Back in 2009 Burlingame-based airline Virgin America thought it would be a good idea to compete in the not-at-all cluttered space of scripted reality television by producing a knockoff of The Hills featuring five of their
stewardesses sorry, Flight Attendants going about their incredibly glamorous life of stowing luggage, serving sodas and attending PR events. Not to devalue the hard work of real, human flight attendants, but the biggest problem these ladies appear to have in their life is a new roommate moving in who has TWO chihuahuas. (The horror!)
The casting team covered all their bases though: There’s Nikole, the alpha dogette (no one is saying “bitch” here, OK?) who we know is tough because she’s been boxing with her personal trainer, but apparently no one told her she’s been spelling her name wrong since grade school.
Then there’s Louise, the peppy Asian chick who attracts all the IFBs. (In-flight Boyfriends, obvi!)
To balance the youngins’, there’s Farrah – a wise old Joan Halloway character who is rapidly approaching the point where her ladyclock starts ticking a little louder and she decides she needs to land a desk job.
Tasha is a single mom who shares joint custody of her son with the boy’s dad who lives in the Bay Area somewhere. She seems to have the most substance of the group, and there’s the obvious sense that it must be rough for a women in her position to connect with her kid, but then again I don’t think anyone forced her to move to Southern California to be on a reality TV show.
And finally, we’ve got Mandy – the fresh-faced All-American sweetheart who’s in it to make some friends and maybe upgrade to a first-class IFB along the way.
I’ll be honest, this television show and I got off on the wrong foot. Namely because the introductory montage is set to Tik-Tok by human wastebasket Kesha, who I admittedly do not like and whose name I will politely decline to spell with the prescribed dollar sign. But either way, of the eight episodes produced, I managed to make it through two before becoming frustrated with, well basically everything…
First of all, as with Laguna Beach, the producers apparently decided San Francisco wasn’t glamorous enough to serve as the backdrop for the show, despite being the home base for the airline. So they moved the ladies’ headquarters to “The Crashpad” in sunny Marina Del Rey and based them out of LAX. Which, I guess is actually fair because they end up spending more time walking the red carpet of Virgin Group press events than walking the aisle of an Airbus. I suppose the Hollywood appeal of said events wouldn’t play as well on TV sets in the flyover states if they had taken place is somewhere largely unrecognizable like San Mateo (even though Virgin America still, quite literally, flies over 85% of the country).
The only real love San Francisco gets is an admittedly gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge flyby in the intro (which explains why Virgin America was the first commercial plane to participate in Fleet Week back in 2008) and a few random lay overs as Tasha spends some time off in the Bay visiting her son.
More troubling than the glaring omission of our fair city, is the lofty girl-power message the show attempts to put forth in order to justify putting these ladies on TV. I imagine the pitch meeting went something like this:
“They’ll make great role models for young girls who need strong, independent women to look up to!” – Lady in a pantsuit talking to the swanky conference room.
“Jolly good, we’ll be hiring so many fit, young American birds! Cheerio! Good day!” – Inside Sir Richard Branson’s head.
This kind of doublespeak is apparent right from the introduction that plays before every episode, where the girls’ voiceovers describe their desire to be independent and successful, but also most of them are in their underwear for the whole thing:
Now, I don’t mean to imply that it’s impossible to be both successful and half-naked, but it seems like we’re sending the youth a slightly mixed message here, Virgin America. (But then again, the closest I’ve ever come to studying women’s issues was a course on 18th Century Novels, so maybe I’m just a prude.) Also, where are all the fabulous Steven Slater-type flight attendants? Don’t the young men who dream of traveling the world also deserve a role model?
Of course, the producers do their best to confront this issue with the material they’re given (which, indeed, is based on the situations into which they have placed these ladies). Mandy and Louise, for example, make the daring move of going to a Cocktail Party at the swanky home of an IFB (again, In-Flight Boyfriend, keep up) who looks like he was plucked out of the pages of an Abercrombie catalog. And true to his overpriced, pre-washed khaki looks, the “Cocktail Party” turns out to be him and a bunch of guys farting around in a pool.
The ladies, who had dressed to impress, end up at the party looking like – you guessed it – Flight Attendants! The only difference here is the “passengers” are all wearing boardshorts and flip flops instead of sweatpants and sturdy walking shoes. The entire conversation is spent discussing whether or not the girls had joined the Mile High Club yet. WINK WINK
To bring it all back home (and, yeah, to avoid broaching any more feminist issues), these types of semi-reality TV shows are ultimately a fiction where casting directors, producers, and editors are all guilty of latching on to that one element of truth they can use to spin their story. It’s easy to produce and it’s easy for us to watch because we don’t have to think to hard about nuance.
To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting a show about flight attendants to teach me anything new about San Francisco that I couldn’t learn by just walking around (on the ground), but we get so quickly boiled down to “that city with all the weirdos” or “that city with the nice bridge” that the decision to set the show in LA actually makes sense.
Like the ladies, we all have a role to fill. Lucky for us, San Francisco’s role isn’t the one filled with vapid PR parties and catfights about who gets to stand next to Sir Richard and OMG, how are you going to live in our crashpad with TWO chihuahuas? (I mean seriously, if you fly with two chihuahuas, do you have to store one in the overhead compartment? How does that work?)
On the bright side, we did get this criminally under-viewed video from the cockpit of that Virgin America Fleet Week flyby from 2008. If anything, the pilots on Virgin America have a much better view of Baghdad by the Bay.
Previously on San Francisco explores the Fog City’s appearances in TV and Film, got a suggestion we haven’t watched yet? Leave it in the comments…