Future TV historians, debating cultural “jump the shark” moments, may very well conclude that reality TV most likely burned out as a genre right around the time FOX broadcast “The Littlest Groom.” Just because reality TV ran out of ideas several seasons ago doesn't mean that the genre is showing any signs of slacking off. Networks are still scrambling to stuff their schedules with cheap-to-produce reality series, most of which demonstrate only the slightest variation on the theme: Witness NBC's “The Apprentice” vs. ABC's “The Benefactor” vs. FOX's “The Billionaire.”
Still, even a jaded Idiot Boxer like myself will admit a certain morbid curiosity in a few of these shows--like the hardly original but still intriguing “Real Gilligan's Island,” a reality remake set to air on TBS in November. Which, I guess, proves at least one reality: We're stupid, all of us, and we deserve this crap.
Before TBS gets around to the “Gilligan's Island” redeux, however, we've got “He's a Lady” to keep us happy. The new series offers, once again, only the slightest variation on the reality show genre. Still, it provides enough moments of mirth, bewilderment and exploitation to count as a worthwhile television distraction.
The show has an amusingly cruel setup: Eleven manly men and their wives and girlfriends are told they've been recruited for a new reality show titled “All-American Man.” After a bit of tease involving flying fighter jets, driving race cars and other testosterone-fueled activities, the boys are introduced to the show's real objective: All of them will be transformed into women. There will be full-body waxing, manicures, wig fittings, make-up and wardrobe. Each week, the guy who fools the most passersby into thinking he's a women (no easy task here) wins a “dude pass” allowing him to skip that week's emasculating activity (such as an intimacy sex workshop or a yoga ballet class.) In the end, the guy who makes the most convincing lady will win $1 million.
Aside from the “Fear Factor”-like chills of watching a bunch of bear cubs get their chests waxed, the show sports a nice mix of humor and unexpected pathos. Obviously, getting a bunch of manly guys to dress up in frilly dresses is funny. Cutting remarks from the show's celebrity judges (soap queen Morgan Fairchild, “Best Damn Sports Show” anchor John Salley and “Good Day Live” host Debbie Matenopoulos) up the punch line factor. (“You looked better as Shrek,” Salley tells one porky contestant.)
There's the expected sympathizing with significant others. (“I'm never going to complain about my wife's stubbly legs after this,” says one post-waxing gent.) There are the expected pitfalls. (Yes, guys, heels are very hard to walk in.) But it's kinda weird how quickly these guys go girly. Before long, they're weeping their way through beauty contests, coordinating their accessories and hoping to become belle of the ball.
If you dig deep enough into “He's a Lady,” you might find a few intriguing ideas about gender in America ... or not. Maybe you'll just get a chuckle out of seeing a professional wrestler dressed in a pink nightgown. Either way, it works for me.