Bravo's Fab Five Could Use A Patch for Its Lazy 'Eye'
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 1, 2004; Page C01
What wacky nuns were to pop culture in the 1960s, gay men are to the present: the Singing Nun, the Flying Nun, the endless choruses of "Dominique-nique-nique," and let us not forget the crafty nuns who took those distributor caps out of the Nazi staff cars in "The Sound of Music," rescuing the family Von Trapp. This exposure was all wonderful PR for nuns, or so it seemed, because they suddenly weren't so mysterious, marginal or intimidating after all. Nuns were fun! They were here to help, to teach, to fall ambiguously in love with Elvis, or to make the world better with a guitar and a song.
So it goes now with the lesser networks of cable, which owe no small credit for their programming successes to the good-hearted but sardonic gay man and his makeover magic. He lives to serve the middle-class heterosexual man and woman, who have crises of clutter, color scheme and back hair.
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (last summer's runaway hit, which begins its second season tonight at 10 on Bravo) is very much the same kind of phenomenon, with its own returning set of lovable sisters who spread peace and joy and good taste:
Sister Thom Filicia handles the redecoration, while Sister Kyan Douglas does the hair. Mother Superior Carson Kressley handles garment issues, while Sister Ted Allen whips up something in the kitchen. (As for Sister Jai Rodriguez, well, "Queer Eye" still struggles to solve a problem like this Maria. What does he actually do, again? He used to pick out CDs, but now, like so many underemployed gay men in the city, he has repurposed himself as a "lifestyle coach," part counselor, part infotainment czar, part useless.) The Fab Five, as the men of "Queer Eye" are known, can rightfully claim some success in breaking down a segment or two of the concrete wall that demarcates the present cultural divide. Even the most skeptical of gay critics, who fretted needlessly about stereotyping, have had to admit the show has an endearing sweetness.
As for the targets, the straight men who have been subjected to all manner of verbal teasing (and tweezing), waxing, shopping, sauteing, uncorking, shower-scouring and the almighty "tjuzing" (pronounced zooshing, a constant fussing and rumpling maneuver to clothes and hair coined by Kressley in hopes of teaching the bumbling heteros how to be casual without being slobs) have been nothing if not champions of tolerance, never once uttering a slur toward our heroes. And they've cleaned up nice, too.
Success is always achieved on "Queer Eye": The wives, mothers or girlfriends gasp with delight when Prince Charming opens the door and welcomes them into his newly tjuzed apartment and serves a dessert or hors d'oeuvres tray of his own making. By then the Fab Five have taken their leave, watching and commenting on the videotaped proceedings safely from their supergay cloister/apartment/lair.
Last season, this was infectiously watchable television, made more so by the hilarious and presumably unscripted quips from the likes of Kressley, Allen and company. (Kressley especially, who wins the Rene Auberjonois Lifetime Achievement award for mastering the ultimate in comic delivery: He almost never laughs at his own jokes.) But Season 2 finds the "Queer Eye" concept a little tired: The Fab Five arrive in their SUV on a blustery day to the Long Island home of 27-year-old twin bachelors David and Brandon Bravo (no relation to the network). The Queers barge through the door into the usual house of horrors: One twin has been blowing his nose into the dirty undershirts strewn around his room; another apparently chooses to relieve himself into a bedside Gatorade bottle rather than get up at night and walk to the bathroom.
Like all the show's previous specimens, the beefy Bravo twins (who are given to fits of spontaneous wrestling, much to the ogling delight of the Fab Five) don't want to go on like this: They wish to tidy themselves up, ridding themselves of the La-Z-Boy recliners, camouflage pants, porn DVDs and Yoda dolls that keep them trapped in adolescence. Specifically, they want to host their large family for a dinner celebrating the 80th birthday of their grandfather.
You know where this is going if you've seen all the episodes where it has gone before. (And there have been all the "Queer Eye" jokes, parodies and talk show references that followed.) The straight guys seem to be getting smarter, less hopeless from the outset. Still we must trudge through predictable makeover segments.
The twins are shuttled to Manhattan to a trendy SoHo furniture boutique where Filicia helps them purchase their first, simple $5,000 sofa. (The budget for "Queer Eye's" clothes and furniture rockets well past the thrifty suburban shows like "Trading Spaces" and "Clean Sweep." Such is the price tag of overt homosexuality.) Kressley takes them next to J. Crew at the new Time Warner building in Columbus Circle to build a basic (and basically preppy) wardrobe. (David Bravo surmises that he looks "a little on the fruitier side here," in a pink polo shirt, and Kressley seems, for once, to understand.) After Douglas waltzes them into a high-dollar salon for high-dollar haircuts, Allen takes them to a chic bakery to learn how to frost a birthday cake for Grandpa.
By the time the boys stop wrasslin' and light the candles on the cake, the audience is fully bored, and spends most of its time wondering why the Queers keep looking worse while the Straights have improved. (What has poor Ted done to his hair? etc.) At core, the problem this season is neither the queer eyes nor the straight guys. It's New York.
"Queer Eye" has become lazily dependent on the limitless spas, salons, gourmet groceries and fashion stores of Manhattan, and it has found too many already enlightened hetero males in the Tri-State area to mess around with. (Even the Bravo twins, with their Long Island machismo, are moved to tears when they see their apartment. David writes the Fab Five a poem and wells up while reading it. Where is the enlightenment challenge in these guys?) This show needs a tjuzing of antagonism; producers this season have promised a future episode in Texas. One hopes that doesn't mean Dallas or Houston, because "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" can no longer be 100 percent metropolitan if it's going to remain watchable.
It also shouldn't remain completely apolitical. While this is comedic reality television about fashion, it would be nice to see one of the Fab Five crack wise, for just a semi-serious second or two, about the messy reality of gay life in America right now: In several episodes last season, the Queers spent time prepping the Straights for the moment they would propose marriage to their girlfriends. At no point has anyone, straight or gay, acknowledged the irony here, that none of the Fab Five is eligible to wed, unless they relocate to Massachusetts.
It's time for "Queer Eye" to bravely test its skills of goodwill and good style with a visit to bright red America, to see what kind of trouble (and charitable works) it can cook up. Someplace where there isn't even a Pier 1.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Been there, redone that: "Queer Eye" Fab Five Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley, Ted Allen and Jai Rodriguez.
(Craig Blankenhorn -- Bravo Via AP)