but the show doesn’t exactly invite the kind of warm and fuzzy feedback Hall feels entitled to.
The show stars Hall, stylist Brad Goreski, actor Curtis Hamilton, CEO of Buttah Skincare Dorión Renaud, influencer Joey Zauzig and host Jaymes Vaughan — a group of men whose only commonality is that they all share the burden of the entertainment industry not being especially imaginative about the stories queer men can tell in their casting calls.
It’s hard not to laugh at Goreski’s proclamation in the opening moments, “We’re breaking new ground here.”
Goreski has been on TV for 15 years now, beginning with his days as Rachel Zoe’s assistant on “The Rachel Zoe Project” before going on to star in his own spinoff, “It’s a Brad Brad World,” and featured on other shows like “Fashion Police” and “Canada’s Drag Race” — making it all the more impressive he made that comment with a straight face.
That said, I enjoy Goreski and given his life now — he’s still styling celebrity clients and is married to TV writer and producer Gary Janetti — but I wish that were its own vehicle, like Netflix’s “Styling Hollywood,” a show I wish were still in production. It would make better use of Goreski’s TV talents.
I feel the same way about Hamilton and his struggle as a newly out gay Black man vying for leading roles in Hollywood. Not a new problem, but definitely one worth exploring — especially from a Black man.
I was surprised to see Issa Rae on the show, but because she worked with Hamilton on her show “Insecure,” it made sense and is a testament to her belief in him.
But even she asked him on air why he was doing the show.
It’s a question Renaud wonders to himself aloud, especially when he admittedly doesn’t hang out in West Hollywood or “the scene.”
It can be exhausting to be a gay Black man navigating predominantly white spaces, which is why so few of us enter them. It’s also why more often than not, queer-focused reality shows are largely separated by race. See Logo’s “The A List,” the YouTube series “Chasing Atlanta,” or Zeus’s “Bad Boys: Los Angeles.”
That is not to say some of us don’t intermingle, but the problem with “Real Friends of WeHo” is that you can tell the cast members aren’t actually a group of friends like we’re supposed to believe. Most of them don’t know each other.
So what we get in the first episode is six people going in six different directions eventually coming together at an event where they fight over nothing with people they just met.
That theme spills over into Episode 2 where insults fly over whether a jacket is by Saint Laurent or Zara.
The show reportedly was designed to help create a destination night by using the existing popularity of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to launch new series like “The Real Friends of WeHo.”
“I think representation is important especially right now with all of the anti LGBTQ+ bills and the protests,” Goreski said in an interview with GLAAD’s Anthony Allen Ramos. “I think it’s important to out and be telling stories.”
Representation is important, but is not a draw as evidenced by the ratings for the premiere. The bad word-of-mouth is unlikely to help them in their pursuit of an audience. After all, many people scroll by members of the alphabet gang going at each other over some bullshit on social media every day.
I’m not sure what will help this show thrive because it arguably shouldn’t exist — even if I think individually, most of the cast members are stars capable of making compelling television.
Just not like this.
At one point in the pilot, you can literally tell Renaud has real-time confirmation that he is indeed better than this show. Admittedly struggling with social anxiety spurred by the pandemic, he found himself confronted by Zauzig for not telling him he was socially anxious and not interacting much with people at his party. Renaud responds by telling him that he isn’t obligated to share anything and can leave.
He knew he was better than the position he was being put in.
To his credit, he is — and so are the majority of his cast mates. Renaud’s since given an interview with LoveBScott.com and explains that the show that premiered is not the one initially sold to him, and presumably, his castmates.
That’s a problem for them and the audience — all of whom deserve better.