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Sexual Disorientation



Published March 3, 2004 at 5:00 p.m.

In the land of the politically correct, few targets of humor are more taboo than homosexuality and the stereotypes traditionally associated with it. Comedy Central's new series, "Straight Plan for the Gay Man," which debuted February 23, is therefore likely being greeted by some as a breath of fresh air, and by more than a few others as cathode sacrilege.

The show crossbreeds two of the medium's more played-out species: testosterone TV ("The Man Show," "The John Henson Project," "The Best Damn Sports Show Period," etc.) and makeover mania. In the process it produces a mutant strain hardier than either of its sources. Basically, what we have here is a Bizarro World spin on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," played strictly for laughs. And forget what you may have read in some of the crankier media columns. The laughs are all in good fun.

For one thing, the stereotypes cut both ways. The program's four hetero hosts are, for all practical purposes, cartoon versions of the American male -- out of shape, semiliterate and obsessed with sports and sex. There's Billy, the Appearance Guy, who's got to be 200 pounds overweight. Rob is the Culture Guy, evidently the biggest jock of the bunch. I suspect the closest Rob has come to culture is a case of athlete's foot.

Based on the premiere installment, the designations of the other two remain a bit mystifying. Maybe they're devoid of meaning and that's the joke. Kyle is identified as the Information Guy, though we aren't informed why, while Curtis is the Environment Guy. Curtis didn't seem any more in tune with the environment than any of the others. He did, however, display an eerie sixth sense as to which New York City dumpsters harbored the best hidden treasures when it came time to decorate.

The Flab Four, as the producers have dubbed them, are identified on the show's website as comics who each week "make over a new gay friend and give him a crash course on the secrets of straight male life -- like hitting on chicks, playing basketball or working a blue-collar job."

This is the key distinction between Comedy Central's revolutionary offering and the dozens of makeover programs clogging the airwaves. The guys who get made over on "Queer Eye" aren't looking to give the gay life a try, but homosexual guests of this show have signed on to go straight. At least for a day or two.

In episode one, a good-humored fashion-industry operative by the name of Jonathan expresses his desire to experience the blue-collar thing. The Flabs don't have to think twice. They decide a meatpacking plant is the place for Jonathan, and swing into action in preparation for his big day.

First on the agenda is straightening the styling young gent's apartment. If you've OD'd, as I have, on shows in which ego-tripping designers transform unassuming rooms into showplaces, you're sure to find the approach employed here a pleasant change of pace. The twist is, Jonathan's pad has already been given the interior-decorator treatment. It's a magazine spread replete with muted tones, tasteful artwork and multicolored glass-fish sculptures on his bedside table. The Four see what needs to be done at once. Pointing to Jonathan's teacup collection displayed on wall-mounted shelves, they diagnose the place as suffering from "grandma chic" and throw themselves into remedying the problem.

"Dude, you have way too much product," the Appearance Guy declares upon inspection of the medicine cabinet. "We are going to get you, uh, a bar of soap."

"Too many pillows!" points out the Environ-ment Guy as he disappears into the mountain of exotically patterned cushions that is Jonathan's bed. "A straight man never has more than two pillows."

And, faster than you can say velvet Elvis, the place is transformed into an Animal House nightmare of plaid linens, bowling-pin lamps rescued from trash cans, tacky prints, shag carpeting and urine-filled toilet bowls. "You don't need to flush," Jonathan is informed, "till you've got a floater in there."

With his apartment now in "order," the Flab Four focus their attention on their new friend's wardrobe. Concerned, perhaps, that showing up at the meatpacking plant dressed like David Gest might start him off on the wrong foot, the team festoons its protege in a slovenly combo of denim and plaid. Time to get out there and do guy stuff!

First up is a street-side hotdog-eating contest. "Straight guys always try to one up the other guy," explains the Appearance Guy. At least I think that's what he said -- his mouth was filled to capacity with franks. Next, bowling and cocktails. Other-wise known as "observing the straight man in his natural habitat."

The humor high point of the experiment, though, is the trip to the firing range, where the gang engages in "one of the straight man's great traditions -- firing a gun for no reason." Nobody hits much of anything, but the sociological insights are right on target. "Whenever a straight guy fires a gun," Jonathan is told, "he always accompanies it with a movie quote."

One by one, with 44 Magnums in hand, the Four offer favorites from guy-cinema milestones such as Die Hard and Dirty Harry. When it comes time for Jonathan to pull the trigger, he's game, but the best he can muster is "Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn" and "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."

"You don't get a lot tougher than Bette Davis," he explains to his nonplussed buddies. Their reaction is priceless: "Uh, Jonathan, your quotes left a lot to be desired."

The moment of truth arrives the morning Jonathan is to report to the plant. It's time for one last straight talk, some final words of wisdom from the Flabs: "Don't smile. No drama. Everything's a competition." Two of the four accompany him incognito. There isn't this much plaid in the director's cut of Braveheart.

As the other two watch, "Queer Eye"-style, on monitors from the comfort of their Dodge Ram (the "Straightmobile"), the guys make their way through a grueling, gruesome day of hacked carcasses and blood-soaked smocks. When all is said and done, the question for the plant's managers is, which guy do you think is gay? It's a Chariots of Fire moment for Jonathan as two out of three pick the Culture Guy.

The moral of the story? Every straight man has a little gay inside him? Hmm. How about: In every gay guy there's a straight man struggling to get out? OK, maybe there isn't a moral.

There is, on the other hand, plenty of reason to tune in Mondays at 10. "Straight Plan for the Gay Man" provides a much-needed antidote for makeover humorlessness. The writing -- once it gets past the obvious beer and bowling verities -- is surprisingly inspired. And the sight of gay and straight guys playing nice is frequently as touching as it is entertaining.

Some viewers predictably will complain that some of the show's laughs come in response to the mannerisms and sensibilities of a homosexual male. These people will neglect to note that four times the fun is made of heterosexual men. Anyone who thinks it's time we lighten up and stop taking ourselves so seriously should give this show a look. We're never all going to get along if we don't get together first, and people of different sorts get together on this series in a way they really haven't before -- at least not on TV. Those with an open mind will get a kick out of it.

Everyone else should just get with the plan.