Saturday, March 10, 2007

First Reaction: Et in Acadia Ego

Possums, we love the fact that the show's editors waste no time and get us going on the Matt Lorenz Drinking Game toot sweet. (Dear God, are we turning into Jonathan Adler with the Franglais?)

At any rate, as soon as we heard Matt say, within the opening 30 seconds, "being in the top two did make me feel much better," we had our first tequila shot of the night. We had barely downed the tequila when Matt added, "Even though Miss Carisa beat my ass." It doesn't take Miss Cleo, possums, to tell you that that was worth two additional shots.

One minute in, and three shots down. This might turn out to be quite a buzzy little episode after all.

The castaways are once again gathered on the beach while the cute polar bear tells them that this was all a social experiment. Oh wait, wrong show. It's not a beach; it's the South Lawn of the Pacific Design Center, and while cute, Todd Oldham is no bear. The social experiment part still applies, though, and the show is still lost.

Todd tells the designers that their next challenge will be "a family affair in more ways than one." We're expecting Sly and the Family Stone on the soundtrack, but, as usual, Bravo is too cheap. The designers, quite understandably alarmed by Todd's grinning emphasis on "family affair," ask, "What does that mean? Family room? 70s disco groups? Incest?"

The answer is even worse. A new! 2007! GMC Acadia! pulls up and disgorges the Bells—Isaac and Patty, their dog Mac, and their children, Dora, Bea, and Avery. Immediately we sense a problem.

Names are very important, possums, and frankly, the dog's name is a tad unoriginal, quite unworthy of a J.D. Salinger family. And animals with boring names turn into boring animals. Dora, Bea, and even the goyish-y Avery are a bit more J.D. Salinger, but nonetheless problematic. Of course we are not blaming the children, as they are the victims, but Patty "Ma" Bell (two puns for the price of one!) ought to realize that names can have far-reaching consequences. Naming your children Bea, Dora, and Avery more or less condemns them to, respectively, lesbianism, marriage to a dentist from Sherman Oaks, and USC.

Todd (you see what we mean?) breaks up our rumination on names as destiny with another peculiar metaphor: "Often the most successful design comes when aesthetics holds hands with functionality." Not only is this a little jarring, but it seems inaccurate and unduly chaste. As far as we're concerned, successful design comes when aesthetics gets to third base with functionality.

The Bells have a new! 2007! GMC Acadia! and the challenge is to design a garage around it. So, apparently, you can't design around a cat, but around Acadia is just fine.

Miss XaXa considered taking a drink every time the word "Acadia" was uttered, but knowing Bravo's shamelessness and tirelessness in matters of product placement, we feared for her liver and dissuaded her. She also noted a further problem with the Bells and their Acadia. "As if!" Miss XaXa harrumphed. "People on the Westside, especially people like the Bells, would never buy a GMC Acadia. It would have to be a Range Rover or a Mercedes M class, or at the very least a BMW X5. Who does Bravo think they're kidding?"

And, indeed, there is something a little suspicious, a little too-good-to-be-true about the Bells. What are the odds of finding a telegenic, affluent, demographically correct family who just happens to own the very car that will be awarded as the prize on your reality show? Exactly. As the Assistant points out on his blog:

[O]riginally, Episode 5 was intended to be an individual challenge. The plan was to find seven identical garage spaces for the contestants. As the date got closer, however, it became clear that finding the perfect space wasn’t that easy. It was a Goldilocks dilemma: either one space was smaller than the others, didn’t have as much light, etc ... all of which raised serious fairness concerns. With two days left and no location locked down, we had to reconfigure the challenge to make it a group effort. Now we just needed to find a garage. After countless phone calls and heartfelt pleas, we were finally rescued by the Bells at the eleventh hour. Needless to say, it was a REAL close one.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Anyhoo, the designers are dismayed by the photographs of all the excrescence of American consumerism jammed into the Bells' garage. Matt tells us, "Get me a match, and, like, that's the solution to the problem right there." Try as we might, we couldn't find anything gay about the statement; even the Fiddler on the Roof joke ("Get me a matchmaker, get me a match") fell flat. Accordingly, no drink on this one.

