Queer love is messy. Maybe it’s because LGBTQ people have a penchant for drama, which we should encourage, or maybe it’s because we are all chock full of trauma from living in a heterosexual society.
We all have different journeys with love, and most of us will not end up testing our relationship on a reality series set to be seen by millions. But some people are willing to do just that.
The Ultimatum: Queer Love (★★★★☆) is the latest in Netflix’s line of reality dating shows. This one is not hosted by Nick Lachey, but JoAnna Garcia Swisher, who is immediately clocked for being straight, and truthfully isn’t around that much. Instead, the show focuses on five lesbian couples where one partner has given the other an ultimatum, “Marry me or break up with me.”
Through the show’s subsequent “experiment,” the couples break up and find a new partner among the other contestants, then have a three-week “trial wife” period before going back to their original partners to work on their relationship issues.
The Ultimatum does an amazing job of casting, with almost all of the contestants feeling authentic and not just looking for Instagram followers. Vanessa and Xander are the first real standouts, with influencer Vanessa’s bubbly personality quickly filling up the room before showing her true colors as the show’s primary villain when she begins courting both Lexi and Rae, two of the quieter ones in the group.
Then there’s Tiff, a masculine lesbian who is having trouble connecting with Mildred, her #SpicyLatina who wants them to get more serious. Mal has similar issues with Yoly, who Mal feels could leave her at any moment, and is curious about dating more as a masc black lesbian. Meanwhile, Aussie and Sam struggle with the former’s complete avoidance of any serious conversations or confrontations.
Almost immediately, it’s clear that there will be drama. Most of the relationships are a lot weaker than the contestants put on. Things don’t grow stale, with phases of the show’s experiment becoming a pressure cooker for tension. This ever-changing conflict also feels rooted in real life, rather than superficial tears, with contestants’ futures with their partners legitimately endangered.
Some contestants seem nervous early on — especially Rae, who perpetually looks as though she’s on the verge of a panic attack — but many let down barriers once they start opening up. When Lexi catches on to Vanessa not being truthful about her intentions, their subsequent fight ends up giving the show the juicy sizzle it needs to keep you glued to your seat.
The series probably won’t win a Peabody, but it does have some authentic merit to it. All of the contestants are beyond the early coming-out stages, and instead are focused on things that queer people rarely get to see on camera — growing old and having a family. There is something amazing about watching queer people fight for their family-based futures.
The Ultimatum doesn’t attempt to significantly alter the dating-show formula but it also doesn’t make things feel forced, deciding to completely ignore some participants. Sam, one of the quieter “ultimatum givers,” ends up becoming almost invisible and is gone from huge chunks of the episodes.
The show has a narrow-minded view of how it perceives love, completely ignoring the idea of polyamory, despite talking about it. It also lacks trans contestants. Swisher is a fine host, but seems uncomfortable. Having a lesbian host would have helped matters.
The show’s biggest selling point is that it delivers on what it promises. LGBTQ romance lies at the center of The Ultimatum: Queer Love, and the producers highlight it whenever possible, whether it be self-love or newfound revelations. (More than once I was beaming at the couples talking about their love story, giving my single as fuck ass something to smile about.)
In order for LGBTQ people to be truly equal, we must have the same trashy dating programming as everyone else. The Ultimatum: Queer Love shows how far we have come in diversifying LGBTQ representation on screen.
The Ultimatum: Queer Love, episodes 1-8 are now available on Netflix. Episodes 9 and 10 are available beginning June 7. Visit www.netflix.com.
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