"A Very Queer Eye Thanksgiving" premieres tonight on Bravo, and though it comes two days early (and was taped earlier than that, of course), if we accept that Thanksgiving is a state of mind as much as it is the fourth Thursday in November, it's close enough. And it gives you time to put the recipes and practical advice to use before Thursday -- if you're a practical, recipe-following sort of person.
"It's the fairy queen of Thanksgiving!" Queer Guy Ted Allen announces as he pops his face through a bouquet of greens. And the paradigm of the makeover show is indeed the fairy tale -- Cinderella, specifically, but any story in which magical agents come to the rescue of needy mortals. Attaching it to the national fairy tale of Thanksgiving (another story about helpful intercessionaries guiding the befuddled -- dead fish helps corn grow!) makes perfect sense.
On this special edition of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," the Fab 5 team of experts -- Allen (food), Kyan Douglas (grooming), Carson Kressley (fashion), Jai Rodriguez ("culture") and Thom Filicia (decor) -- invite four of their made-over straight guys to dinner, with their families. There is Jeff, who turned out to resemble David Bowie when shorn of his long hair and beard; David, who needed the confidence and clothes to join his handbag-designer wife on the runway; and the wrestling Bravo Twins, who would sometimes use a shirt as a handkerchief.
It's a party that, despite the harsh lighting, feels like a real party -- there's a sense of it being actual, if not absolutely impromptu, fun. (This is the wittiest of reality shows, by miles.) And by moving very fast, it gives the impression of covering a long day. Everyone is given aprons and set to work, learning how to throw a party by helping throw the party they're at. I learned a few things myself -- about brining the turkey, and how they make ambrosia down in Florida, and how to make a drink called a "garnet." There is dancing on tables, football in the living room, a dinosaur imitation, a good-looking dinner ("Straight, straight, gay -- it's kind of like a game," says Kressley as he works out the seating plan). There is drinking, early and often. Even the Thanksgiving tradition of watching television comes in, as they review their year in clips. There is a lot of love in the room. It is all strangely moving.
All makeover shows are based on the idea that improving the outer life benefits the inner. But unlike "The Swan" or "Extreme Makeover," whose standards for beauty come straight out of Hollywood and which take surgery for granted, "Queer Eye" assumes that fabulousness is a matter of attitude, not anatomy. The aim is to educate, not operate. Change is effected simply: Wear clothes that fit. Cut that hair, shave that beard. Be clean. Learn to cook one thing. Stand proud. Buy a handkerchief. "All things just keep getting better," runs the series' theme song -- it is all about possibility.
But mostly it is about love, and about what men will do for their wives, girlfriends and family. ("I love you just the way you are," Goldman's wife tells him, "but I like you cleaned up even better.") The show provides an answer to Freud's old question, "What does a woman want?" She wants a man who is not afraid of skin care products.
More than that, it's about love of one's fellows, without regard to sexual orientation. In spite of ample humorous references to "your people" and "my people" and so on, the series is open-minded and open-hearted -- the homosexuals approve of heterosexual unions, the straight guys are moved by the evidently authentic affection of their gay guides. In a time when much of the nation seems alarmed by the fear of a queer planet, this TV dinner party stands as an oasis of sane mutual regard. "It's like Thanksgiving on the alternative Waltons Mountain," says Carson, and he's not far off.
'A Very Queer Eye Thanksgiving Special'
When: 9 p.m. today
Fab Five: Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley, Jai Rodriguez