Friday, February 23, 2007

First Reaction: Swatch What Happens

Possums, we like to start our viewing with a drinking game.

Every time Matt Lorenz says or does something that could be considered gay, we down a shot of tequila.

Oh, come now, possums. We know he says he’s straight, and is married, and has a child. Blah blah blah; spare us the disclaimers. It’s not our fault that we need a drinking game to make the show entertaining.

So, the show begins with Matt saying, “It was a little scary to be in the bottom three. It’s not a place I like to be.” Drink one shot of tequila. “I was there because I did not take an active role….” Um, Matt, possum, that’s kind of the definition of…never mind. Drink another shot of tequila. “I’m going to have to be a little more vocal.” Drink a third shot of tequila. Then, as the designers make their way into the PDC, we see Matt swinging a tote bag. Drink a fourth shot.

So, it’s two minutes into the show, and already we’re sloshed.

The designers sit on the grass outside the PDC with Todd Oldham sitting in front of them wearing some piebald shirt that looks like it came from a garage sale. Hmmm, could that be yet another example of Bravo Foreshadowing™? Todd tells the designers that for their next challenge, they will get to meet their clients first. Forced, weirdly emphatic laughter from the designers. But, he says, they may be the most opinionated and difficult clients the designers have ever had. Forced, weirdly emphatic groans from the designers.

It was then that we realized just what this little scene reminded us of, one of our favorite films and guilty pleasures, The Sound of Music. A preternaturally cheerful and boyish novice sitting on the grass with his charges, wearing brown, and telling them about how they’re going to start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. It was all the same, down to the forced, weirdly emphatic reactions. We half expected Todd to bring out his guitar.

Instead, he brings out the “clients,” interior design students from schools around Los Angeles, including (in freaky Todd voiceover) students from Otis College of Art and Design. The clients, Todd said, would be randomly assigned to the designers. Immediately we saw a really hot guy who sat down in the back, and on whom the golden afternoon light seemed to pool, and we said to Miss XaXa, “Whaddya wanna bet the Bravo producers ‘randomly’ assigned him to Matt?” (Sorry, when we’re sloshed, our diction gets more colloquial.)

The challenge is to design a post-college living space for a design student. The designers meet with their clients, and, of course, Matt ends up with “Chad.” Drink a fifth shot of tequila. Matt and Chad, Matt and Chad, two pretty blond boy interior designers sitting together in the sun in West Hollywood. Nope, nothing remotely gay about that. (Jesus, Bravo, sometimes you really do go overboard.)

Goil’s client brings the proceedings to a halt with her shocking declaration that she is in possession of art books! Good luck, possum, trying out for Season 2 of Top Design (if, indeed, such a thing were to happen at all). Art books? As in reference points? As in cultural literacy? What planet are you from? (Sorry, when we’re sloshed, we pontificate even more than usual.)

Of her client, Felicia says, “Gosh, she’s a mini me.” We hear the cymbal clash of true Bravo Foreshadowing™ at work. Oh dear, hasn’t she heard of Freud and the anxiety of influence and the child killing the parent? Oh wait, she’s a Scientologist, so she probably doesn’t cotton to Freudian readings. Oh, well.

Tortured, WTO-hating artist Ryan is finally happy with a challenge that doesn’t require him to conform to what St. Tropez is. To demonstrate his glee, he gives a Bronx cheer and flips both birds to the camera. We got a little frisson. Oooh, how subversive, how punk, how épatez les bourgeois! And then, when they go shopping for fabric, he admits he has never bought fabric before. Outlaw!

It’s the next day, and at 6:25 a.m., Todd breaks into the women’s loft in a ski mask to carry out a panty raid. Oh wait, sorry. Wrong show. He’s come to wake the women up, and turns on all the lights. And he laughs a gleeful, boyish laugh that is the most natural, spontaneous and adorable thing we’ve seen about him the entire show. Carisa tells us, in perhaps the most unsurprising statement of the series, “I never in my life thought I would wake up to the sound of Todd Oldham’s voice.” No doubt you’re one of the few women who’s had the privilege; enjoy it, possum.

