Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Confessions of a Southern Charm Newbie: RelationShep edition

RelationShep Season 1, Episode 1

Posted by Dustin Waters on Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge Entering the dating cocoon to emerge a full-grown RelationShep - BRAVO SCREENSHOT
  • Bravo Screenshot
  • Entering the dating cocoon to emerge a full-grown RelationShep

Hey everybody, welcome to the new spin-off of the celebrated reality show recap series "Confessions of a Southern Charm Newbie" with me, Dustin Waters. Arriving just in time for the holiday season. When we are all profoundly depressed.

Now, if you're anything like me, you're semi-employed, constantly dehydrated, and adrift in life. Also, let's just say for the sake of this column, you have a deep fascination with TV spin-offs.

In the great pantheon of television history, reality shows often have the easiest genealogy to follow. The formula usually involves taking one of the show's standout characters and simply focusing on them in a subsequent series that largely maintains the structure and tone of the original. This is how Flavor of Love gave us I Love New York, Toddlers & Tiaras led to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and The Jersey Shore begat The Show with Vinny, Snooki & Jwoww, and The Pauly D Project. This is often less akin to All in the Family and Happy Days giving way to Maude, The Jeffersons, and Laverne & Shirley, and more the television equivalent of using every part of the buffalo.

In the best cases with TV spin-offs, you end up with a worthy successor that is able to stand on its own, like Frasier or Better Call Saul. Other times, a loyal audience is subjected to shows that misunderstood the appeal of their source material, a la Baywatch Nights or Joanie Loves Chachi. I am interested to see which of these categories RelationShep will fall into. If only because it will serve as an excuse for me to get out of bed. In truth, this column is equivalent to my pouring a carton of milk down the drain so I have an excuse to go to the store. As you will soon learn, Shep and I are both in a bit of a flux.

The true problem with evaluating all these shows is that I have pitched numerous spin-offs to popular television series over the years. They include a Gotham follow-up titled Uncle Batman starring the late Adam West, Mad Men spin-off Super Busy H.R. Department, and a Scandal-inspired home improvement series called How to Clean Red Wine from Your White Sofa. The networks chose to pass on these shows, likely, because they were too real.

Anyway, as is explained in the opening of the RelationShep premiere, Shep's fear of waking up one day to find himself 45 and single has led to an inevitable life decision: Star in his own reality series to find his true love. There is a Mission: Impossible-style breakdown of "The Plan," which is exactly what is flashed across the screen in case you can't surmise that a premise is coming. The show really needs you to understand what's about to be thrown your way.

As we learn, Shep's friends in Los Angeles, Dallas, Austin, and New York City will serve as his matchmakers on this grand quest. This may seem very Texas-centric, but let me tell you about the one and only time I went to Texas. I was a youth, tagging along for a funeral, and as soon as I arrived a sinewy Texas boy wrestled me in a ditch. It was like a gay litmus test, our gay Alamo. So if Shep can't figure out his romantic future after some time in the Lone Star State, then no one can.

Anyway, Shep says he wants a woman who is "well-traveled, from a nice family, artsy, well-read." Understandable. Based on his description, Shep is clearly looking for Carmen Sandiego. She's going to prove difficult to track down, being an intertemporal master thief, but I am sure all you gumshoes out there can help us out. *Rockapella musical interlude*

This is probably indicative of a deeper problem. Whereas it is acceptable for most guys in their late 30s to desire a multilingual, captain of industry, women are expected to set their standards at someone who doesn't smoke near propane tanks or dry click their revolver at government buildings. To tell you the truth, any woman who asks that her suitors not aim laser pointers at planes passing overhead would probably be labeled a prude.

We are then introduced to Producer Sarah, who will maybe serve as a foil for Shep on this series. She seems awesome, being a producer and all. I'm sure she won't be asked to iron anyone's pants. (She will.)

click to enlarge Producer Sarah demands you be awake now - BRAVO SCREENSHOT
  • Bravo Screenshot
  • Producer Sarah demands you be awake now

As is explained at the onset of the episode, the women who Shep "connects with" will be brought — or "broughten," as I prefer to say — back to Charleston to make sure that they can "live the Charleston lifestyle." I assume "the Charleston lifestyle" means being slowly priced out of your apartment as you develop an unnecessarily passionate opinion on barbecue.

