Fly Girls debuts tonight on The CW at 9 p.m. EDT.
Fly Girls commits the biggest sin any reality show can commit, the one sin it's easier to avoid than any other for pseudo-scripted entertainment: It's really, really boring. If there's one thing a show about five flight attendants living together and jetting off to glamorous destinations (like, uh, Fort Lauderdale) should be, it's interesting. Fly Girls can't manage to be interesting even at the level of over-the-top camp. It's yet another CW show that wants so badly to be The Hills or The City (or whatever MTV shows its target audience is watching nowadays) and ends up mostly settling for seeming like a bad '80s sitcom.
Our five leads are all sexy, young flight attendants for Virgin Airlines (which is probably a promotional partner in this, given how often the series cuts to stock footage of one of their planes winging its way over North America), and they all also live together in a coincidence that I'm sure totally wasn't set up by the producers of the show at all, especially since there's so much conflict between them from the get-go. The series has managed to find a girl of every "type," and pretty much the only thing they have in common is that they're all fairly bad at coming up with the sort of impromptu backstabbing and idiotic dialogue that drives a show like this. I haven't seen enough of The Hills to know if this is necessarily the case, but a friend who rather loves the show insists that what made it work at the start was that Lauren Conrad made a nice, bland center for the show's oddities to revolve around. Fly Girls can't decide who its Lauren Conrad is going to be, so all of the girls take turns. It's about as boring as that sounds.
Another problem with the series is that almost all of its conflicts seem clearly scripted. Because the show obviously has the tacit approval of Virgin Airlines and because so much of the action revolves around big, important Virgin Air events, you know that when, say, Tasha loses the script for Richard Branson's speech, it's going to be found at the last moment and the girl Tasha has been fighting with will save the day. (Given how unclear it is just where the girl ultimately finds the script, it sure seems as if the producers took the script to goose the drama, particularly since the first time we see the red folder containing the script, the woman handing it to Tasha essentially underlines and bold-faces her note to NOT LOSE IT.) If you've ever seen a reality show, you'll guess what's going to happen here. But I'll go farther than that. If you've ever seen television, you'll guess what's going to happen here.
That's the whole series in a nutshell, more or less. Attractive young women speak blandly about their personal problems. Occasionally, a plot from an '80s sitcom (though I'm undecided on which one; maybe Kate and Allie?) drops in. The girls deal with this plot in all of the ways their producers and television have taught them. By episode's end, they've learned basically nothing, but at least the plot has come to something of a close and everyone can pretend they've just seen a satisfying half hour of television. But you have to pretend really hard with Fly Girls, which doesn't even bother having empty calories. If Mad Men is a three-course meal and The Hills is, I dunno, a big bag of Twizzlers, Fly Girls is like sitting down with a big celery stalk and nibbling at it pensively while you wait for something to happen.
One of the other things that worked about The Hills for its fans was that the show presented a wide variety of potential types for its fans to identify with. You could be an LC, sure, but you could also be a Heidi or an Audrina or what have you. The types Fly Girls traffics in are at once needlessly broad and way too specific. The series' central character seems to be Mandy (short for, I shit you not, Mandalay), who's a typical small-town girl, a mostly bland heroine we can project our own ideals onto, ideally. She's surrounded by Nikole, the token cutthroat bitch; Tasha, the token black single mom; Farrah, the token girl who seems exactly like someone named Farrah would seem; and Louise, the token flirty Asian party girl whose family views her as a disappointment. It's not, necessarily, that these types aren't already cliche - they are - but that they're so hyper-specific and blandly executed that no amount of identification, really, can occur, unless you're already inside one of those specific demographics (and I mean you need to fit every one of those criteria and also be pretty dumb to boot). The whole thing ends up feeling rather like watching animals at the zoo.
But, look, you're not going to watch this for any reason other than to stare at pretty people living lives of quiet desperation. On that front, every time Fly Girls almost scores, it undercuts itself. When Farrah's younger sister, who apparently hasn't attended the classes on how to formulate everything she says in reality TV-ese, stammers out something about how it's time for (the ambiguously aged, I might add) Farrah to find someone to settle down with, it's vaguely fun to watch Farrah stare blankly at the camera as all of this is going on. Similarly, Mandy's attempts to pin down a guy she likes while visiting New York briefly turn toward hilarious when the guy is just not having it. But these moments are few and far between and always undercut by the show trying to goose the drama just a little too much.
It's hard to say that Fly Girls is really "bad." It's just kind of there, in the way that a piece of furniture might be. It's the sort of thing that you expect to see on TV, but it's also the sort of thing that's way, way too easy to flip past. Say what you will about The Hills or even timeslot partner High Society, but both shows have a desire to push their tales of pretty, stupid people beyond just the bland moments of every day life. Both of those series aim for truly, transcendently pointless, something that Fly Girls can only dream of. It's rare to think that I'd rather be watching The Hills, but after this recent onslaught of CW look-alike shows, well, I would.
- Really, though, the adventures of Mandy and her guy friend in episode two are almost worth checking that episode out for. Does The CW not explain to the peripheral people in these shows that they're being filmed for a television show?
- For a show about flight attendants, the series spends a surprisingly small amount of time on board the plane. Really, we only see the girls flirt with a few guys while on their flights.
- Finally, it's worth pointing out that this show handles exposition about as well as an '80s sitcom too. At one point, Louise, obviously trying to remember everything she's supposed to say in this scene, blurts out something like, "And Farrah, you're going to New York, too, to see your sister, who lives in Brooklyn, right?" I encourage everyone to remind your friends of things they already know tomorrow. Pretend the CW has given you their best timeslot.