The Vineyard

The Vineyard debuts tonight on ABC Family at 10 p.m. Eastern.

Remember when Laguna Beach was popular? Apparently ABC Family does, because the network has created a reality show so similar to that MTV staple it plays almost as a parody. The Vineyard updates the Laguna Beach formula by focusing on a slightly older (but no less immature) group of people and moving the location from the west coast to Martha’s Vineyard. As with Laguna Beach and its successful spin-off The Hills, The Vineyard eschews the direct-to-camera confessionals and documentary-feel of most reality programing in favor of a more cinematic filming style, a hip soundtrack, and scripted “real” conversations. Although The Vineyard claims to be unscripted, each scene has clearly been choreographed, memorized, and rehearsed to within an inch of its life. Which wouldn’t be a problem if the show had found the right group of people to inhabit its soapy, sun-soaked world. Instead The Vineyard is populated with dull, wooden cast members who have little to offer besides being attractive and willing to appear on TV.

The Vineyard manages to be both boring and overstuffed in its première as it tries to set up tension-filled plots for each of its 11 main cast members. These will presumably play out over the course of the season, but for now there’s just too much to keep track of, despite the fact that everyone keeps bumping into each other on the street and having helpful, exposition-heavy conversations in which they recount how they know each other.

The show’s protagonist is Katie, who is spending her summer on the island in hopes of figuring out her professional and personal life (she’s in a four-year relationship but has concerns about its future). Along with the rest of The Vineyard’s cast, Katie has a summer job at The Black Dog Tavern and a room at the staff house where the beautifully toned employees play on slip’n’slides, light bonfires, and (for some reason) spend time cutting up lemons. At first, the show seems like it will focus on Katie’s role in the house (she’s friends with the Black Dog managers and gets preferential treatment) but then promptly drops that thread in order to thrust her into the middle of a love triangle with Luis, the bad boy with a heat of gold, and Jonathan, the “overly confident meathead.” 

The other main thread of this première is the Jets-and-Sharks-rivalry between the permanent island residents (“the locals”) and the “Wash-ashores,” the privileged 20-somethings who come to work (and play!) on the island over the summer. Besides Katie, Luis, and Jonathan, the only other “Wash-ashore” who makes much of an impression is Emily, the preppy gossip (and potential villain) who likes to “stir-up trouble” and is on the island to find a rich man to take care of her (a “JKF Jr. type”). In order to ensure the audience doesn’t mix her up with any of the other blonde girls in the cast, Emily wears pearls in every single scene she is in, including when she is wearing a bikini. 

In addition to being confusing, boring, and overfilled, The Vineyard also has some huge problems in the way it constantly depicts woman as objects for men to fight over. Luis and Jonathan get into a few verbal (and one physical) fights over Katie, constantly arguing over who deserves her without taking into account that Katie may have some say in the matter or that she might, you know, prefer to stay with the man she has been dating for four years. Even worse, the show presents Luis as the noble suitor and Jonathan as the sleazy seducer, even though they both treat Katie in roughly the same manner. Perhaps no moment better illustrates The Vineyard’s problem with women than when two “Wash-ashores” are denied entry to a local’s party because “You can’t show up with no girls and then try to take ours.” A statement the male local makes while his female friends are literally standing right next to him. Perhaps if the “Wash-ashores” returned with a few goats as a dowry, the local would be more inclined to offer up his women in return.  

There’s nothing wrong with soapy, summertime fun, and I could actually imagine a scripted version of The Vineyard being entertaining summer programing (like a low-stakes Pretty Little Liars without all the murder mysteries). But by casting a group of non-actors who are unable to deliver any of their lines convincingly, The Vineyard just ends up being a beautiful but boring Laguna Beach-clone. Those who were captivated by the adventures of Lauren Conrad may enjoy The Vineyard, but everyone else is much better off ignoring this by-the-numbers reality show.  

Stray Observations:

  • Other plots introduced in this première: the rekindling of a relationship between two locals, a tempestuous mother/daughter feud, a Wash-ashores’ musical aspirations, some class tensions between the servers, several potential hook-ups, a sick mother, not one but two welcome parties, and the reveal of a local’s big secret. I was not kidding about this thing being overstuffed. 
  • Katie asks Luis what he looks for in a girl and he replies, “One who makes me feel the way that I want to make her feel. You know what I mean?” No, Luis, I really don’t.
  • I do kind of love Katie just for the face she makes when Jonathan tries to flirt with her by rubbing sunscreen on her back.
  • Hands down my favorite cast member is supporting-player Sean, a local who apparently spends most of his time biking around town trying to find regular cast members to interact with.
  • There’s a bizarre moment when Emily whips out her phone to compose a tweet which then appears onscreen like a fun fact from a Pop Up Video. Presumably that tweet will go live to accompany the première, which just makes no sense when you think about it.   
  • Luis and Jonathan can’t stop smiling during their big climatic brawl, probably because they are happy they got the fight choreography right.
  • What looks like it is going to be a West Side Story rumble between the locals and the Wash-ashores is resolved by one of the locals essentially saying “if you let us into your party, you can come to ours.” Then they all fist bump and make s’mores. Talk about riveting television.  

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