Reality Roundup: The Abbey, Absolved

I’m a creature of habit.  I like my coffee black, my dogs floppy-eared….and my restaurant reality to be Vanderpump Rules.

But habits can change, and for this, I’m forever grateful.

What Happens at the Abbey – a reality show that, like my beloved Vanderpump, focuses on the young (or, in Vanderpump’s case, “young”) staff of an LA hot spot (again, for Vanderpump, “hot spot”) – kicked off its season in all the ways you might expect.  The Abbey’s first two episodes boasted extensive fillers of expository fluff (hot LA twenty-somethings have big dreams! The muscle-bound fitness model likes girls with fake boobs!) and half-hearted storylines featuring appearances by E!-connected “celebrities” (for the most part, of a decidedly who-y variety).

Then Kyle goes and grabs Kim’s butt midway through the third episode and it. Gets. GOOD.

Ultimately, the key driver of What Happens at the Abbey – the thing that no number of painstakingly crafted doctor’s waiting room confessions and tearful airport farewells can camouflage –  is the colorful collection of characters that make up the show’s cast.  Below, meet a few members whose dysfunctional stars promise to keep the Abbey shining bright this season.

“Ashlee is a bit of a hot mess…but I’m just trying to focus on the hot part”

Smack dab in the middle of the show’s promo photo (and occupying the focal point even though she – unlike the rest of the cast – doesn’t actually work at the Abbey) is Ashlee.  With dreams of one day becoming a truffle-maker, Ashlee stands out in a sea of wannabe fitness models, wannabe actor/models, and wannabe model-models.  Granted, given Daniel’s claim that her confection “tastes like dirt,” this may be an unfortunate life choice but – as with all things involving sugar – I’m still willing to give her chocolate a chance.

The same might be harder to say of Ashlee.  Without letting her expression of wide-eyed innocence drop for a second (or, for that matter, offering any explanation for the pivot), Ashlee went from management trainee Chelsea’s friend to full-on accused stalker in four episodes flat.  She rebutted Chelsea’s latest accusations with the detached composure of a serial killer, embracing her new-found villainy with an enthusiasm previously reserved for truffles only.  “I didn’t disagree with it when it was said to me…but I didn’t say it,” she retorted, exiting the onslaught unscathed (despite being at least somewhat in the wrong).

We have only seen the beginning of the tricks up Ashlee’s stylish sleeve – and I’m certain that each one will be worth watching as they emerge.

“His personality is very similar to that of a beanbag chair”

Billy the bottle service boy has big dreams of becoming a body builder/fitness model (I know what you’re thinking – and that would DEFINITELY be an amazing children’s book).  But for now, he must settle for being grabbed and groped by the likes of Brandi Glanville between visits to The Ellen DeGeneres Show for his stint as Nick the Gardener.

Aside from running an arguably misguided defense of Ashlee’s honor, we’ve seen little action from Billy in the early part of the season.  But even if his contributions are contained to his innate ability to flex whenever the cameras and/or his roommate Kyle are around – I won’t be complaining.

 “I was a waitress on One Life to Live.  Which I feel like counts as a lot”

As a firm believer in the power of television (having once successfully convinced myself that bar study could only be enhanced with back episodes of Law and Order), I’m willing to depend on television for many things.  Not among these many things are: (1) military protocol, (2) how to land an airplane, and (3) proper bottle service technique.

Faced with item #3 in an early episode of the season, Marissa demonstrated the extent to which her waitress acting gig had failed her, promptly getting booted from the coveted role of offering alcohol (a difficult proposition when, like Marissa, you have neither access to a bottle opener nor any knowledge of how to open/pour/do anything involving champagne) to Tori Spelling.  As the disaster that is Marissa unfolded (culminating in the incredibly unprofessional selfie that got her canned for the evening), VIP host Lawrence remarked that “she brings a unique quality to VIP bottle service…creepiness.”

If Marissa’s over-the-top ‘in the moment’ narratives are any indication of the episodes to come, you can bet that creepiness will be only one of the many, MANY unique Marissa qualities that will be gracing our screens in the weeks ahead.

“Murray’s a terrible liar.  Or else, he’s a terrible truth teller.  One of the two”

With their relationship status in constant evolution, Cory and Murray – caught in a non-stop bounce between cutesy handholding and drunken insult hurling – will be the ones to watch.  “They’re so cute…when they like each other,” one cast member wryly observed

In this week’s episode, we were treated to our first real taste of the “off” version of the Cory and Murray show: drinks were thrown, tears were shed, and ledges were talked off of.  But from the cast’s reaction, it’s clear this is not the first time they have seen Murray wipe the better part of a Bloody Mary off his face…nor, I have to believe, will it be our last.

“I mean…he’s an idiot sometimes, but he’s not a bad guy”

Wannabe-action hero Kyle has largely shaped his storyline by flirting with Ashlee to get Marissa’s attention.  While incredibly transparent, the strategy seems shockingly effective – and it’s not yet clear whether Marissa or Kyle will emerge worse for the wear.

But there’s more to Kyle than a mountain of muscle caked with a girl-crazy finish.  In a move that would make any Housewife proud, Kyle made a play for the spotlight in the show’s most recent episode by, after baiting Ashlee with catty swipes at Chelsea, bringing the juiciest tidbits of the ensuing conversation back to Chelsea herself.  And what Kyle’s tale lacked in accuracy (namely…it was Kyle, in his Marissa-fueled attempts to win Ashlee’s affections, who bad-mouthed Chelsea to Ashlee, not the other way around), he made up in earnest persistence.

Shrugging off his actions with a swift “she should know about it,” Kyle proved he’ll be a slippery one to watch this season.

“I have logged into boyfriends’ Facebook before…and slept outside their house in my car”

Early in the season, Kim nonchalantly let the lengths of her insanity slip.  This offhand reference to essentially turning someone’s driveway into her personal campground demands explanation (which, sadly, we may never receive).  And while Kim’s more recent roles seem largely contained to playing out her role in a ‘will they/won’t they’ relationship with Elizabeth, I can only imagine that there’s more crazy where that came from, just waiting to bubble to the surface.

“Daniel is a five-year-old in a not-really-grown man’s body”

Claiming both to have originated the man bun and to be the force that’s bringing back the fanny pack, Daniel’s relationship with reality is persistently intermittent– much like his approach to the opposite sex. Managing, in the show’s first four episodes, to burn through a short-lived ‘relationship’ with Ashlee and more rejection than any man could count, Daniel quickly dropped the whole heartbreaker thing, opting instead for the ‘cast clown’ role.

The move didn’t come a second too soon, as Daniel’s success (or lack thereof) in his modeling day ‘job’ is equally questionable.  With both the names and the actual looks of his modeling poses as indistinguishable as off-brand cologne (“blue magnum” doesn’t interest you? What about a little “steel fade”?), it’s no wonder that he chose to cap off the fourth episode’s Palm Beach shoot by shoving colleague Chelsea in the pool.

Daniel’s dose of predictably juvenile comedy may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s hard to argue that a little light-heartedness could ever be a bad thing – particularly amidst the dramatic deluge offered by the rest of the Abbey cast.

New episodes of What Happens at the Abbey air midnight ET Sunday nights on E! and are available the next day on-demand.

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