The Watcher - Bend it like Bravo

Cable channel has mixed success with queer market

I tried to avoid it, really I did.

But damn if "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" didn't somehow weasel its way into virtually every media outlet known to man. We're talking the cover of Entertainment Weekly, a big splash in the New York Times, even Jay Leno's getting a Fab Five makeover (set to air Aug. 14).

If the volume of press were any indicator, every man, woman and child in North America would be tuned into Bravo, waiting to see what hapless breeder gets berated next.

Perhaps such a media blowjob should be expected in a summer that's offered crap like "101 Things Removed From The Human Body" (a real show, sadly). But still, "Queer Eye" doesn't quite live up to its hype. How could it?

Which is not to say the show sucks. Frequent jaw-dropping moments and no lack of biting wit make it almost the must-see show of the season.

In case you're just returning from an Iraqi tour of duty, here's the premise: Five gay men adopt a struggling straight for the weekend and teach him the joys of hair gel, Pottery Barn and foie gras. Each team member comes with his own area of expertise, from home decor to gourmet cooking. Though all of the five get roughly equal face time, fashion maven Carson Kressley has already established himself as the star, thanks mainly to his queen-sized cattiness (with comments like, "Do you have bad credit or bad taste?").

Too bad the others tend to be less consistently "on." Dull-as-dirt Ted Allen, the food guy, offers culinary advice that tends to be both impractical and boring. I will say I've picked up some pretty handy grooming tips from Kyan Douglas. (Never mind that his name used to be "Eddie" when he dated a friend of mine years ago.)

But if these are the gay "Super Friends," then poor Jai Rodriquez got stuck playing Aquaman. As the "culture" expert, Rodriguez tags along with the other homos wishing in vain to be useful.

Some critics have dissed "Queer Eye" for reducing gay men to already tired stereotypes (sissy hairdresser, swishy decorator), but I tend to see the opposite side of that argument. There's something strangely empowering about seeing these five fags in action. Bravo to Bravo for giving the pedestrian makeover show genre a sassy and smart-assed makeover itself.

"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Bravo.

Critics have been been far less kind to "Queer Eye's" fledgling sister show, "Boy Meets Boy." The reality-TV match game has been lambasted for its cruel twist.

Leading man James meets a pool of 15 "mates," guys who vie for his attention a la "The Bachelor." The catch: Some of the men are actually straight, unbeknownst to James or his tag-along fag hag Andra, there to help him choose a suitor. Should James end up with one of the non-gay contestants, the imposter wins $25,000.

The surprisingly titillating little masquerade, I'm sad to admit, has kept even me guessing. My picks for the straight guys were wrong two out of three times. There goes the whole gaydar theory.

What I do like about "Boy Meets Boy" — and "Queer Eye" — is that both shows force gay and straight guys to play nice together. While the two programs almost certainly attract more gay male and straight female viewers than hetero men, it's refreshing to tune into such an accepting (albeit artificial) climate.

Still, Bravo's stab at becoming The Gay Channel slightly baffles me. Who do they think they are — Lifetime?

"Boy Meets Boy" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Bravo.


The Watcher is a weekly column on television, DVDs and other small-screen delights.