Friday, February 16, 2007

First Reaction: Fairy Potter and the Prisoners of Azkabanas

Well, we were torn between a Bart Simpson shout-out (Ay, Cabana!) and a nod to Japanese flower-arranging (Eek! Cabana!), but we simply couldn’t pass up the chance to refer to Jonathan Adler as a fairy potter, so there it is, possums.

The Bravo Foreshadowing™ is deployed as soon as the episode opens, with Ryan telling us that he is an artist, that he feels he is being judged, and that he wants his work to become an icon. Um, we thought he wanted to convince America of the evils of consumerism?

Carisa demonstrates Bravo Hubris™ by confessing that, although she is a set designer (as, incidentally, was Kelly Wearstler) and not an interior designer per se, she has done very well thus far and is very pleased with herself.

Having thus foreshadowed that hubris will lead these two astray and into conflict, Bravo shuttles us to the PDC, where Gay Uncle Todd is handing out beach bags in preparation for the contestants’ next challenge, to build a beach cabana. They are divided into teams of three, based on which postcard was included in their beach bag—Team Tahiti (Andrea, Felicia, Michael), Team Miami (Matt, Elizabeth, Erik), and Team St. Tropez (Goil, Carisa, Ryan).

Goil and His Technicolor Dream Glasses confess that they don’t know what a cabana is, for which Goil received a scolding and a one-day suspension of his gay card from us, as well as clenched-teeth muttering and fist-shaking from us about the state of Gaydom and the cultural literacy of younger gays today.

But for Goil’s benefit, and for ours, too, since it will lend clarity to the final product, consider that Merriam-Webster defines a cabana as “a shelter resembling a cabin usually with an open side facing a beach or a swimming pool.”

And throughout the episode we suffer as a cheesy but lovable song from our youth, Modern English’s “Melt with You,” is repeatedly butchered by some pabulum-voiced singer on the same commercial for that idiotic car that the show's winner will get, roomy enough to fit the ego of anyone who has created "the top design."

Each designer on each team has a specified task—to get lumber, to get fabric, and to get furnishings. True to the foreshadowing, Ryan and Carisa get into it. Being a set designer, Carisa feels that she is better suited than a baby-faced sk8terboi with WTO-disrupting delusions to buy furniture for the space, but Ryan is dead set on shopping at Pier 1, because, naturally, shopping at Pier 1 is the way to teach America about the evils of consumerism.

She crabbily goes shopping for fabrics, Ryan comes back with tacky furniture, pillows and tchotchkes, and then the guy from Ashtabula, Ohio, calls the girl from New York “conservative,” and all dialectical hell breaks loose. He also makes one of his trademark left-handed cracks (e.g., John the “aging prize fighter”) about her weight, albeit not to her face, which avoids a bloodbath. Meanwhile, Goil pretends that none of this is happening and that he is somewhere else and working alone.

The following day, they’re off to Santa Monica Beach, and it’s time to assemble their cabanas. But there’s a catch! No electricity on the beach! Well, except the electricity generated by a small herd of shirtless carpenters. So what are the contestants to do? Use, er, hand tools, of course.

Frankly, possums, most of this construction section of the episode is a blur, as all we remember are the marmoreal, rippling, naked torsos of the carpenters, and the self-satisfied expression on their faces at the knowledge that they were being ogled, that it was entirely justified, and that it might just lead to a call from an understandably besotted casting director.

Well, we do have a vague memory of snickering every time we saw Felicia wearing a t-shirt with the words “Sag Harbor” printed right over her bazooms. And then there was Carisa. It was as if a Bravo producer had taken her aside and said, “Psst! Carisa! You wanna know how to make yourself unsympathetic and thus set up the footage for your eventual elimination? You do? Ok, this is what you do. Wear all black to the beach in California’s famously hot autumn weather, and then whine about how you’re a New Yorker and you hate the sun and the sand.”

Of course, you can hate the sin and love the sinner, and this is what Carisa proceeded to do, putting sunscreen on at least one of the carpenters. For all the world, it looked like she was spraying him with melted butter, and frankly, who can blame her? We know our kernels were a-poppin’.

