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'Queer Eye' gives straight guys a makeover

Friday, July 11, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- With a nod to Batman and the Batsignal, the five stars of Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" get calls to stage a makeover in the show's opening credits.

Premiering at 10 p.m. Tuesday, this makeover series features five gay men who live by the motto "We don't want to change you, we just want to make you better." In the premiere episode that entails a complete makeover for straight man Butch, who hasn't cut his hair in nine years.

"The Fab Five," as they're called, give Butch tips on grooming, design, food and wine, fashion and culture. Fashion expert Carson Kressley is the most ebullient member of this makeover team.

"You put a living room where the crack den used to be!" he enthuses when he sees the improvements made to Butch's apartment.

It's an entertaining hour -- although like TLC's "Trading Spaces," it might be better at half that length -- and "Queer Eye" proves itself oddly educational. Who knew the shade of blue in jeans -- pants and jackets -- shouldn't match? I'd never heard of a D-ring belt either. And the shaving tips offered in a second episode airing at 11 p.m. Tuesday by grooming guru Kyan Douglas are worth remembering.

Given some of the comments the Fab Five make about the straight guys, it's clear participants must be good sports.

"There's certainly some tough love in the opening scenes where we kind of tease them," Kressley said at a press conference this week. "But we never try to be mean-spirited."

"He's coming to us for our expertise in our areas," said design expert Thom Filicia. "We're working with him; he's working with us. It's really sort of a collaboration."

Food and wine connoisseur Ted Allen said the show transcends any gay-straight preconceptions. "Who wouldn't want five experts in their field to come in and sort of help you with all these areas?"

In one episode, a police officer from Staten Island was at first skeptical, and executive producer David Collins said his behavior was semi-homophobic. But by the end of the three days spent reshaping his world, he had only hugs for the show's stars.

As to whether the show perpetuates gay stereotypes, Kressley laughed off any concerns.

"Not every [stereotype]; we don't have a florist," he said. "If someone says we look great or we have great hair or we're really good dancers, we're all for it. When you see the show, and you watch it, you see the real heart of the show; you realize that we're just six guys hanging out. We just wind up being friends. Those stereotypes kind of fall by the wayside."

Douglas said that the fact "Queer Eye" is on the air proves barriers are being broken down. "It happens with any group," he said. "African-American culture is becoming part of mainstream. Hip-hop is very popular. That happens and it's good."

Bravo president Jeff Gaspin said the network isn't about to become a gay-only channel, although some viewers might suspect as much. "Boy Meets Boy," a gay dating series, premieres at 9 p.m. July 29.

It's essentially "The Gay Bachelor," right down to champagne glasses, in place of roses, given to contestants not eliminated each week.

James, a 32-year-old benefits administrator in a law firm, is the show's "leading man," who gets the chance to meet and date 15 men. There's only one hitch: He doesn't know some of his prospective matches aren't gay. That twist of mystery and some clever casting -- few if any of the guys fit traditional stereotypes -- make the series semi-distinct. But scratch the surface and "Boy Meets Boy" is just another "reality" dating show. Regardless of the potential for sociological intrigue, it's still another addition to a genre that's oversaturating the airwaves this summer.

Bad toon

Tonight at 11, Showtime premieres a despicable seven-episode animated series called "Free For All." Although the characters look like they were created by "Bloom County" genius Berkeley Breathed, they're actually based on Brett Merhar's "Free For All" cult comic. Certainly the dirty humor won't be confused with Breathed's funnier and less profane yuks.

Community college geek Johnny Jenkins (voice of Jonathan Silverman) hangs with his multimillionaire buddy Clay Zeeman (Merhar), who has a ferret that's addicted to Vicodin. Johnny's in love with the girl next door, Paula (Juliette Lewis), and dodging his grandmother's attempts to kill him so she can move out of the basement and claim his room.

One gag -- emphasis on gag -- involves Eminem in a three-way with Clay and Grandma.

There's nothing funny about "Free For All," a juvenile, puerile, unimaginative little show.

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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