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Hi-Def Dish: Logo’s “Setup Squad” teaches Dating 101

Dating is often considered one of the first stops in the nine circles of hell.

Rare is the individual who enjoys the ordeal, who likes making the first move or making that first phone call. Not many of us are equipped for rejection or rejecting, and we all hate unearthing the monstrous insecurities that lurk below the surface.

Dating is such traumatic, dramatic pain that like most other institutions there’s expert help available. Dating agencies are nothing new. But, viewing the inner sanctum is.

“Setup Squad,” Logo’s new offering, is a docu-reality series that offers the viewer an opportunity to see professional “wingmen” in action.

Renne Lee, a dating coach in New York City, founded her agency, Wings, Inc., with the novel premise of partnering her clients with “wing” women and men. Her diverse team includes Lauretta, a brash and mouthy diva who claims to be a gay man in a straight woman’s body. Jonathan is a real-deal gay man and Floridian transplant. He utilizes charm and subtlety to infuse poise in his clients. Meredith is a lesbian real estate agent by day who knows how to “seal the deal” at night. Newcomer Helen is a straight and single comedian who believes humor is key for breaking the ice.

The premier episode of “Setup Squad” introduces Jonathan to his new straight client and single mom, Zakeenah. Lauretta’s paired with Timothy, a gay boy who’s looking for love and self-acceptance in a gay community he doesn’t understand.

Wingman Jonathan Lovitz, fresh from the NEWNOWNEXT Awards in Los Angeles and now home in New York, explains the twist in assignments.

“I’m really kind of thrilled with that decision. I think what’s great about the show is that it breaks conventions for a lot of Logo programming as well as what people would expect of typical gay television. Lauretta’s client is a gay man and my client is a straight, single mother. I think what that will do is show everyone the premise of the show: the universality of crazy dating issues. By being paired up with a wingman that’s not completely from your point of view is what serves our client’s best.”

Lauretta’s client Timothy is a handful. He’s inexperienced and filled with an angst that appears to border self-loathing homophobia. When asked to comment on his co-worker’s client, Jonathan had a different and perhaps kinder perspective.

“There’s someone out there in the audience who’s going to identify with that problem who may or may not be gay,” Jonathan said. “Someone who’s just coming into their own and entering a different chapter of their life, something different from where they expected to be. What may seem like self-loathing may be self-discovery. I actually think Timothy’s an amazing example to the country because (for example) my best friend in NYC didn’t come out till he was 33.”

That’s the kind of understanding and perspective that’s necessary to get Timothy “over the hump,” and while Jonathan has the insight, Lauretta has the bravado to help the straightest gay guy ever, find his game.

She takes Tim to Chelsea, the epicenter of gay New York.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on with this guy,” Lauretta said. “We’re going to have to take baby steps.”

His first baby steps are on the streets of Chelsea and the Gay 1-2-3.

“This is a great way to pick someone up,” Lauretta instructed, “or at least gauge whether someone is interested in you. A man that you’re attracted to walks past, you count 1,2,3 and you turn and look, and if they look back at you, that’s an invitation. You go back, you start talking, you exchange numbers, etcetera, etcetera and the rest is history.”

The look on Timothy’s face falls somewhere between fear, loathing and smelling something really bad, but to his credit he follows the advice of his mentor and with a smidge of success. Later, Lauretta escorts Timothy to a gay bar where he’s confronted and tested by the bitterness of mean queens. Clearly his fear and anxiety aren’t entirely free-floating products of his own imagination but again, and with guidance from Wingwoman Lauretta, Timothy endures.

“Setup Squad” is another twist on reality programming: part dating show and part workplace drama. It’s entertaining and instructional enough, and as it is with most reality-themed entertainment, not too taxing. “Setup Squad” is candy that’s vitamin fortified. It’s another reminder for a country conflicted by sexuality that sweetness and naiveté and sex aren’t mutually exclusive. And who knows? Maybe we can all pick up a tip or two along the way.

The details

“Setup Squad” had its premiere on Monday, April 25, on Logo. Subsequent episodes will debut on Mondays.

Kurt Niece is a freelance journalist from Tuscon, Ariz., and author of "The Breath of Rapture." He writes about television for Echo Magazine in Phoenix and SDGLN. He is also an artist who sells his work on his website.