‘The Vineyard’ – the docu-soap that is us. Not

Docu-soap viewers watch as Islander Ben Rossi tells fellow Islander Cat Todd the "secret" about why he left the Coast Guard. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The new ABC Family reality show “The Vineyard” debuted Tuesday night, and the plot put me in mind of an Archie and Veronica comic book written by the author’s 13-year-old son while the author himself goes on vacation.

In a nutshell, 11 super-cute 20-somethings share a beach house on Martha’s Vineyard for no plausible reason other than that their mutual employer must prize them above all other summer workers of all time. One of the girls, Katie, moons over her b.f. back home, but because she has the depth of an after-dinner mint, we may not care too much about her ultimate decision. Sensitive and smokin’ Luis pines for her, as do the other young hunks. Two of the guys engage in a silly, quick alpha male rout about who gets which bed in their shared room, thus setting up a conflict of Shakespearean proportions.

What else? The blond girls continue to be lusted after, and finally class warfare enters the scene as Island kids exchange barbed comments with the cosmopolitan summer kids, hereinafter referred to as washashores. Suddenly they’re barring each other from their parties. Yikers!

On this plot-point alone, I and, I assume, many other Vineyarders will take some umbrage. Yes, we’re a land of natives and what we fondly call washashores (anyone not born here), but the series producers applied this sobriquet to any pretty young thing who shows up for the summer and gets a job to keep her in beers and hookups, before catching the ferry back to the real world before Labor Day.

Washashores are a weary, stoop-shouldered lot. We’ve packed in many winters here, worked many jobs, perhaps put our children through local schools. We’ve buried our pets in our yards, paid taxes, and pondered why we can’t feel happier in this place that visitors view, justly, as paradise.

The kids on “The Vineyard” are not washashores, much as they enjoy chewing over this term. They are summer help. The show’s creators borrowed from an old playbook, turning Islanders into townies and faux washashores into sophisticates, then watching them duke it out over parties and, what else, pretty blond girls.

Apart from the fake conflict that is totally antithetical to Island summers, this reality show, perhaps above and beyond all reality shows that have preceded it, is all about the hair. We can only imagine the conversations deep into the night of “The Vineyard’s” casting crew. Clearly they believed that if one tall, thin pretty blond is easy on the eyes, then why not hire two more blonds, then pad out the cast with another four, tall, thin, pretty girls, one with long, strawberry blond tresses, another with long, dark blond tresses and finally, an ethnic femme fatale — a Miami Venezuelan — with, you guessed it, long silken dark brown tresses.

A further word on the blonds

Let us dwell on the blonds for another moment. Two of them look virtually identical — Emily and Katie — and all of them engage in hands-cupping-mouths snickers and eye rolls when any one of their bunkmates is seen at a distance doing anything or nothing. Oh, the high school horror! A few hotties from the 11th grade popular clique have been brought together in this romp, but wouldn’t we all love to think they’ve become just a drop nicer in their early adult years? Guess not.

Into this abyss of brainless beauty and fulsome superficiality, our Island players bring a specific personhood to their roles that is sharply refreshing. Ben Rossi, Sean O’Brien, Keith Crossland, and Duncan Schilcher get a chance to chat up the blonds, as well as the other silken-haired babes, and to start to square off as the Sharks to the summer boys’ Jets. Cat Todd and her mother, Christine Todd, share some tense moments in their Oak Bluffs kitchen. The scene feels real, raw, and unscripted. (I hope you two can work things out.)

On the night of the premier, I dropped in on two Oak Bluffs boites to see how our Island summer population was reacting to it. What I gathered from a bunch of counter conversations, both at the M.V. Chowder Co. and the Sand Bar and Grill, was that reality shows, as popular as so many of them have been (Kardashians, Jersey Shore), are universally despised. Yes. Extrapolating from the two dozen-plus young people I spoke with, all seven billion people on the planet love to bash them.

How to explain this paradox of high ratings and high revilement? Heidi Hummell, in her early 20s, who works at Giordano’s and lives in Vineyard Haven, and who watched “The Vineyard” on one of the many screens at the Chowder Co., shed this light on the matter: “I hate reality shows, but I get addicted to them. I’m fascinated by what stupid people say and do.”

Luke Ryan, who also lives in Vineyard Haven, and who drives a taxi for the summer, put it succinctly, “If one more bare-chested dude throws one more football, I’m out of here.”

He also found laughable the show’s trope that the characters share a beachside villa. He is jammed into a company rental with 20 other guys. “It’s a sweatbox getting dirtier and more stinky every day.”

At The Sand Bar and Grill where another set of TVs were tuned to “The Vineyard,” with virtually no attention paid to the show (is this a critique in and of itself?), tall, swashbuckling bartender Nick Foy and his summer friend from Westboro, Nick Wood, issued this joint single-sentence review: “The two stars on the Island weren’t in this show.” And who were those stars? Mr. Foy and Mr. Wood, it turns out.

There is one star, the Island itself, thanks to luscious cinematography. An aerial sweep of the Gay Head Cliffs looked positively air-brushed, then digitally enhanced with soft apricot daubs.

This critic’s final word will also be a plea to the next group of producers who find a new cooler-than-coolio spot for situating some longhaired lovelies and bare-chested studs: Take some of that money spent on camera work and hire real writers. The kind that can come up with dialogue to top these beauts:

“You’re, like, so giving, kind, and considerate.”

“Things with my boyfriend are sort of . . . stagnant.”

“What are you doing with your life?”

And, for sure, the two Nicks at the Sand Bar should have been cast in the show.

Holly Nadler is a freelance contributor who lives in Oak Bluffs. She has written extensively for national magazines such as Elle, and her television writing credits include the Laverne and Shirley series.