There was a moment last night during the latest episode of Love & Hip Hop Atlanta that further revealed how less and less the show cares about looking “real” and is about getting cool staged, stunt shots – like the kind you’d see in traditional, scripted television – to push the storyline.
It involved a woman’s legs, apart and slightly out of focus, and Lil Scrappy’s ex-pimp mother getting out of a car between them in the distance. It was classic story staging through film 101, ending with the ex-pimp giving Lil Scrappy’s former lover the once over before having her get into her car, then confusing her with a lot of mind-wash mumbo jumbo (as pimps are wont to do) in order to execute her plan of disrupting Scrappy looming marriage to his long-time girlfriend Erica.
Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, now in its second season, doesn’t care anymore about being a “reality” show in the traditional sense as they’ve long since stopped doing what other reality shows do. They no longer cling to the patina of “realness” by hewing to the “documentary style” that gives the illusion of reality and real-time interactions. It’s not that the occasional emotion isn’t real, but everything else is an obvious scripted set-up, no different from your grandmother’s “stories.” And Love & Hip Hop Atlanta is the most soap opera looking, feeling, sounding, acting and staged of any reality show.
Dubious pregnancies? Scheming family matriarchs? Love quadrangles? Torrid affairs? All familiar territory for a soap. Heck, there isn’t any even real “hip hop” in the Atlanta version unless you count Rasheeda’s stalled rap career or Chris Brown’s DJ fighting with his baby’s mother as an “insider” look at hip hop. Nothing is hip hop. The show is the Velveeta of hip hop in that Velveeta is distinctly not cheese but a cheese-like “food product.” Love & Hip Hop Atlanta has just enough sprinkling of “urban” flavor that it marginally passes as something maybe a rapper watches on a day when he or she is home with the flu, but later denies it to friends because it’s too embarrassing to admit one in hip hop watched something that had nothing to do with the genre.
It simply isn’t hip hop or revealing anything about the art form.
But what the show is what would have happened if the all black 1989 soap opera “Generations” were allowed to grow and eventually become just as insane as General Hospital, Passions or other daytime soaps. All Love & Hip Hop Atlanta is missing is a coma, an amnesia plot, a long-lost sibling, witchcraft and someone who stages their own shooting only to not be shot at all. And I wouldn’t put it past show creator Mona Scott-Young to figure out how to get these things into the show. If not through the power of suggestion, through the power of casting. They’re just one drama queen or king away from finding the African American or Puerto Rican equivalent of Erica Kane.
Or maybe she’ll rip off my old favorite soap (and one my grandmother still watches), The Young and the Restless and try to turn ol’ Benzino into Victor Newman. That sounds horrible, but again, I wouldn’t put it past the show-runners as they’ve seen the light and the light is “Guiding Light.” And they are molding their cast around these plot points and staging them in a way that “Yes, the unbelievable relationship between Stevie J., Jocelyn and Mimi is probably all true” but those situations they’re often ham-fistedly slammed into for the sake of a good camera shot are not.
But, as all entertainment should be judged (and to paraphrase the film “Gladiator”) – “Are you not entertained?” Because the Scott-Young team is clearly in the entertainment business, trying to find ever more shocking, creative and crazy ways to hold your attention via the attention-seeking antics of the Atlanta cast. Sure the show can be called all the things you’d call a reality show featuring a large ethnic minority cast. From your Jersey Shore and Mob Wives drunk and threatening Italian Americans to your drink throwing black doyennes of Basketball Wives – it’s insulting, it’s degrading, it’s full of stereotypes, it’s full of women acting crazy. And it is all of those things. But it’s also addictively bad entertainment in the way that witch storyline was on Passions. Sure it was illogical and stupid, but being shocked by how amazingly stupid something is and thusly being entertained by it is why people watch.
Of course, no one ever watched Passions and assumed all old white women were witches, but I tend to think that in 2013, if you can’t tell the difference between me and Love & Hip Hop Atlanta’s resident firebrand K. Michelle, that’s pretty much on you and not myself or K. Michelle.