Producer Sarah tells us that the women selected by Shep will be living together in the same house in Charleston until he chooses the correct woman. OK. Sure. They are all going to live together for a bit. Like sister wives. But competitive.

The episode begins in proper with Shep cruising on down to Hilton Head to visit his parents. Sweet. Apparently, Shep's dad's name is Rip, which is 100 percent perfect. These are all awesome names that describe what it would sound like if you suffered a wardrobe malfunction while trying to jump-start a dirtbike.

Shep briefly explains to his parents the premise of the show. Totally normal. I remember when I told my mother that I would be taking a wife. She asked, "Have you told her of the curse?"

"No, mother. She'll find soon enough. Now help me select a caterer."

Back to the show, the words "Property of Bravo Media. For Review Only. Not for air" flash across my computer screen and I realize that no one told me the rules for all this. Also, if you're wondering why there aren't more humorous photos with this recap, the advanced screener I was provided blocked me from taking screenshots. Instead, every photo I tried to take showed an all-white screen with my personal email address spelled out below. National secrets are held under less scrutiny. Luckily, we have a trailer for this season to pull images from, but if anyone with Anonymous can tell me how to jailbreak a Bravo screener, I'm open to advice.

Revealing more specifics about his taste in women, Shep then explains that he wants a "worldly, knowledgeable" woman, rather than an idiot shut-in or whatever the alternative is. I can understand. This is precisely why you marry an omnipresent genius.

We then find Shep joined by Southern Charm costar Cameran at his house as they pick out clothes for him to wear on his big adventure. Cameran remains the best. The first pair of jeans Shep examines are deemed unacceptable due to excessive stains. If this were a perfect show, it would cut to a clip of Shep eating chili on a rollercoaster.

Moving on, Shep flies out to L.A., the home of meaningful relationships. His first L.A. date is Peyton, who is immediately described by her height, being almost 6 foot tall. I always love it when women are described as if they are breeding stock. When I set up my female friends on dates, I start off by describing their "sturdy teeth" and marked fertility.

We then see more of Producer Sarah as Shep asks that she iron his clothes. (I told you.) Shep calls her the "Iron Lady" and compares her to Margaret Thatcher. This is pretty funny. Apparently Sarah is a friend of Shep's who worked on season one of Southern Charm. Will she be the gal Shep falls for? I am shipping these two hardcore. She makes Shep iron his own damn pants and drives him to his date like she's aiming for Father of the Year.

click to enlarge Don’t you play games with us, Shep - BRAVO SCREENSHOT
  • Bravo Screenshot
  • Don’t you play games with us, Shep

It turns out that Peyton is a dog groomer/actor. She closely resembles Mila Kunis and a Bratz doll, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Shep says, "Show me some dogs," which is a good move. The worst would have been to threaten the dogs and attempt to assert his dominance by eating all their food.

After inspecting the dogs, Peyton says one might soon become hers? How does that work? Can groomers just lay claim to anyone's house pets in L.A.?

Leaving work, the two then go to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. Peyton is offered a "skinny margarita," but informs the waiter that she will have a regular old "fat margarita" because she ain't got time for none of that or whatever. Shep loves this, and it is a very cool thing to do, but let's remember that Peyton is a thin, 8-foot-tall, potential dog thief, which makes it a lot easier to be cavalier about how many calories are in your margarita.

Shep and Peyton then opt for both guacamole and queso, which is the correct decision. The queso arrives and for some reason is stringy as hell. Peyton calls it a "cheese turd." Fireworks are popping.

Shep asks Peyton what her secret is for looking so great. She says "water sports" and we are just going to ignore the obvious joke because we then learn that Peyton has access her own lake house. Why does Peyton have a lake house and I have nothing? Seriously, consider her answer.

"Hey, how are you so fit?"

"I have a vacation home."

"Ah, yes. Well, not to toot my own horn, but I realized that if you hang out by the Red Box long enough, people will share their cigarettes. Weight loss 101."

