Spa treatments are expensive,” fashion guru Carson warns Adam Zalta, a Long Island businessman, as they charge into town to remove his feral unibrow as if it were a collapsed kidney. ”But you know what’s more expensive?”
”Divorce,” mutters Adam sheepishly.
”Divorce,” Carson confirms, in his best hate-to-break-it-to-you voice.
By the time Bravo aired episode 2 of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on July 15, it was pretty clear that the scope of the new makeover show spanned beyond its title. Taking into account the living conditions from which its subjects are dramatically rescued — ”Oh, look!” Carson exclaims, after the first subject’s federal disaster area of an apartment is transformed into a stylish bachelor pad. ”You put a living room where the crack den used to be!” — the show is better described as a full-scale humanitarian relief mission: Queers Without Borders.
In a funny yet tender variation on the ubiquitous self-improvement-through-products genre, Queer Eye has managed to unearth a virgin makeover-market niche in basic cable. In doing so, it has slyly upended conventional notions (or what were once conventional notions, anyway) about male desirability. Suddenly, gay guys taunted on the playground for their interest in ”girl things” are using these skills to help their tormentors — and ironically, are ridiculing their subjects in the process. Each week, Queer Eye’s team of lifestyle commandos — Carson Kressley, fashion; Kyan Douglas, grooming; Ted Allen, food and wine; Jai Rodriguez, culture; and Thom Filicia, interior design — gallantly and poignantly rescue a straight man so egregiously out of style, so taste- and culture-deprived, his plight is portrayed as a life-threatening condition. The Fab 5 (as they’ve gleefully dubbed themselves) may embrace every gay stereotype imaginable, but they know how to get the girls. When, in the first episode, the Fab 5 transform urban lumberjack Brian ”Butch” Schepel into a happening artist, his ”friend” Laurel, who’s the object of much of his art — and (seemingly) his affections — turns to the man next to her and snaps, ”You should find out about his tanning thing, because he was pale as an ass.”
As mordant as Carson and the other’s observations are (upon first learning Zalta’s parabolic measurements, he blurts, ”Ooh, Tragikistan!”), they are also surprisingly kindhearted and tender. Queer Eye may be just more of the same televised proselytizing about better living through shopping, but after witnessing a series of helpless straight guys — and not a single metrosexual among them — cheerfully submit to the hands-on ministrations of five gay men, the subversiveness of it all hits you. (”Have you ever had a man undress you before?” Carson asks Schepel, who happily goes along with the day of shopping, salon styling, home decorating, eyebrow tinting, and spray tanning before a big unveiling at his first gallery opening.) Queer Eye is a show about people who need people. It’s a gay-straight version of a Michael Jackson-Paul McCartney duet. Queer Eye is glasnost.