As the Bells are describing their wants and needs to the designer, Bell père slips and calls the Acadia a "new car." Tsk tsk. How did Bravo's normally eagle-eyed product-placement Stasi let this one slip past?

When Carisa asks the Bells what their favorite colors are, little Avery enthusiastically answers, "Pink and blue!" We turned to look at Miss XaXa. "I think we have a live one," said Miss XaXa. Carisa didn't help matters by saying that the garage was going to be a "rainbow room."

Dora tells the designers that she wants a theater, perhaps unaware that it's likely to be Bea (as in "Bea Arthur"), or, for that matter, Avery, who ends up in the theater. It is Ryan's considered opinion that the Bells simply want too much stuff in this garage, and that, indeed, the Bells have "a bunch of stuff they should throw out." Matt agrees that the Bells and whistles have to be brought under control: "Someone has to take charge." Take a drink.

Todd informs the designers that the winner of the design challenge will also win immunity. The designers are to make models (or maquettes) of their proposed design to present to the Bells, who will choose the winner. Sadly for us, Todd neglects to channel Tim Gunn and therefore does not say, "Maquette work!" Fortunately, Carisa self-consciously quotes the Gunn of Never-wrong directly: "Make it work!" Matt says, "I haven't made a model for years. I'm not into making models." Take a drink.

The designers present their models and designs to the Bells. Andrea's design appears to be an amalgam of Ryan and Goil, in that it incorporates a catwalk and a swing, as well as a stage for the Bell belles' amateur theatricals (a production of "The Lonely Goatherd" directed by Gay Uncle Todd?). Carisa seems to have a two-word imperative on her mental Post-It: "Slay Bells." "Is it cool?" she cheesily prompts the baby Bells, and then tells the camera later, "The girls were like, 'Whoa!'" Um, Carisa, no disrespect to Joey Lawrence, but the girls were probably like, "Whoa! Stop feeding us lines."

During his presentation, Ryan mentions something called "neeches." And then he does it: "I suggest getting rid of a lot of stuff." As he tells the camera, "I told the family straight up; they need to de-accession. They need to get rid of some things."

The Bells are not happy. In fact, they're horrified. Or, as Edgar Allen Poe puts it,

Hear the loud alarum bells –
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek….

Well, maybe not that bad, but not far off. By the look on their faces, you would think Ryan had escaped from Bell-vue, or suggested selling the children into white slavery or, worse still, had announced the closure of Starbucks.

During Michael's presentation, little Avery kept stealing glances at him, as though looking at the Ghost of Chrismukkah Yet to Come, as though thinking, "So this is me in 15 years?"

So who won? Ask not for whom the Bells tolled; they tolled for Andrea.

Then it was the carpenter cattle call, though, alas, not shirtless. As the winner of the last challenge, Carisa had the first pick, and she chose Carl. We salivated and held a glass of tequila while waiting for Matt's choice. Would he choose Jared, or the one with the dime-sized nipples but whose name we can't remember? Alas, it was a case of reverse psychology, as if he knew we wanted him to pick one of those two, and he went with Ed instead. So, no drinky for us.

Finally, it's Erik's turn, and, as he tells us, "I was at the bottom of the choosing pool, and ended up choosing Jared." Two drinks for us. Oh, wait. Never mind. There's no "Erik is Gay" Drinking Game, is there?

There's a lot of blah-blah as Andrea Helvetically and competently organizes her team and uses the word "mauve-y." We seem to remember Goil's t-shirt as having some sort of Jackson Pollock-y appliqué at the neck, though perhaps he just cut himself shaving. Come to think of it, though, it looks an awful lot like Erik's serial-killer artwork on the last challenge. And there's footage of Ryan being helpful and subdued, promising, "Whatever needs to be done, I'll be doing."