Then we go to the men’s loft, and Bravo treats us to many a lingering close-up of a shirtless, tousled, sleepy-eyed, angelic Matt lying on his stomach and looking Bel Ami-cably into the camera. Drink a sixth shot of tequila.

Once the designers are all gathered around the muffins Todd has brought as compensation (and don’t think we haven’t noticed Bravo’s penchant for these early-morning, host-comes-in-and-wakes-contestants-up-so-viewers-can-ogle-them-while-in-bed-and-in-their-sleepwear shenanigans; not that we’re complaining, mind you, and the boys get to look at Felicia’s splendid muffins), he tells them they’re going to go shop at garage sales. The closed captioning helpfully points out that “ominous music” is playing, and Andrea informs us that she has never been to a garage sale and that the prospect frightens her.

The garage sale montage is a sort of blur again, what with six tequila shots. Oh, make that seven, as we just heard Matt say, “My client wanted clean, straight lines.” We do remember Felicia’s cleavage being prominently displayed throughout, and Goil putting on a Catholic schoolgirl skirt and transforming it into a kilt by trying to do a "Lord of the Dance" routine. And for all the wonderful qualities attributed to the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, we had yet to hear that it was chock full of garage sales featuring cool mid-century furniture for a song. Now we know why the hipster Munchkins are so happy there.

Back in the work room, Todd tells them that the carpenters are going to be randomly assigned. But! Of! Course! First! There’s! A Twist! A hook hand, and an accordion lick. Oh, wait, this isn’t a Judy Tenuta show. Felicia helpfully utters a loud “Uh-oh!” God, the editors are going to miss her. So, the twist: after this challenge, the carpenters will no longer be “randomly assigned.” Instead, the designers can pick whom they want after the carpenters parade around in black slips.

Carisa gets a make-up wearing, softly-butch female carpenter, Sarah. Not for nothing is The L Word set in L.A. Carisa then tells us that the Los Angeles water has caused her to fixate on the green & orange color combination. It’s like a gay dénouement to Chinatown: all that struggle to get water for L.A., and in the end all it leads to is hot colors.

Ryan, true to his rebel rocker self, is following the Rolling Stones’ injunction to paint it black, although we don’t recall the song saying anything about adding ground glass to the black paint. Meanwhile, Goil and his hot carpenter Jared talk about something being “9¾ inches, dude.” And we drink another shot of tequila. Oh, wait, there’s no "Goil Is Gay" Drinking Game. Never mind.

Carisa’s plan to build a rolling desk doesn’t work out, and she acts the abusive, bitchy femme of the couple with her carpenter. In the end, she declares, “I’ll never trust another carpenter again.” Then she marries a male lawyer, moves to Scarsdale, and falls in love with her son’s female art teacher when she’s 40.

It’s time for the judging. And the guest judge this week is Larry Kramer. Oh wait, it’s Joe Stewart, a set designer who, in addition to working on stylish series such as The Drew Carey Show, also is responsible for the White Room. Well, that explains a lot.

Margaret is wearing a stunning, but simple, red Narciso Rodriguez dress. Of course! Why didn’t we think of it before? Margaret is the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. Off with their heads! And on his video blog, Bravo’s “stylist,” Paris, explains that he and Margaret had a bet. By the end of the filming, he would lose ten pounds, and she would lose enough weight to fit into the Red Dress. But, naturally, she couldn't wait until the end. She surprised him by dropping the weight and appearing in the Red Dress on the fourth episode. Paris, for his part, gained ten pounds. We found this anecdote of competitive bitchery delicious, like a cross between Heathers and a Special K commercial.

We also found the anecdote illuminating. So, basically, Margaret’s been starving herself. That definitely explains a lot. If we so much as miss a meal, we are ready to reduce the upholstery to shreds. We can’t imagine what it’s like to starve ourselves into a Narciso Rodriguez.

Kelly, meanwhile, is in a dangerously sheer, vintage (Paul Poiret?) beaded potato sack. (We worry that with the Joe Stewart-designed shiny and reflective black floor, we may well see her, er, fabric swatch if she ever pulls a Britney on us; as we know, Kelly has a, well, casual relationship with underthings). She’s also wearing what we swear is a wig recycled from a Beyoncé video. Basically, the ensemble is a big fuck-you to Margaret and to good taste, a way of saying, “Ok, you starved yourself into a red Narciso Rodriguez and you’re looking good, but NO ONE WILL NOTICE, because I will show up looking like a flapper whore who had an unfortunate encounter with a threshing machine.”

