Tampa Baes, Prime Video’s unscripted docuseries about 12 local lesbian pals, made a splash around town before it even premiered.
Many were excited that the Tampa Bay area’s vibrant LGBTQ scene was getting spotlighted. Others expressed concerns about the diversity of the casting. Two executive producers who talked with the Tampa Bay Times in October encouraged people to stream the show and judge for themselves.
So is Tampa Baes worth the watch? Ahead of the Nov. 5 premiere on Prime Video, we brought in a panel of experts to see. The group of seven women from the Tampa Bay LGBTQ community spent an evening watching and discussing the show.
Initial thoughts and predictions
First, meet our panelists and hear what their expectations were for Tampa Baes.
Andrea Perry, 30, moved to Tampa’s Rocky Point neighborhood a year ago from Augusta, Ga. She’s a veteran, a woman of color and the mother of a nonbinary child. Perry is also a huge fan of TV shows like 90 Day Fiancé.
When Perry saw the Tampa Baes announcement, she felt like she finally was living in a big city. Then she zoomed in on the promotional picture “for diversity reasons.”
“I don’t actually know the people,” she said. “I just hope it’s representative of Tampa.”
Lindsey Sheppy, a 49-year-old personal injury attorney in St. Petersburg, also remembers looking closely at the picture.
“I was like, ‘Do I recognize anyone?’ ” she said, laughing.
Couple Kristine Svansson, 25, and Alexa Guadagno, 22, are tattoo artists who live together in Carrollwood. Guadagno found out about Tampa Baes first and asked her girlfriend, “Why aren’t we on it?”
Svansson expected it would be like a typical reality show.
“I just assumed chaos, drama,” she said.
Tabi Deas, 51, is a St. Petersburg-based real estate agent who loves shows on the Bravo TV network. She lives for reality programming like Southern Charm, Shahs of Sunset and “anything with Lisa Vanderpump.”
Rachel Covello, 41, is the publisher of Outcoast.com Gay Florida Travel Magazine and has made a career of championing Florida as an LGBTQ-inclusive destination. Covello, who is bisexual, was quick to look up each of the cast members in Instagram.
“My first gut reaction was like, ‘Oh, it’s a younger group of lesbians trying to be The L Word,’ ” Covello said, referencing the 2000s Showtime series about the lives of lesbian and bisexual women in Los Angeles. “They did, even back then, introduce trans topics and bisexuals. I’m curious to see how that’s represented (in Tampa Baes).”
She continued, “What I want to know is, did they only pick the prettiest people of Tampa for this show?”
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“I hope so,” said Jennifer Real, a 45-year-old musician who lives in the Kenwood district of St. Petersburg.
The first episode
Note: The rest of this story contains spoilers.
The first episode introduces viewers to the 12 friends in the cast. Cuppie, a travel nurse and beloved member of the group, has returned to Tampa Bay after time in Orlando. She’s loud and fun, and has hooked up with others in their circle before.
A group of women share a toast to Cuppie at Caddy’s on the Beach in Treasure Island. Separately, two discuss Cuppie’s return while sipping from pasta straws at the Black Crow Coffee Co. location in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District. Another duo grabs drinks at St. Petersburg’s Dog Bar.
One of our panelists, Sheppy, was at Dog Bar the night they filmed.
“They had one of the girls walk in like 10 times to get the shot,” she said.
Later in the episode, couple Brianna and Haley host a house party with a Y2K theme. As the group piles into a car headed for Ybor City, drama erupts. The episode ends with fighting in the car. The downtown Tampa skyline shines in the background.
Then a trailer for the rest of the series rolls. There are clips showing heartfelt conversations about coming out, finding love and sharing family heritage. There’s also dancing, zip lining, partying and fighting.
What did our panelists think?
“Thank God it’s over,” Real said.
She thought the episode was entertaining, silly and funny. But she has enough drama in her own life.
“I just wouldn’t waste any time on it,” Real said.
Covello didn’t really relate to the Baes. She spent her 20s dating men, and she was never much of a partier. Her feelings were mixed.
“That’s kind of cool to see where we live, and I think this will help market the area as LGBT-friendly to younger people,” Covello said. “It was almost too focused on the drama and the parties and stuff.”
Deas said the show felt real to her.
“This is pretty much exactly what my 20s and 30s were like,” Deas said.
“Me, too,” Sheppy said.
Covello said she had a hard time believing no bisexual women were in the cast. She also hoped the show would get into more of the deep issues that were mentioned in the trailer.
“When they did the preview about a girl still, in this young generation, having a hard time talking to their parents about their sexuality, that’s important to me,” she said. “I want to know how much of that is still going on today, because so many people have paved the way before and we think there’s a huge assumption that everybody’s welcome and included. But we see right here that obviously there’s some family issues still.”
“When I saw the preview for the show, I thought, there is a nice mix of color,” she added. “There’s not a great mix of sizes. I’ve been plus size my whole life.”
Perry felt like the show was waiting for later episodes to get into the deeper topics. But she wasn’t sure she would keep watching.
“There’s so much plastic on that screen,” Perry said. “I feel like it’s really excessive, but also, it’s Tampa.”
“It was your typical drama, reality TV,” Guadagno said. “A lot of people are into it, and I don’t mind watching, but it would be nice, especially for a lesbian show, to go about it in a different way.”
“This is like a gay Jersey Shore,” Svansson said, referencing the famous MTV reality show. “I would watch it. I mean, it’s not great.”
Sheppy thought the way the cast had to interact with exes was very realistic. She planned to tune in for more.
“I love this town so much,” she said.
What did the women think about how Tampa Bay was represented?
“I think if someone lives elsewhere and was watching this show, like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t wait to go to Tampa to see all the hot f-----g lesbians,’ they would be sadly disappointed,” Deas said.
“I struggle with the lesbian community being oversexualized,” Covello said. “We’re more than just sexual objects, like when they’re talking about making out all the time. I feel like when you do so much of that, it almost makes it appeal more to straight men.”
“It probably would, but it’s also true,” Deas said. “At any given party, you’ve got someone fighting. You turn the corner. Someone else is making out, someone’s smacking someone else’s butt.”
“I’ve got to redo my 20s and try again,” Covello said.
Svansson called Tampa Baes “a surface-level show.”
“They didn’t go out of their way to include other races, other sexualities,” she said. “It’s just about this friend group. It’s not about Tampa Bay lesbians.”
Perry, a veteran, wondered why there wasn’t military representation.
“MacDill (Air Force Base) employs, like, half of Tampa Bay,” she said. “There’s veterans, too.”
Said Covello, “I love that they showed the Black Lives Matter mural. I think that shows great representation for our area. But I’d love to see them show more of that.”
“You can’t shove every single thing into every show,” Sheppy said.
Of the seven women, three opted to stay and watch the second episode.
“I would put it on just to support,” Real said, packing up to leave. “But I wouldn’t watch it. I would literally mute it and just have it playing.”