Erik and Michael go shopping for purple fabric, and Carisa and Matt go to The Container Store. Andrea goes to visit the site while wearing her boots, which we love but also hate because they remind us of a character from children's literature that we've spent weeks trying to remember but can't. It's not Pippi Longstocking. It's not one of the Five Little Peppers. It's not Harriet the Spy. We can practically see the illustration in our mind's eye, right next to Wordsworth's daffodils, but the name will not come to us. Maybe it's from Charlotte's Web. Any ideas, possums?

The Bells pull a surprise on Andrea. In addition to the garage, the designers can also use the toolshed as part of their design. Andrea calls Matt at The Container Store. "Hello?" he answers uncontainedly. We take a deep drink. Trust us; you have to see it.

The work begins, and the garage is full of crap. We feel, in our near-drunken haze, as if we have switched the channel and stumbled on TLC's Clean Sweep.

Michael helps Matt to fold up an inflatable swimming pool to put in a storage container, but not before cracking, "It's like trying to put Carisa in stretch pants."

"No, he di' in't!" cried Miss XaXa. "I will beat him down with my shoe," she added, channeling Vivica A. Fox. "Hell, I'll take his ugly boat shoes and beat him down with those. Why is it that the gay boys always go after a person's weight? It's like the first insult. It makes no sense. Dammit, zaftig girls are always the first, and sometimes the only people, to befriend the little faygellahs in high school, and this is the thanks they get?" (As the first person in her suburb to own a black Malibu Barbie, Miss XaXa has experience in being an outcast.)

It should be noted that after the broadcast, on "Watch What Happens," Michael apologized, saying there was no justification and that it was rude, and that he came from "a family of full-figured women." Nevertheless, ouch.

It should also be noted that the gangly, stretched-out Matt laughed uproariously at the original crack. It was an unexpected sound coming from him, worthy of being catalogued in Amélie--one part hyena, one part drag queen, one part Chicken Lady from Kids in the Hall, and frankly, the gayest thing we've ever heard. We finished off the bottle on the strength of that laugh.

Then the judges arrived to do their inspection. Kelly was looking shockingly tasteful; always trying to keep you on your toes, that one. It hardly seemed possible, and we'll have to look at footage more closely, but it rather appears that Margaret... was... wearing... jeans! She also wore rather a fetching top whose provenance "stylist" Paris Libby failed to identify for us. And then, when Margaret was inspecting Goil's dog bed on wheels, we got a cleavage shot. The back of our neck prickled, and we felt ourselves flushing, and thinking stammeringly of Diane de Poitiers and goblets. Were we Gallic, we should have mopped our brow with our mouchoir and let out a low and throaty whistle. Ah notre p'tite Marguerite! Ah the damnation of Faust indeed.

When we recovered from the éblouissement of Margaret's poitrine, we found that everyone was back in the White Room. We heard Jonathan Adler talking about function and dysfunction, revealing himself to be a good Structuralist. Appropriately enough, he was attired in a Lévi-Strauss product along with a jacket and heirloom tie. The judges interrogated Andrea by herself, and all we could do was admire her strappy, surprisingly girly shoes. Well done, Andrea.

Kelly, again looking surprisingly tasteful (we don't get thrown off the scent so easily, Kelly; don't you worry), asked about the Bells' reaction to the renovated garage. The Bells were ringing for Andrea and her Goil. We watched footage of Jonathan, Patty, and the carillon (Bea, Dora and Avery) clapping as Isaac successfully parked the GMC Acadia in the garage, though not before the camera lingered soft-core style over the Acadia logo on the vehicle's gleaming grey curves. We must say, though, that we can imagine few things more emasculating than being patronizingly applauded by one's family and a homosexual potter for one's parking ability.

When discussing Carisa's work, Kelly asks Andrea, "Did you raise your voice? Did you hit her?" This, of course, raises the near-certainty that Kelly is itching to yell at Carisa and slap her, which is rather delicious when you think about it. Miss XaXa has an even more delicious theory, which is more fantasy than theory: Kelly is displacing her desire to yell at and hit Margaret.

