As a single New Yorker, I know that sometimes landing a date can feel like an extreme sport. And yet, I have never gone to such extremes as turning on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, to gawk — as even the most devoted fans do — at singles sticking their necks out farther than we at home ever would, whether for love or 15 minutes of reality fame. However, when Logo announced the arrival of Finding Prince Charming, I knew I was going to watch. Simply because as absurd as the premise of ABC’s franchise may be, “The Gay Bachelor” (as headlines have deemed it) sounded downright insane to me — for all the obvious reasons that the OG Bachelor does and more. I rolled my eyes at the title and the hetero fantasy it implies (one that’s been damaging enough for women). The “Prince Charming” packaging likely seemed necessary for TV audiences to digest (and root for) gay relationships. As Vulture writes, the show is most notable for the era it represents, “when marriage is not just a possibility for queer people, but an obligation.” But, of course, part of the fun of being LGBTQ is living outside these boxes. Exhibit A: What’s to stop the men in the house from hooking up, falling in love, or maybe even living happily ever after with each other? Here’s where modeling the show off a franchise designed for heterosexual couples breaks down. On The Bachelor, there is only one man to 26 women; on Finding Prince Charming, there’s no scarcity of men. Obviously, not all gay men are sexually compatible, but as Dan Savage points out, producers could have come up with another “supply-and-demand imbalance that isn't about gender or genitals.” Say, one older man and a group of younger contestants exclusively attracted to older men, or another such combination. From its basic framework down to the attitudes expressed by the contestants, and especially by Prince Charming himself, what we have here is a “gay” dating show constrained by straight rules. Same-sex relationships are equal — but different — from straight ones, and watching this effort to make them fit the mold is cringe-worthy, but also results in the most interesting moments on the show, which is otherwise a cookie-cutter endeavor.
The Prince himself, Robert Sepúlveda Jr., made headlines ahead of the premiere last week, when news broke of his history as an escort, and racy images and videos of the 33-year-old resurfaced online. As might be expected, he and the network attempted to distance themselves from his past, casting the new series as a sort of reform narrative. He’s ready for the “white-picket-fence dream” of marriage to a man with “good family values,” as he says in the premiere episode. It’s an understandable PR move, one I wish didn’t have to be made: It only serves to enforce our culture’s closed-minded attitude toward sex work. None of this, of course, makes it into the opening montage of Robert strolling down the beach showing more abs than humanly possible, his voice-over telling viewers that he “wants what everyone wants.” As the contestants wander into the mansion one by one, lines like “gay dating is the same as straight dating” and “I want someone to grow old with” assure us we’re in familiar territory.
It turns out there’s nothing less romantic than a man asking, “Will you wear a tie?”
Host Lance Bass jokes about the potential for hookups among contestants at the outset, when Prince Charming gets sent into the house incognito to observe his matches without them knowing he’s the prize. The guys mingle for a bit before Lance leads them in a soulless icebreaker that consists of saying their name, occupation, and a hashtag to describe themselves. Robert is feeling antsy because, he says, he hates deceiving the guys — just not enough not to spy on them. “He looks like a walking Photoshop,” one contestant beams to the camera after Robert’s #iamyourprince reveal, and he’s not wrong. The scarcity factor is clear: Robert’s the only guy who legit kind of looks like Cinderella’s cartoon prince. The next day brings (what else?) a pool party, where the guys get another chance to connect with their chosen Mr. Right. Dillon, a 26-year-old fashion publicist and the first contestant to pull him aside, literally says, “I didn’t come here to make friends.” Paul, a built, silver-haired businessman, nervously avoids him because before he knew Robert was the Prince, he told him that he likes shorter guys (Robert is 6-foot-3: drama!). Paul (shirtless, of course) later chases Robert down as he’s walking out to tell him that his ex passed away last year, and he’s had trouble opening his heart since.
But maybe the most interesting part of the show, as might be expected, is watching the contestants: gay men from very different backgrounds who wear their sexuality in different ways, interacting, and sometimes clashing, with each other. Some of it is classic America’s Next Top Model or Real World-style drama, but other moments scratch at the surface of internalized homophobia, as when a more conservative contestant asks Robby, the most colorful of the bunch, “Are you always like this?” Even Robert himself tells the camera at one point, “I’m into a guy that’s a guy.” (Ugh.) When it comes time for the elimination ceremony, it turns out there’s nothing less romantic than a man asking, “Will you wear a tie?” (It’s no substitute for a rose.) Honestly, the best part of the whole show is watching Robert try to slip pre-tied ties over the contestants’ heads without fucking up their hair. Out the door this week? The guy who gossiped to Robert about house drama (what seems like a rookie mistake), the man who sweat bullets but kept his shirt on because of a bad spray-tan he got from another contestant (sabotage!), and the one who openly told the camera he didn’t feel a spark with Robert (which, way to be honest!). A preview of the season ahead teases a collage of princely make-outs, group tears, copious cocktails, yachts, beach volleyball, nighttime rendezvous in the pool, and more making out. In other words, Prince Charming promises to deliver everything you’d expect — and very little that you wouldn’t, which is a shame. I wish the show were approaching gay relationships on their own terms, but watching it try — and at times, fail — to shove them in a box already seems like it’s going to be fun. As I imagine any Bachelor fan does at the start of a new season, I’m already cringing with anticipation and stocking up my wine supply. I can see everyone’s white-picket dreams manifesting already.