Friday, February 9, 2007

First Reaction: “Pink Pink Pink Pink,” An Opera without a Libretti

Actually, our first reaction was an overwhelming desire to take the much-maligned “Home, Sweet Home” pillow from Michael’s design and put this granny of a show out of its misery. After all, the Bravo website has a snarky “Deathwatch” feature for television shows on other networks, and perhaps, in a “Physician heal thyself” gesture, it’s time to put Top Design on there.

And pardon our French, but while we’re at it, we’d like to call “bullshit” on that whole pillow incident. It’s not that we were fans of Michael’s design, but Todd Oldham and Jonathan Adler themselves are master purveyors of kitsch, and we can easily imagine either of them including the pillow, perhaps with a few modifications, as an “ironic” or “kitschy” or “campy” gesture.

(Although, let’s not forget that Margaret Russell seems to hate pillows on principle. Indeed, it’s rather striking that the Oldham aesthetic itself seems to be in conflict with what the show’s judges are preaching. Todd notes that, pace Margaret Russell, you can design a room around a pet, since he designed his apartment around his dog, and client Amy Sedaris’ apartment around her rabbit.)

It rather seemed that what the judges hated was that the pillow was from Target. Oh, pardon us, from a department store. We can’t imagine how many retakes that must have taken: “I got it at Target—” “Cut, cut, cut! You have to say ‘department store,’ since those cheap bastards wouldn’t pay the hefty ‘promotional consideration,’ and there’s no way they’re getting their name on the air.” Alas, they forgot to pixellate the Target logo on the shopping carts.

We’d like to note that our rant is due not to testosterone injections, but to the fact that the show is unforgivably boring. You may not be able to design a room around the cat, but you can certainly design a blog around the catty, especially when the subject thereof is this dull, and we are therefore forced to entertain ourselves by letting it rip.

The episode begins with the usual panting musical theme, which the closed captioning helpfully identifies as “dance music.” As the scene opens, our merry band of plucky designers is gathered like the Waltons in a living room of sorts. We hear Michael squeal, “Get those things out of my face!” but then realize it’s nothing to be alarmed about; it’s just Ryan showing, rather than telling, Michael that he is a foot fetishist.

Ryan’s diabolical instrument of infantilization, the skateboard, is at the moment under Goil’s feet, as Mr. “Small and Spicy” tries to caper and gambol on it. Alas, he is unsuccessful, and a real man, Carisa, has to show him how to do it right. But pay attention, possums. This isn’t there just for the sake of entertainment (apparently, not much is); it’s yet another small example of Bravo Foreshadowing™, for his time on the skateboard will serve as the inspiration for Goil’s design.

A mild-mannered John brings the party to a halt by introducing the specter of mortality as he calmly announces that he is HIV-positive, and that what Carisa terms his “fiery eruptions” (which makes us think of Mount John, though as a noun rather than as an imperative), are due to a high dose of testosterone administered by his doctor. He says he is not making excuses, and not apologizing for his feelings; he is just clarifying things.

Perhaps it’s just the Bravo editing, and we all know about that, but John’s announcement seems to be met with silence and discomfort. Michael adopts the patented Sam Talbot/Molly Shannon gesture of putting his hands in his armpits. Erik looks uncomfortably into space.

Elizabeth dispenses some appropriate, perfunctory pabulum about how John is suffering, and how she hopes he will be well. We concur with the sentiments, but possum, get thee some conditioner, pronto. And then Ryan pays tribute to John in a bitchy, left-handed compliment that almost makes us like him, comparing John to “an aging prize fighter.” Meow, Ashtabula boy; you can certainly design for the catty.

The show can’t wait to get away from the discomfort of John’s announcement and into the PDC, where Todd is handing out the new challenge. They will be designing a bedroom for “a mystery client.” We roll our eyes and think of Edina Monsoon, who, as soon as her accountant began speaking, dropped her head on the desk with a cry of, “Oh God, I’m bored!” We know how you feel, sweetie darling.

The contestants pick client files at random, and Todd tells them they will be provided with a mattress (ooh!), but they will have to design the headboard. Montage of the contestants planning their design, picking out flooring, and Felicia taking the floor sample John had planned to take, which prompts him to call her a bitch good-naturedly under his breath.

Todd makes the rounds, and stops at Goil’s work station, where Goil is playing with his small and spicy maquette. That’s a scale model, possums. Todd is thrilled. “You made a maquette? Dude, that’s so impressive.” But then, just as with the first episode’s challenge, Todd tips his hand again, asking loaded questions about the scale height of the person in the maquette. When Goil tells him it’s a six-footer, Todd nods, clearly bursting to say, “Ha! Gotcha! You don’t know that your clients are actually children, and there are no six-foot-tall children.”

More montage. Yawn. They “shop” in the PDC. Michael is imperious to a shop assistant. Faced with an unaffordable piece, John says, “You’re killing me, sunshine.” More shopping. Yawn. And then it’s time for the client reveal, but not before 20 minutes’ worth of commercials.

And then, oh ma gawd, the clients are…children! All the Tinky-Winkies clap, and Todd looks and sounds more than ever like a children’s-show host.

It should come as no surprise to you, possums, that children aren’t quite our thing. For us, Village of the Damned is a documentary. However, we’re not promoters of the Albigensian heresy; we understand the necessity for the propagation of the species. After all, someone has to staff the Starbucks. But not everyone should reproduce. (And we include ourselves in this rather large class. We can’t imagine what we would have done if we’d had to marry and breed; we would likely have closed our eyes and thought of England’s rugby team.)

