Logo's 'A-List: New York' is a poor excuse for a social study

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2010; E04

The men depicted on Logo's "The A-List: New York," which premieres Monday night, keep talking about how wonderful their lives are, as if saying it enough times will make it true. They inflate and then float.

This makes them ideal reality show characters, but worse, it invites Logo's gay and straight audiences to indulge in a spirited form of dissociative gay-bashing. It's a race to see who will demonstrate the most cutting rancor, and you, the viewer, are included in that vicious dash. I'd never want to sound like Pat Robertson, but we're all going to hell for this.

Three of the characters (Ryan, Derek and Mike) work mostly with celebrity and VIP clients -- cutting their hair, in Ryan's case; booking their modeling sessions, in Derek's case; and photographing their magazine spreads, in Mike's case.

"I never have to wait behind a velvet rope," Derek boasts after one of his frequent spray-tan sessions.

See, this is the sort of unctuous remark that reality TV values most. It's supposed to manipulate us into hating Derek, but for some bizarre reason, my reaction to "The A-List" frequently verges on sad pity, if not for Derek, then for the general milieu -- Manhattan, faux-reality, shallow living. In this, one of the most exciting and politically pivotal eras to be alive and gay, Derek defines himself through his passing acquaintance with Lindsay Lohan.

Another on "The A-List," Reichen Lehmkuhl, actually meets the barest requirements of celebrity. To him, the A in this list "stands for accomplishment," he says. A former Air Force captain, Reichen parlayed an "Amazing Race" win years ago into Adonis-hood, along with modeling, acting and a book-writing career focused on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal effort. (Mostly he is seen in front of corporate logo wallpaper at minor red-carpet events, especially when he dated pop singer Lance Bass for a while. The Air Force Academy is doubtless bursting with pride.)

Reichen is now dating Rodiney, a doe-eyed Brazilian model who is "The A-List's" naif. Rodiney has moved to New York to live with Reichen and is overwhelmed by the high-altitude homosexuality. Still another character, the snakey and duplicitous Austin, has returned to New York after he burned out as a model and occasional arm-candy to such men as fashion designer Marc Jacobs. He also had a fling with Reichen in Palm Springs some time ago, and immediately conspires to catch Reichen's eye again.

But first, Austin has a meeting with the agent who used to book his modeling gigs. The agent sizes him up and delivers the cold truth: "I am lookin' you dead in the face. You are gonna have to lose some weight." (The "gurrrl" at the end of that statement is implied.) Austin rushes off to meet his equally horrified trainer, who has him bouncing around Central Park on a pair of rebound shoes. "I've got too much pride to wait tables or park cars," Austin tells us. "The weight's gotta go."

Strangely cruel

Too much pride to wait tables, and not enough pride to steer clear of reality TV -- another blow to the American work ethic. Logo's producers don't mention how difficult it was to get five or six men to agree to do the show, but judging from the first episode, one imagines the network probably had to bar the doors when willing applicants overwhelmed the process. Everyone wants to be on the A-list, don't they?

In a gay world, the answer is supposed to be yes. In ways similarly pernicious to the Indian caste system, urban American gay men have long sorted themselves into an unofficially acknowledged A-list (or "A-gays"). The telltale A-gay signs are body worship (chiseled abs), real-estate and modern-decor fetishes, and frequent travel to seasonal getaways such as Miami and Palm Springs. Narcissism is a given.

Even as an exploitation device, "The A-List" is woefully late. Logo bills the show as the gay version of Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise, which is an obvious redundancy. Besides "Project Runway" and "Glee," the "Real Housewives" shows already are the gayest shows on television, dramas which are engineered and then leered over by that Cheshire A-gay himself, Andy Cohen, Bravo's vice president and talk-show host.

The message in "The A-List" is that it's too easy for gay men to get caught up in whatever status war happens to be available, and nothing is quite so withering as the dismissive sneer from an A-gay. You get all the way through the torment of being gay in small towns, high schools and churches, move to the big city, and find, as Karen Carpenter sang, we've only just begun. No one really talks about why gay men can be so strangely cruel to one another, nor do they ever talk about how gay cliques might inhibit the broader effort to win equal rights.

"The A-List" is, of course, a poor excuse for a social study. Like all reality shows, it quickly turns its attention to the Jacuzzi, and here, at least one measure of equality is achieved: Gay men turn out to be just as distasteful and empty-headed as all the straight people on reality TV.

'The Arrangement'

It's almost a relief to rinse off with the low-budget disaster that is "The Arrangement," Logo's new competition show that debuts right after "The A-List."

Yes, friends, it's about floral designers. Ten male and female floristy types (not all gay, and not all of whom think of themselves as florists in the FTD sense) are assembled in a studio -- almost furtively, dejectedly, as if they've been summoned to jury duty.

Despite their reasonable expectations that they've been brought here to arrange flowers, the contestants are immediately ordered by their robotic, quasi-celebrity host, Gigi Levangie Grazer, to pair up and arrange flowers and other sprigs and twigs with sushi (sashimi and rolls) on nude models. Then they are judged -- harshly -- by Eric Buterbaugh, floral designer to the schtars.

Hairstyling, interior decoration, cooking and even creating art have all translated to the "Project Runway"-style spinoff; but I regret to inform you that flower arranging does not.

The contestants are then divided into teams to create humanoid plant-and-flower sculptures that will appear in a shopping mall. One of the designers tries to escape, but armed guards bring her back.

Not really. That would be a better show. Instead, the contestants go through the motions of reality competition. When Russ, a probably-straight 40-year-old florist, eloquently explains his creation in his tough-guy Chicago accent, Grazer purrs: "I've never heard a man talk like that about flowers before."

"Bitch," mutters Eric, sitting next to her.

The A-List: New York

(one hour) premieres Monday at 10 p.m.

The Arrangement

(one hour) premieres Monday at 11 p.m., both on Logo.

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