Moving on, as Shep and Peyton leave dinner and head to their next location, we are treated to a tracking shot of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The first star we see is for Hedy Lamarr, who was both worldly and a genius. In addition to inventing a radio guidance system for torpedoes during World War II, Lamarr appeared in numerous Hollywood films from 1930-1958. I assume the remainder of the season is Shep exhuming the corpse of Hedy Lamarr and working to reanimate his true love. Groundbreaking stuff.

Shep and Peyton end up at a bar and immediately order two shots. They then begin talking about their past relationships, which is a terrible idea. Don't ever do that. Shep quotes Jerry Maguire and disarms the situation most expertly. He then explains that there are two types of Southern girls: those who are prim and proper and those who realize that guys are "a lot of fun and you kind of get down and dirty with all the guys."

Apparently, Shep and I have very different experiences of what it's like to hang out with Southern guys. I was born and raised in the South. And I am a guy. Hanging out always started as a lot of fun, but the rose quickly lost its bloom. Hanging out with guys in the South ends with you hiding from the fire department because your buddy broke his arm trying to jump the fence at the retention pond outside of Wal-Mart. And the manager at Wal-Mart says that's not their property, but you can't argue with her because your face is covered in blood because you cut your hand while trimming your jean shorts and decided to just reenact a scene from Lord of the Flies where you were Jack from the hunter tribe. That, that is getting "down and dirty" with all the guys in the South — being a blood-covered literary reference in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

Shep then invites Peyton to Charleston, which is this show's equivalent to giving a rose, I guess. Since we're only like 15 minutes into the episode, Shep gets a call from another friend, Miriam. She decides to set Shep up with another friend. Shep plans to take this mystery woman to a Shakespeare party in the Hollywood hills. Awesome. We then meet his date Liz, a 24-year-old film marketing manager. This date doesn't go super well.

First, the party looks like a fucking mess and I love it. There is a man painted blue, masks, a pregnant cat-woman. It's spectacular. All of Shakespeare's greatest creations in one place.

Liz admits that she doesn't know anything about Shakespeare – get thee to a nunnery, Liz – then Shep says he's sure she must have learned some Shakespeare in school. This forces the realization that Liz is much, much younger than Shep. Apparently, Shep was studying Shakespeare at boarding school in Virginia when Liz was three years old. Liz thought that Shep was 27 rather than 37. What is happening?

click to enlarge ‘What three-year-old doesn’t appreciate theater?’ - BRAVO SCREENSHOT
  • Bravo Screenshot
  • ‘What three-year-old doesn’t appreciate theater?’

Then the play starts. It's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Fortunately not a tragedy, although Lady Macbeth is sexy as hell.

Flying in the face of the entirety of Western culture, Liz is not impressed by the Shakespeare. After the play ends, Shep goes to Producer Sarah and asks how to end a bad date. Again, Sarah is the dad we all wanted.

We awake the next morning to day three in L.A. Shep is meeting up with Landon from Southern Charm. Delightful. A blast from the past.

Producer Sarah asks Shep to explain his history with Landon, which involved some feelings between the two. For those not in the know, Landon and Shep had some sparks in the most recent season of Southern Charm, which led to nothing but trouble. Shep explains to Landon that he is on a path to self discovery, which involves her introducing him to women she knows in L.A. I don't understand this life.

Shep soon meets up with Adrhrucia, a 33-year-old media consultant, who Landon said was training to be a sommelier. The place where they meet for dinner has a giant chess board, which I assume means that the serfs will be used as literal pawns in their haughty games.

We quickly learn that Landon oversold Adrhrucia's status as a pending sommelier. She explains to Shep that she pursued such a path simply because she felt weird about not knowing what she was doing when ordering wine. This would be like swearing fealty to Atlantis because you were unfamiliar with the catch of the day.

The rest of the date is shown in a series of sharp cuts as Adrhrucia delves into topics such as the basis for our public school system and the unknown wonders of the appendix. Shep then excuses himself to the restroom, only to call Landon to come play games with them. And crash their date. It's really just a big mess. But they are surrounded by gigantic versions of children's games, so that dulls the pain.