And perhaps Project Runway is one of those entities that should not reproduce either. Each copy gets fainter and more dull, and you end up with something like Top Design, the cross-eyed, feeble-minded offspring of a morganatic marriage gone wrong.

No doubt Top Design sounded like a good idea. We can imagine the idea being born over Cosmopolitans and appletinis. “Ohmigod, we should have an interior design show! And wouldn’t it be neat to get Todd Oldham to be the host?! And maybe we could get Jonathan Adler as a judge? Oh, and somebody from the Elle stable; they breed their fillies bitchy down there. Oh, and maybe a judge who wears really awful outfits, to drive the bloggers crazy?”

And it sounds great in theory, which is why we were so excited about it. It had the air of a recipe for the gayest, funnest (if we may be permitted a malapropism) show ever. And yet the execution, the reality, is off.

It’s evident that Margaret Russell, she of the thin-lipped hauteur, could curdle milk with one look, but she’s still developing her talents. Someone send her the DVD of The Women and fire whoever styled her hair on this episode and next week’s show. And may the Lord and Simon Doonan strike us dead, but though we find Jonathan Adler cute, adorableness only takes you so far, and the winsomeness has itself curdled.

We read about off-camera conversations that include lines about how something looks like the product of the year 1987 mating with a drag queen in a back alley, and we think to ourselves, “Why aren’t we getting to see that? That’s what we tune in for.” Jonathan mentions in an interview how a professor at RISD did him a great service by telling him he wouldn’t succeed, because it made him want to prove the professor wrong, and we think, “Why aren’t you continuing the legacy? Pay it forward, Jonny.” We think an internship with Michael Kors is in order.

If there’s a reason to watch, it’s for Kelly Wearstler’s outfits, which look even more dizzyingly disastrous than Padma Lakshmi’s. We’re positively salivating about next week’s haute skank ensemble with the aqua knee-highs and strappy sandals. We also like her sly, good-natured humor, and do we detect a trace of a drawl? (As for the two children, we’re incredulous; she looks less like the kind of woman who delivers children than the kind who has them delivered.) We’re fickle, and we are officially switching our older-woman crush from Margaret to Kelly, at least for this week.

Oh, wait, we’re supposed to be writing a recap or something, right? Sorry about that. Right, so the kid clients come in to meet with the contestants, and Ryan dries his hand on his pants before shaking his client’s hand, which we found strangely endearing. John’s client is a little girl who is “50% tomboy and 50% girl,” and we drew blood by biting our tongue so hard. Ally Sheedy, er, Andrea, amusingly tells us, “I know nothing about girls, actually.” Possum, we know how you feel.

And poor Matt. It’s like the entire series is fraught with traps for him, in this case, working with a little girl who makes him visibly uncomfortable. She apparently also has the nicknames “Hollywood” and “Fabulous,” which means that poor Matt has to say those words like shibboleths, or like Eliza Doolittle trying not to drop her aitches (oh, and then of course he also has to say the word, “glam”; poor, poor Matt). And to top it all off, he gets assigned the hottest carpenter of the lot. Poor, poor Matt. And then John asks him, incredulously (accusingly?), “Who puts silk in a kid’s bedroom?” Poor, poor Matt.

The contestants go shopping at Target, er, a department store. There, Ryan shops for a variety of pink items, including a pink boa, telling us that everything is, “Pink, pink. Pink. (beat) Pink.” And then, as if to reassure us (himself?), he says, “I definitely have a boy aesthetic.” Yeah, honey, tell that to the pink flowered jacket you’re wearing.

They construct, and we file our nails, though we are tempted to poke our eye out with the nail file from sheer boredom. John’s in trouble. His space has no floor, and he is running a campaign to become, as Jonathan Adler later terms him, “mayor of Excuses Village.” Erik is building a pirate room.

And then it’s time for the time-consuming and pointless judges’ walk-through. Our favorite part of this is right before the judging starts, when it becomes overwhelmingly clear (as if the White Room itself weren’t sufficient evidence) that someone on this show is a huge fan of Bob Fosse as channeled by Rob Marshall. In addition to the Chicago-esque black floor in the White Room, the contestants are made to stand next to their rooms, some with legs akimbo, like Amsterdam hookers in their windows, as the lights are theatrically switched on one by one for the judges to inspect the wares. We half expect the contestants to break into “Big Spender” the minute Jonathan Adler walks in the door. And at the end, the poor soul cast out of the PDC paradise walks in between the rooms as the lights are turned off one by one.

In the White Room, the judges like Goil’s design, which (here comes the Bravo Foreshadowing™ pay-off) incorporates…skateboard wheels! Goil also reveals himself a philosopher, telling Margaret, whose “we are not amused” expression is priceless, “Space doesn’t go anywhere, right? So, it would just get displaced in another space.” The judges also like Erik’s pirate room, though Kelly feels that he went “a little overboard.” See, Margaret? That’s a pun. Nonetheless, Erik is declared the winner.

The judges dislike Ryan’s pink, kitty-centric room, the catalyst for Margaret’s “You just can’t design a room around the cat” remark. They hate Michael’s room, with the “Home, Sweet Home” pillow, describing it variously as very “granny,” “an assisted living facility,” and as being the work of “a state-appointed designer.”

In the end, though, John’s unfinished room proves the kiss of death, and he is subjected to the further indignity of Jonathan Adler’s “See you later, decorator,” before making his way toward the Top Design logo. Sniff sniff. And now that John is gone, Top Design is left an opera without a Libretti.