here is a tranny bar in NYC called Edelweiss. It used to be in midtown, on the far west side, near the warehouses and car dealerships. A few years ago it moved down to the West Village, near the gay mecca of Christopher Street, and became a theme park version of its former self. In the old Edelweiss there were transexuals — men who lived as women, who took hormones and got surgery to change their sex — and there were also homely, manly men who feel compelled to don women’s apparel to feel dainty and sexy and pretty. These poor guys couldn’t disguise their masculinity and in that there was something touching, if tragic. These men radiated an earnestness, a desire to be good and wholesome, while indulging in what is considered a shameful and transgressive pursuit. The new TBS show He’s a Lady is like those tragic transvestites. Earnestly attempting to be funny, clever and exciting, it’s a dowdy low-budget affair that can’t quite shake its sense of shame and embarrassment.
The premise is simple: eleven manly men sign up to compete for $250,000 on a reality show which they are led to believe will consist of athletic challenges. They, along with their wives and girlfriends, are then told that the actual competition will be for them to live as women. The one who is most convincing as a woman will win the money. From the very first minutes of the show you can tell this is going to be a disaster.
Even if you could ignore the “basic cable” production values and the clichéd Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous dialogue, it is impossible to ignore the blandness of the contestants. Perhaps it’s fear of the queers, but the contestants are so stolid and inoffensive, so earnest in their desire to appreciate their wives and girlfriends after walking a mile in their shoes (literally) that you find yourself pitying them. It’s not even funny in a fraternity-prank kind of way. At least in the context of an all-male fraternity there’s a frisson of the homoerotic that lends a sense of danger and competition. The men on this show are acting like women before they even start to cross-dress. They are all models of the modern, sensitive, suburban American male. They are all nice guys — but nice guys don’t make good television.
And the “celebrity” judges can do nothing to save it. Debbie Matenopolous, continuing her downward slide since leaving (or being asked to leave) The View, does her best to be perky and funny, but to no avail. John Salley, former NBA player and host of The Best Damn Sports Show Period spends the entire first episode looking away from the men and visibly thinking, “I’m firing my agent as soon as I get the hell out of here.” And of course there’s Morgan Fairchild. Poor Morgan. As a friend and I watched the first episode we both howled with laughter when Morgan Fairchild said to one of the contestants, “I’ve seen women at the Oscars who didn’t look as fabulous as you!” Yeah, right. From your couch in Marina Del Rey.
He’s a Lady is what happens when the marketing people make television, rather than leaving it to seasoned professionals. The show was created by “branded entertainment production company” Full Circle Entertainment, which is a division of the massive multinational advertising conglomerate Omnicom Group. They are in the business of making television specifically for a corporate sponsor. A few weeks before the scheduled debut of He’s a Lady, the show’s sponsor, SC Johnson, pulled its support. Don Wildmon and the American Family Association would like to take credit for that, but no one’s pulling support for this show on moral grounds — this is just bad television. n°