In November, Amazon released its first TV series designed for a lesbian audience, and basically, it’s getting good reviews.
I’m no sneer-inducing hater, but it’s hard to escape the sense that Tampa Baes, released on Amazon Prime Video, is something of a disappointment for LGBTQ viewers and their allies. If you’re excited about showing “real, non-romantic” lesbian couples as if you were a country music reviewer reviewing a “dramatic” love scene, you’re really going to be disappointed. The show is squarely rooted in the former.
The last episode of Tampa Baes doesn’t feature any set up scenes, and only one rose ceremony — the most akin to a dating show. Instead, the main storyline focuses on a chance meeting, and bonding over singing karaoke, which both of the main characters perform. The two, since they are already in a relationship, are portrayed as well-behaved and romantically compatible — which is, in fact, the message the show’s creators want to drive home. The big twist is that Tiffany is out, but still dating a dude. It’s somewhat jarring, but not crazy. If it’s your first time in seeing a female couple have a falling out, it’s safe to assume they probably have one, too.
A few scenes from the show’s set-up scenes are potentially provocative, but taken together they serve mostly to show how strong the lesbian community has become. Two old-school lesbian film divas are sitting behind the bar of a charming dance club talking about the need for more LGBT-appropriate content on TV. When Tiffany asks what Jenna Michaels thinks of the show, Jenna is like, “That’s quite the bump into the ladies-only genre. When I first came out, and then went back into the closet, I never expected I’d be watching something on HBO or PBS or PBS Kids.” All things considered, this series is saying, be prepared, because from now on you’re going to get more women-centric content, because you’re going to be watching something that not only not only has them in a partnership, but romantic.
Give this show a shot, if you’re willing to sit through seven or eight episodes of the show’s linear binging experience. What the actual regular-TV-watching American lesbian community hasn’t had in the last two decades is any real real-life, unscripted reality TV experience about lesbian life, so at least this one will give them something to look forward to and feel like they’re part of. At this point, whatever lessons a new LGBTQ-ish reality TV genre, presented by the straight world, provides in the manner of stellar reportage by Matt Taibbi, is just going to feel a little dated by its own agreement. We’re already somewhat mired in a long history of false representations on television. After being reduced to a niche audience since ’00, you’d think the LGBTQ community would be mature enough to handle some new, low-hanging fruit on American TV.