Landon agrees to show up, which is odd. Shep and Adrhrucia then play a giant game of Connect Four. Landon appears, her arrival scored with a record scratch because our sound designers have seen an early 90s movie trailer. Shep calls in Producer Sarah who explains that this shit is super weird. Shep then hugs his date goodbye and flees.

So, 26 minutes into the premiere, we open on Shep's last day in L.A. He has two dates in one day. The first is with Carley, a 27-year-old model. She and Shep meet by a pool. Shep bounds into the water like a Labrador. Carley then agrees to undress to her bikini and dip her feet. Cut to later, Shep asks if Carley is a fan of Shakespeare. This appears to be a big thing for Shep, and I totally understand that. I regularly shout lines from Hamlet at my wife. It's a very healthy behavior because Hamlet is widely considered to be Shakespeare's most well-adjusted character, especially when it comes to his attitudes toward women.

Asked if she appreciates The Bard, Carley says no. She doesn't know anything about Shakespeare. Shep has a book. He is reading Hamlet to Carley by the pool. Carley says that it is cute that Shep "reads and stuff," but the date ends with Carley recounting how she assaulted another girl in the 5th grade. That's a weird angle to take, Carley, but we appreciate your unnecessary honesty.

click to enlarge Insert stock photo of sad Shep - BRAVO SCREENSHOT
  • Bravo Screenshot
  • Insert stock photo of sad Shep

We later meet Jessy, age 31, a stylist. She is described as Landon's "wild" friend, which is no way to describe your friend. Unless Jessy is raising bobcats, describing her as "wild" is sending a very coded message.

She and Shep go get ice cream before making their way to a bookstore. Shep explains that his parents are readers and he wants to emulate that with his future bride. Having known each other for only a few moments, Shep suggests that they split up and pick out books that they both would like the other to read.

Shep selects Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, a really great collection of essays by Chuck Klosterman, and On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Jessy recommends Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, An Idiot's Guide to Being Sexy, and Charles Bukowski's Ham on Rye. This is a cool exercise, and I can't think of another dating show that incorporates personal assessments and reading lists. Anyone who's ever read my television reviews can imagine that I like Klosterman's work and anyone who's watched me drunkenly debate a cat can assume I've read a great deal of Bukowski.

After all this, Shep seems intimidated about inviting Jessy to Charleston and ends up getting her number. We are now bound for Dallas.

Prior to meeting up with his next date Kylie, Shep immediately asks to go to a "Cowboy hat store" which is awesome. I think Producer Sarah is still driving, because she is clearly the best person on this show.

Anyway, Kylie is 22 and a student. That is super young, but this is Texas where to earn your learner's permit, you have to survive several days in the desert with nothing but a Bowie knife and a can of Big Red, until you find your way back to the nearest Whataburger.

Kylie and Shep meet two horses named Turbo and Ruger. Shep and Kylie are going to run barrels because Kylie is a rodeo champion from Texas Tech. Like the previous failed dates, Kylie is also very young, but no one is trying to reenact the works of Shakespeare at her, so that doesn't seem to be a problem. Shep manages to mount a horse with his big, dumb, new cowboy hat. After a commercial break, Shep puts on a western-style shirt, and he and Kylie drink beer and wine from a bucket before dancing in a field. Shep's assimilation is now complete. He has become Texas.

click to enlarge ‘Now here’s why that remake of Dallas never caught on.’ - BRAVO SCREENSHOT
  • Bravo Screenshot
  • ‘Now here’s why that remake of Dallas never caught on.’

Since Kylie hasn't cursed the spirit of Shakespeare and her family appears to own land, Shep then invites her to Charleston, and they share a deep kiss goodbye.

I guess Shep will spend the next episode tooling around Texas. This has been a perfectly fine show. Shakespeare remained a deciding factor and at least two characters went to a bookstore. As far as reality television is concerned, we're off to a great start.

As for me, I will use these columns as an anchor in my life, and I hope you'll stick with me. As has been the trend throughout my entire television recap career, I don't have cable and am not super sure how I will view the next episode of RelationShep. That'll be the next little bit of drama. I hope you return to see how I pull it off. Whatever happens, I'll see you then for the second episode of RelationShep. Take care of yourselves.


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