The judges, who must have been hanging out up the street in a cabana at the Viceroy Hotel designed by Kelly (and which looks like a Regency brothel as designed by the Wedgwood porcelain people, where a Georgette Heyer rake might seduce a production assistant or a D-girl), make their way onto the beach to sniff at the cabanas. As we’ve mentioned before, we were disappointed not to see Kelly in a bikini. Looking rather too much like Nicole Richie, she wore a brown sundress and oversized shades. Margaret, sporting a ladylike gray frock from a 50’s Douglas Sirk film, gave a good imitation of life as she inspected the shacks. Jonathan didn’t show any skin either.

Then it was time for the White Room. This would be a good time to trot out the definition of “cabana” again: “a shelter resembling a cabin usually with an open side facing a beach or a swimming pool.” Team Tahiti’s cabana was well-constructed and had gauzy curtains, but, lacking a roof, would seem not to be a shelter and thus not a cabana. Team St. Tropez featured Goil’s overturned beach chair-inspired roof, Ryan’s tacky furniture, and Carisa’s choice of russet and navy blue as colors, inspired by the French tricolore.

Jonathan hates Team Miami’s choice of fluorescent lime green and aubergine as not being Miami. Former Playboy Playmate Kelly, looking like a Marielito streetwalker in aqua knee-high stockings and high-heeled sandals, authoritatively says it’s more Vegas than Miami. Team St. Tropez doesn’t fare much better. Jonathan dislikes the furniture Ryan chose at Pier 1 while battling the evils of consumerism, and complains that—horrors!—it says, “Buffalo,” rather than “St. Tropez.” Meow, and shuffle off to Buffalo! Margaret tells them she knows St. Tropez, and this ain’t St. Tropez. We’ve been to St. Tropez, too, and we took copious notes on her technique for using our St. Tropez sojourn as a sort of fabulous cudgel with which to beat the unfabulous about the head. It was a master class in the master class, and we were, and are, in awe.

Now it’s time for the judges to deliberate in the giant K-hole that is the White Room, though in this instance the “k” stands for “Kafka” as much as for “ketamine,” for what we are witnessing in the White Room is the capricious, arbitrary nature of the Law. The judges are going on again about how purple and green are not Miami colors, well, cuz they say so. And Elizabeth must be punished for it. Of course, had Team Miami used pastel pink and Ladurée green, they would have been faulted as clichéd and trite. Only the Law, and the wielders of the Law, are always right. In a corner of the White Room, the ghost of a naked Michel Foucault smiles knowingly and pendulously from his sling. Mais oui, Michel, you were right; it is all about systems of power.

(Kelly even gets in a dig about Elizabeth being passive-aggressive. Kelly, darlin’, passive-aggressive is: not being the lead judge but wearing epically, deliciously, deplorably, toothsomely awful outfits to hog all attention and outshine the other judges. Jonathan attempts to combat the attention-hogging by rapidly raising his eyebrows at odd moments. It worked for Groucho Marx, but not for Jonathan, and we are constantly reminded of Pauline Kael’s quip about Greer Garson: “a viewer can get weary watching that eyebrow that goes up like the gold curtain at the old Met.”

And Margaret imperiously and world-wearily dismisses one of the cabanas as looking like “a hamburger shack at the country club,” which gave us quite a laugh, and not only because of the unapologetic and perhaps unconscious elitism of her frame of reference. It’s not any old hamburger shack, say on a boardwalk; no, it’s a hamburger shack at the country club, which would seem paradoxically to make it a compliment. Of course, for a hamburger shack at the country club to look as designed as, say, the Miami or Tahiti teams’ shacks, it would probably have to be a restricted country club. Unfortunately, this would mean Jonathan and his Groucho eyebrows would not be welcome (possums, this is where you insert Groucho’s own quip about not wanting to be a member of a club that would have him). But we are amused at the memory of Gregory Peck pretending to be Jewish in Gentlemen’s Agreement.

The Law speaks, and the shelterless Team Tahiti cabana wins the challenge, and Andrea, Felicia and Michael win a “girls’ weekend” at the Viceroy. Elizabeth is then dismissed on the Kafkaesque caprice that her color choice was so un-Miami and so tragic that she must not be allowed to remain a moment longer in their blissed-out midst, a vote that seems positively and suspiciously Floridian after all. Elizabeth, possum, we can’t blame you for dropping the F-bomb after that; we would have dropped the H-bomb (as in, “Ho! Bitch! Skank!”)

Our advice to the remaining contestants: If the judges become too harsh or intimidating, just imagine them naked; it’s easier than you think.