Pop Culture

Lovable Tim Gunn misses target on ‘Style’

The last thing the world needs is another makeover show. But the world does need more Tim Gunn, and thus we can forgive Bravo for giving us “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style,” which debuted Thursday night. It's a rather pedestrian makeover series that only comes to life when the “Project Runway” mentor is on screen.

“Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style” debuts as Bravo prepares to end “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” the makeover series that helped define the network. But the new series lacks the energy of “Queer Eye,” and feels like a step backwards compared to that show's genre-evolving format. The “Fab Five” tear into their subject’s home, throwing furniture onto the lawn and unleashing outrageously funny comments about whatever they discover in his home. Then, in separate segments, they work to transform the straight guy’s life.

In his show, Tim Gunn walks his female subjects through the process of becoming more stylish, starting with an examination of her closets and concluding with a presentation of her new look to gathered friends. Along the way, there are visits to stores and discussions of fashion inspirations. Tragically, it’s all kind of boring. Tim Gunn deserves better.

But what makes the show work is Tim’s professorial bitchiness. His knowledge about fashion and style flows from his mouth just as easily as his trademark honest, witty commentary.

While examining the contents of the closet of his first subject, a New Jersey woman named Rebecca, Tim looked at one pair of jeans and declared them to be “a whole lot of nasty,” while he said another garment looked like “a shaved hamster.” Later, his co-host, supermodel Veronica Webb, suggested pairing leggings with a dress, and Tim literally and instantaneously screamed. “Aaah!” He takes a breath and apologizes, ever dignified, in case his reaction offended her. “Sorry, you just startled me. ... That was purely visceral,” he said. Clearly, he cares about this stuff.

While Tim and Veronica have good rapport during interview segments, and while Veronica has some strong one-liners of her own, their chemistry tends to be flat when they’re interacting with their subject. But then again, the whole exercise is kind of flat, as if they know they’re going through the same motions with the same uninteresting people that so many other TV show hosts have gone through before them. Tim Gunn deserves better.

Tim disappears for long segments during the hour, such as when Veronica takes Rebecca to buy underwear, or when she visits a “life stylist” who makes her wear a trash bag and look at herself in funhouse mirrors to build her confidence (seriously). But these segments reveal the show for what it sadly is: a standard, relatively boring makeover show.

Depth, fun are lackingWhat’s missing is depth, something more than just trying on new clothes and listening to fashion rules, which aren’t presented in the same accessible way as “Queer Eye” did at the conclusion of its episodes. When Tim critiques garments in the “Project Runway” workroom, there’s consequence and pressure. “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style” conveys no sense of urgency, whereas “Queer Eye” always organized itself around a major event in the person’s life, which served as the climax, and it’s even missing the outrageous fun that the Fab Five had while helping someone through their makeover.

“Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style” also does a bad job of convincing us that the subject needs help. A few moments at the beginning of each episode introduces us to the woman Tim and Veronica will help, but it doesn’t do much to make us care about her. Tim Gunn’s knowledge is undisputed, but casting bigger fashion disasters than someone who wears jeans and t-shirts, as Rebecca does, might have helped the series. Rebecca’s transformation wasn’t even really all that stunning; she’s just wearing nicer clothes. The subject of the second episode, which actually aired early, following Wednesday’s “Top Chef,” had a slightly more dramatic change, and was more confrontational and upped the drama, but there was still something missing.

At the beginning of the episode, as he negotiates a faux contract with that episode’s subject, Tim tells her that the process will be emotional. While there may be tears later on, it’s more talk than demonstration; we’re told the makeover is emotional rather than being pulled into the emotional experience. Tim gets choked up at the end, and his emotion is unquestionably real; it’s just too bad the series doesn’t convey that emotional experience through its format, structure, or editing.

The most awkward moment in the first episode came after Rebecca’s big reveal, when Rebecca’s husband told her, “I’m your man and I’m supposed to take care of you,” and then gave her a new ring. But moments earlier, we saw Tim gave her husband that ring — and mention the company that paid for it — and instruct him to give it to Rebecca. The whole exercise looked made-for-TV, forced and inauthentic; even if Tim Gunn and others in the room were genuinely moved, the moment fell lifeless on television.

That’s the way the whole series comes across. Thankfully, there are moments of Tim Gunn’s brilliance pushing through the tedium of something all too familiar, but that’s really not enough. Unless the show gets the extreme makeover it needs, wait for Tim Gunn to .

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.

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