We suppose this is as good a place as any to begin discussing the Margaret-Kelly dynamic. Now, we don’t fall into the usual misogynist trap that says two women who work together on television must automatically hate each other and want to claw each other’s eyes out. But this is a situation straight out of George Cukor’s 1939 classic bitchfest, and one of the Four Gay Gospels, The Women, with Kelly as the brassy, mocking, perfume-counter-girl-made-good Joan Crawford, and Margaret as the prim, tasteful, ladylike society-matron-who’s-grown-jungle-red-claws, Norma Shearer.

At the beginning we wondered, knowing Bravo’s notoriety for being cheapskates, why they had bothered to put Margaret up for a month at the Four Seasons, when she could just have stayed in Kelly’s guest house. Kelly, after all, lives in Beverly Hills with her hotelier husband. But after the first eye-roll in the first episode, we wondered no longer.

The judges do their walk-through. Goil demonstrates he went to Yale by describing his space as “sort of like a scene of domesticity, but it’s also broken.” Ryan tells us that he doesn’t care what the judges think: “If I lose, fuck ‘em.” We watch yet another commercial for The Real Housewives of Orange County, which we never quite believe is a Bravo show rather than a piece of propaganda broadcast by Al Jazeera to show the world why we are a decadent and evil empire.

Felicia’s room doesn’t fare too well. The afghan she purchased at the garage sale is her death knell. Her client, Mary, wearing one of Jane Fonda’s dresses from 9 to 5, declares that if she had to live in the room, she’d shoot herself. If we were looking for root causes for suicide, wearing ugly 80s dresses and calling oneself Mary might be good starting points, but that’s just us.

When reviewing one of the rooms, Kelly deploys the word “adjacencies,” which impresses us no end. (But we hate the way she pronounces “accessories” as “assessories.”) And Erik is so cute, so boyish, but obviously has been hanging around Jonathan Adler too long, for when he is criticized, the old Adler eyebrow move is deployed. Also, we long to apply that weed-killer spray to Erik’s chin.

Jonathan takes Michael to task for the use of grape and banana colors in his room. Kelly “Fusilli Head” Wearstler thinks it’s more macaroni-and-cheese colored.

And then comes the dialectical showdown of showdowns, between Ryan and Margaret. He actually says to her, “I think recycling’s important. I feel like a lot of people shop to satisfy some need, some keeping up with the Joneses.”

We half expected the world to stop spinning on its axis from the black hole about to be created in the White Room. We said to Miss XaXa, “Did he just call out Margaret--the woman who starved herself to get into a new Narciso Rodriguez dress, who’s staying at the Four Seasons, and who runs a magazine dedicated to making people shop--on her materialism?” We'd say he should consider this bourgeoise very much épatéed.

Instead of saying, “Off with his head!,” the Red Queen comes back with, “Actually, there’s nothing wrong with paint samples and fabric swatches.”

Gollum Adler gaily agrees, “I love a swatch. Love a swatch.”

Ryan says, “I can make a room pretty, but I don’t feel like that’s a hard thing to do.” Funny, that’s exactly what Kelly said on the first episode when discussing Goil & Elizabeth’s room. Hmmmm. And she loves recycling too, since she is wearing a vintage dress, and on the last episode wore vintage lingerie and a vintage Claude Montana belt. And, like Kelly, he’s clearly opposed to Margaret.

No wonder Miss Kelly defends him tooth and nail against Margaret during the judges’ colloquy, while Jonathan Adler tries to make a gang sign while saying the words “bad-ass” and “maverick.” In the end, Carisa wins the challenge, and the Red Queen is outvoted and does not get Ryan’s head. Instead, Felicia becomes a casualty of the afghan war. As the Red Queen notes on her blog, she was not happy to be outvoted. Democracy’s a bitch, n’est-ce pas?

And so we leave you with how Ensign Laz’s snapshot of how the Red Queen viewed this episode.