Saturday, May 15, 2010

Virgin America's "Fly Girls'

Flying back to the West Coast from the U.S. East Coast early this week, I called up Virgin America's in-flight entertainment system, Red, and trolled through the menu. Among the many games, TV shows, musical genres, movies and news on tap were the first four episodes of "Fly Girls,'' a reality TV show launched this spring that follows the lives and loves of five young flight attendants who work for none other than Virgin America.

As it happens, I had already seen an episode of "Fly Girls,'' which appears weekly on The CW cable channel. It's a clever idea for a show, but for me, once was enough. Like most reality TV, the show is more TV than reality, and its focus on partying, sobbing, flirting and gossiping overshadows scenes of flying, although some do appear.

I did a quick look around. None of the FAs on my flight looked familar. Guess they aren't on the show. That's just as well, as the episode I saw depicted the women as ditzy, preoccupied with hanging out and meeting hunky guys and juggling their busy social calendar with the frequent flying required of FAs. And they are all women. Thirty percent of the airline's FAs in real life are men, but no men are among the featured five cast members. Many male flight attendants, by their own account, are out-and-proud gay men, but the show's producers may just have decided not to go there. Controversy, you know. Muddies the storyline, too.

Actually, reality of the day-to-day kind did show itself briefly on the show I saw. One FA is a single mother trying to be a good parent to her young son, but the demands of an on-the-go job make it tough. Another Fly Girl is at a big party of her extended Vietnamese American family, where a brother, a sister and her father admonish her to get serious and get an education instead of jetting around the country seeing cute guys. Hurt, she feels they are judging her too harshly. Preoccupied with herself, she drops a drink on a passenger she's serving from the food and beverage cart, and retreats to the washroom, emerging in tears, while a fellow FA hugs her and assures her it'll all work out. Will it? I guess you'd just have to watch "Fly Girls'' to find out.

As a former movie and TV critic for a San Francisco daily newspaper, I didn't find the 30-minute episode I saw to be compelling entertainment. The show can be coarse, and it's hard to care much about what happens and get past the melodrama. A cool house near the beach - where the five young flight attendants live for filming purposes - doesn't provide enough glam to make up for the show's flaws.

I suppose Virgin America - a generally stylish company and one of a handful of U.S. carriers I actually like - belongs to the just-spell-my-name-right school of media exposure. This is the school that teaches that any publicity is good publicity, especially for a still-small, new company. (Virgin America, based at San Francisco International Airport, took off in August 2007.)

Even so, nothing is for certain. In its initial review of "Fly Girls','' the Washington Post misidentified the airline, even though its livery and trademarks are all over the show. The Post identified the FAs' employer as Virgin Atlantic, the British airline run by Richard Branson, who owns 25 percent of Virgin America and leases the use of the Virgin brand to the U.S. carrier. Oops, sorry about that. The paper printed a correction.

Fly on, Fly Girls. Just spell the name right: Virgin A-m-e-r-i-c-a.

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