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'Queer Eye for the Straight Girl': Mascara for the Soul

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 12, 2005; Page C01

Hits beget hits in television, of course -- even in cable, where a "hit" can draw as few as 2 million viewers. Thus a spinoff to Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was inevitable, even if the precise form it would take was not. "Straight Eye for the Queer Guy"? It has been done on Comedy Central to no great effect.

Instead, what used to be the fuddy-duddy network and is now the hotsy-totsy network has come up with "Queer Eye for the Straight Girl," premiering tonight at 10, which is the same time "Straight Guy" airs on Tuesdays.

"Queer Eye for the Straight Girl's" pals Damon, left, Robbie, Honey and Danny. (Byron Cohen -- Bravo)

As a companion piece, "Straight Girl" totes its barge and lifts its bale in an admirably merry manner. Of course, people who hated the original (which has improved substantially since its premiere) are not likely to embrace the spinoff. And "Straight Girl" shares some of the same drawbacks: Gay audiences can watch and enjoy, happy to be represented on TV every week, yet perhaps dismayed to see swishy stereotypes on parade. It's even possible that bigots in their Barcaloungers could be watching and scoffing, "Haw haw haw, look at the pantywaists."

In both shows, although the cast may indeed include swishy stereotypes, the audience also sees gay men who are kind and caring and who think of women as, by and large, just peachy -- allies in the war against militant macho louts, some of whom run the world.

The first straight girl to call upon our new team of gay guys (to be specific, three gay guys and a lesbian) is an apt pupil, a young woman named Nicole whose sloppiness seems to signal an inner and unjustified lack of confidence. The spinoff has a more intimate feel to it than the original show -- it's not as splashy or quite as frequently given over to silliness -- and the quartet of fixer-uppers appear to be genuinely concerned with lifting Nicole's spirits and banishing her inferiority complex, not just with making sure her pillows match her drapes, or whatever pillows are supposed to do.

Instead of tooling around New York in a black SUV with a FAB 5 license plate, the new team roams Los Angeles and its endlessly reverberant 'burbs in a silvery SUV with tags reading GAL PALS. Robbie (Laughlin, though last names are not used on the show) works on "the look"; Danny (Teeson) has the broad assignment of "the life"; Damon (Pease) "the locale"; and Honey (Labrador) handles, so to speak, "the lady."

Honey Labrador? It sounds like a character from those stupid old "Matt Helm" movies with Dean Martin.

"Straight Girl" seems, commendably, to waste less time on "things" that will sit around Nicole's plain apartment and spend more on her attitudes toward life and toward herself. Her 30th birthday celebration will serve as a kind of finale for the hour (with the usual denouement in which the fixer-uppers sit around, watch a videotape of their handiwork in action and marvel at it). Nicole's boyfriend, Joe, who appears to have been a bit of a stick in the mud, joins in the celebrating, perhaps even seeing his sweetheart in a new and more revealing way.

The gay funsters say the kinds of things a veteran viewer of the other show will expect to hear: "Those shoes are gorgeous!" and "What in God's name is this?" and, going over Nicole's dossier en route to the apartment, "We need to 'Sex and the City' this girl up." Honey at one point loudly declares, "This is a job for a lesbian!" and the dialogue includes "in" lines that gay viewers will probably find funnier than straight viewers do.

Tips of dubious value are pasted onto the screen now and then -- among them, "Freshen your 'do with baby powder," "Honey hydrates the skin" and "Mix trendy and classic pieces" in your attire. When the group is redoing Nicole's wardrobe, and generously plugging Nordstrom's department store, it's worth noting that Robbie looks better in Nicole's cutoff jeans and T-shirt than she did. Sad, perhaps, but true: He has better legs.

Anyway, for all the frolic and frivolousness, the show has actual moving moments, as when Nicole talks about the death of her father, on whom she clearly doted, and how this influenced her life. And the team members show they have soul and sensitivity, leaving Nicole not only with a new look but also with a new outlook -- and with one of those secular inspirational books about dodging the brickbats life throws at you.

They've all autographed it, and one of them wrote this inscription: "Everything you want to be is already inside you." It may not be original, but in context and under the circumstances, it's definitely good for a lump in the throat. "Queer Eye for the Straight Girl," like its predecessor, makes Television Land a nicer place to hang out.

Queer Eye for the Straight Girl (60 minutes) airs tonight at 10 on Bravo.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company