When Fox News announced this month that it would debut “Outnumbered,” a show that pits one male guest against a panel of female regulars, I declared it a work of evil genius. What better way to simultaneously parody feminism and let a bunch of conservative women make themselves look eminently reasonable than by sending them up against a lone man prepared to say utterly ridiculous things?
That is exactly what happened when the show debuted today, with Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson as its first token guy. In choosing Carlson as the first man in the hot seat on the white circular couch, “Outnumbered” picked a perfect guest for its purpose. In the name of innate biological and psychological differences between men and women, Carlson was cheerfully willing to defend pretty much any proposition put to him.
On the obsessive focus on how women in politics look? “I don’t think anyone would be standing with Wendy [Davis] in Texas if she wasn’t a handsome woman,” Carlson declared confidently. In terms of cheating, of course men care about physical intimacy more than emotional intimacy, Carlson said, “Men are pretty sex-focused. I don’t know if you heard, if it made the papers where you live, but that is true.” Should fast food chains have to hand out the toys in children’s meals based on families’ preferences, rather than the gender assigned to each toy? “Keep your politics out of my Big Mac,” Carlson grumbled. He even stood up for a Texas teacher who faces criminal charges for giving a lap dance to a 15-year-old male student. “If you have a 17-year-old boy, he is in almost every sense except judgement a man,” Carlson insisted, trolling mode fully engaged.
Carlson’s gleeful contrarianism was the perfect trampoline for his hostesses. Where Carlson suggested that the response to Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks was confirmation of liberal worldviews, particularly President Obama’s, Kimberly Guilfoyle stepped up in defense of the African American players who have to work for Sterling.
During the fast-food toys debate, Jedediah Bila reminisced about her own tomboy childhood and how frustrated she might have been had she been limited to “girl” toys. “I’m raising two girls, and one’s a tomboy, and one is just a princess,” Harris Faulkner said, telling the panelists that she tries to get a mix of toys and let her daughters trade off. “If you want to rule the world, little girls, you have to know what boys like.”
And on the Texas lap dance story, all the women agreed: Carlson was not just overstating the extent to which teenaged boys are grown-ups, he was setting a dangerously unreasonable standard for the classroom.
You can hate Fox News all you want, and judging by a lot of the response to my post when “Outnumbered” was announced, any praise for the network’s acumen is out of bounds. But the show’s well-calibrated, juicy debut episodes was genuinely entertaining — if totally amoral — television that showed a sharp sense of how to position the personalities who were appearing on it.
Carlson’s willingness to stake out utterly ridiculous opinions allowed the women on the panel to come across as entirely moderate and reasonable. In future episodes, that sort of tone might let them stretch beyond Fox News’s generally conservative politics or advance wild conspiracy theories with equal credibility. You can hate Roger Ailes and the network he built all you want. But shows like “Outnumbered” are why Fox News succeeds as entertainment and as politics.