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Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta: Poor Reality, Awesome Novela

While I stuck true to my unwillingness to entertain myself with VH1’s Basketball Wives, I along with a few hundred thousand of my closest friends couldn’t help but witness the last three train wrecks episodes of Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta. After two seasons in New York City, the franchise decided to expand to the urban capitol of the south and recruited a new cast of “reality stars” to keep up entertained weekly. Much has already been said about the show, the bulk negative but I’ve got to throw in my two cents: Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta is awesome.

Stay with me ladies.

Growing up, I often found myself plopped in front of my Puerto Rican and African American/Filipino neighbor’s television sets from mid-day to early evening, captivated by a slew of both American and Latin soap operas and telenovelas. From Dallas and The Young & The Restless to Cristal and tapes of Rosa Salvaje (actually anything with Verónica Castro)—I was hooked. You had adultery, scandal, sex, gaudy fashion, amazing houses and ‘this-can’t-possibly-be-real’ plot twists. The story lines were provocative and at times completely unrealistic with characters often resorting to measures of desperation, exploitation and basically acting in a manner that would probably get you killed in real life. While taken seriously by loyal viewers for their outrageousness, no one really believed that Reva and the ghost plot line on Guiding Light. How many times did she die again? In short, soap operas were taken at face value for their fantasy and have and still serve as an escape from reality.

Which brings me to Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta. Unlike it’s New York predeccesor which had roots in somewhat relatable reality steeped in ratchetness, the most recent episode of Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta sealed the deal for me. Now this is a soap opera. And if you measure it by what makes for a good soap—it deserves an 8 out of 10. From Karlie’s impeccable timing in starting new tensions, Mimi’s perplexing denial, Rasheeda’s dedication to Iverson braids and unwillingness to comprehend simple rules of business, to everything Joseline and Stevie J first denying, then accepting, then pressuring the abortion of his baby while grabbing his package—it’s just too bad to be a good reality show. Every scene is completely over-acted, and aside from a few seemingly sincere moments with K. Michelle and Ariane, this show is solidifying itself as the soap-opera of the Young Money generation.

So why pass it off as reality? Let’s look at the business of things —you have to pay actors standardized rates, they are unionized and even extras need are duly compensated. Every part of even your most basic drama-based production is covered under a budget: script supervisors, script writers, studios and more. With reality television, ‘stars’ are paid however many regulated fees associated with a traditional production (locations, extras, craft services, etc) can be avoided with promises of exposure and continued support. In addition, actors have to memorize lines and with LHHATL, the lines are just improvised spurts of ratchet-talk for your viewing pleasure that don’t involve expensive retakes and rewrites. From a producer’s perspective, it’s really smart in a “why buy the cow when the milk is free” kind of way.

Yes, I agree that this show is a poor step in the evolution of reality television and it’s cultural ramifications are horrible—but if Love & Hip Hop Atlanta was presented as a soap, it would be the kind we love to hate to love. So let’s put down the war horns and call it for what it is, because the veil is already thin.

PS. Is anyone watching La Reina del Sur? I need to catch up!

Last 5 posts by Shannon Washington