From “Pose” to “Orange is the New Black” to “Euphoria” to “Killing Eve,” lots of queer content has graced our screens in recent years, some offering a more productive representation than others. What’s certain is that today’s queer youth have more people on the screen whose experiences mirror theirs; though unfortunately, it’s often the shows with the best representation that are the first to go, canceled by Netflix and friends (RIP “The Get Down,” “Noah’s Arc,” “Sense8” and “One Day at a Time”). “Tampa Baes” is far from the first major lesbian reality TV show (that title belongs to 2007’s “Curl Girls”), but only time will tell whether it’s here to stay.
“Tampa Baes” features 12 women in the Tampa lesbian community, but four stand out as major players, each part of an opposing team of two. Haley and Brianna are repeatedly described, and describe themselves, as the “queen bees” of the Tampa lesbian scene. Sometimes this is delivered in a tone of derision, and other times in a tone of pride. They seem to be at odds with another power couple, Summer and Marissa. The rest of the group (Cuppie, Jordan, Shiva, Nelly, Ali, Mel, Olivia and Mack) have varying degrees of allegiance to one couple or the other, with some clearly picking sides and others trying to please everyone. The show lacks any kind of structure: The camera simply follows the women from the car to the party to the bar and to brunch.
The cast repeatedly claims there’s endless drama amongst the group, which is admittedly the key factor that makes reality TV worth watching, but there’s surprisingly little. When it does happen, it’s just uncomfortable and inspires pity. Rather than shoveling more popcorn into your mouth absentmindedly, eyes glued to the screen, all you want to do is look away. Apart from the tension between the two warring power couples, the only drama of the pilot episode is Shiva lusting after Cuppie, who wants nothing to do with her but unabashedly leads her on, going so far as to say “we’re just friends” while actively kissing her. The cringe factor is dangerously high — and not in a good way.
A sneak peek of the rest of the season suggests the women will investigate how their heritage has shaped their experiences and tell all about coming to terms with their sexuality and coming out, so there is some promise for the show’s future. However, the limited diversity of the cast is disappointing; it appears to be a predominantly white group. Moreover, the cast contains little variation in body type.
So far, “Tampa Baes” begs the question: Do we really need more white, skinny, feuding party girls as LGBTQIA+ representation? The queer community is certainly more diverse than “Tampa Baes” allows viewers to see. Maybe all that time and money funneled into “Tampa Baes” would be better spent creating television that highlights many different kinds of bodies, personalities and interests, culminating in representation that all members of the community can actually be proud of and enjoy.
Daily Arts Writer Emmy Snyder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.