In reality TV, a few things are always required: hot girls, preferably wearing bikinis; emotional drama that viewers can roll their eyes at in order to feel superior; and competition. Curl Girls, the new six-episode reality series about a group of lesbian and bisexual surfers from Logo, AfterEllen.com's parent company, seems to fit the bill — in theory.
Unfortunately, despite slick, MTV-style production (or perhaps because of it), Curl Girls falls short. The six cast members are either forgettable or annoying, the drama can be so high-strung that it becomes tedious rather than juicy, and the competition — a surfing fundraiser — is too staged for this group of mellow surfer chicks.
The series is based on a one-hour documentary of the same name that aired on Logo in 2005. Only Erin, a 29-year-old attorney, and Vanessa, a 33-year-old clothing designer, have returned for the series. Erin is so low-key and rational that she quickly disappears into the background. Vanessa, a gangling tomboy prone to wearing knee-high athletic tube socks, tries to shock people by running around topless.
They are joined by 33-year-old art director Michele, who declares, "I'm a soul surfer and I surf to leave the world behind," thereby quickly establishing herself as the spiritual center of the show. Melissa, a 29-year-old sales manager with a shock of platinum hair who drives an immense pickup truck, is in a troubled, highly dramatic relationship with 23-year-old Jessica, an executive human resources coordinator who describes herself as a "badass."
Rounding out the group is 25-year-old beginning surfer Gingi, who says, "If I could get paid for flirting, I'd be a rich woman." Gingi, who brings a bit of sultry swagger along with an intricately tattooed back, is clearly supposed to be the hottie of the group, and she mostly succeeds. She is, in fact, the most interesting character of the bunch, who are generally attractive, fit women. (And thankfully, none of them have the plastic bodies of many female reality show characters.)
Because both Gingi and Vanessa are fashion designers, the two are immediately positioned for a potential romantic connection. That connection fizzles out as soon as Vanessa discovers that Gingi is bisexual.
"I'm not gonna hate ya, but I'm not gonna date ya, you know?" Vanessa says flippantly to Gingi, who appears honestly discomfited at being presented with biphobia on a reality series produced by an LGBT cable channel. That moment may be one of the least staged in the series' first two episodes.
The other romantic connection that the series focuses on is the on-again, off-again relationship between Melissa and Jessica, who have been dating for about nine months. But though Melissa wants a committed relationship, Jessica does not, and she expressed her reluctance to settle down by kissing another woman and then lying about it.
Much of the first two episodes concern Melissa and Jessica's relationship woes, and even the other cast members seem to rapidly tire of their processing — particularly Jessica's self-absorbed theorizing. "Yada yada yada, drama drama drama," says Vanessa sarcastically in a confessional interview. Given that each episode is only 22 minutes long (without commercials), the fact that this viewer also found it tiresome doesn't bode well for the rest of the series.
In order to create another source of dramatic tension, the six women divide into two teams — led by Erin and Michele, who are the only ones who have much experience in surfing — to compete against each other. The competition is obviously staged in order to drive the show forward, something that isn't unexpected in a reality series, but could have been done much more subtly.
A competition would logically seem to be a good idea, allowing the women to act out their personal issues in the context of a sport — not to mention provide even more opportunities for them to wear bikinis — but after viewing the first two episodes, it's not clear if it's going to work. The six women repeatedly declare that they're highly competitive, but they seem quite casual about their surfing expertise and appear to lack the motivation to improve.
Being staged isn't necessarily a problem on reality TV, but even manufactured drama won't work if the players won't play.
Ultimately, that is the real problem with Curl Girls. The fact that it is the first reality series with an all lesbian and bisexual cast makes it a welcome addition to the summer television lineup, but that positive point doesn't make up for its stale story lines.
In 2007, after decades of reality TV, the genre needs to push itself to be interesting. That requires characters who are willing to become larger than life, not women who seem like mostly average, normal girls. Jessica's annoying self-importance doesn't make her fun to watch; it makes you change the channel.