Meanwhile, in what Margaret Elle-même dubs “The Stew Room,” a catfight is in progress. Michael basically tells Carisa that she hasn’t done any work, while Matt was picking up “stuffed animals drenched in squirrel urine.” Carisa denies it, takes off her glasses, and looks ready to stab him in the jugular with them, à la Bourne Identity.

Instead, she replies that there were too many cooks. His comeback? “Don’t be a cook, be a sous chef.” Sorry, Michael. Wrong Bravo show. We can see why Raggaydy Andy paired you with Top Chef hostess Padma Lakshmi on “Watch What Happens.” (Also, a sous chef is higher up than a cook.)

We hate to sound like a 17-year-old girl, but all we remember about guest judge Mark Rios is—kinda cute, big schnoz, nice shoes (oh, and where the hell did a guy like him get that surname?).

It’s Ryan’s turn before Grand Inquisitor Jonathan “Perkymada” Adler and the Holy Shes. A surprisingly contrite and docile Ryan apologizes for his “socio-political” rants and for being unfair to the design profession. Not that this does him much good. After all, it is customary to say an act of contrition before one’s execution. He did, as it happens, commit the unforgivable sin—telling the Bells that they ought to get rid of some of their possessions. (Of course, when Matt threatens to do it with a match, it's somehow more palatable.)

Margaret’s hair in this and other episodes has looked to us a little ancien régime--a touch of Madame Du Barry, a soupçon of Madame de Pompadour--and in her reaction to Ryan’s Jacobite crime, it instantly made sense. You might have thought la foule was standing outside the gates of Versailles with torches and pitchforks. We do know this, though. If ever the tumbrels come rolling, we definitely want Margaret on our side. Had Margaret been present at the Bastille that fateful Quatorze Juillet, the French Revolution might well not have happened. She would have calmed the mob with her icy stare and sent them home, asking, as she did on this week’s episode, “Where was the big idea?” And it is this quality that we love about her.

Left alone in the White Room, the judges don't mince words. Of Matt, Jonathan says, “He totally took on the maid role very, very enthusiastically.” We would have taken a drink, but it was a comment about Matt rather than by Matt, and besides, the bottle was empty by now. Of Goil's dog bed, Kelly says, “What dog likes to be on wheels?” We would have made a crack about a bitch on wheels, but Dennis Hensley of beat us to it.

Then the judges discuss Ryan, the original apple of discord. The word “socio-political” causes Jonathan to cough up a fur ball and seems to induce a mini-stroke that had us quite worried. There, there, possum; stay away from the polysyllabic words.

And then it's Hera versus Aphrodite. It's a measure of Margaret's alabaster anger that she even uses the word "hell," as in, "Where the hell was the art?" Relishing every word, as if popping individual beads of caviar, Margaret says to Kelly about Ryan, “Where was the big idea, Kelly? He always has a big idea. And you've been charmed by them. And he didn't have anything.”

Our favorite part of this indictment was the notion of Kelly's being charmed by Ryan. We couldn't figure out whether Margaret meant this à la Saturday Night Live (“Kelly, you ignorant slut”) or à la Rita Moreno in West Side Story (“A boy like that...”). Either way, it was delicious. We'd try to describe how delicious it was, but we'd end up sounding like those yogurt commercials starring the chick who plays Alice on The L Word.

Ryan is sent to the guillotine (did we see Jonathan knitting?), and his wry parting words are, “Alright, kids, fight the power.” We found this rather droll. He didn't seem terribly upset to go. It's a wonder the body politic of Top Design took so long to expel him like a kidney stone.

We'll leave the last dangerous, heretical, radical words to Ryan himself:

“I feel like interior design should be an event. I don't feel like it should look like everything else -- standardized, homogenized, catalogued. It's tough for me to find any sort of transcendental anything in [pointing to the Jonathan Adler merch behind him] a vase.”

Et in Acadia ego indeed.