The brilliance of Saturday Night Live sketches is that they're short. The writers conceive of something funny, milk it for all it's worth and wrap the whole thing up in eight minutes. It's giggle, giggle and on to the next joke.
That simple yet masterful framework is lost on cable television. Cable nets such as Bravo and Comedy Central take a great idea, milk it for all it's worth and then order another 27 episodes, not counting the repeats.
As crisp and delightful as Queer Eye for the Straight Eye was, it's now grown tiresome and stale. The show has no legs and is essentially the same damn episode over and over again. Pretty soon it will run out of steam.
Comedy Central will soon find itself in a similarly sad predicament. The network's writers have produced a wonderful new spoof of Queer Eye called Straight Plan for the Gay Man. In short, it's hysterical. Honest-to-God laugh-out-loud TV. Is it offensive? Sure. Does it stereotype people? Absolutely. Is it required viewing? You betcha.
Straight Plan is essentially Queer Eye in reverse. Four straight men, called the "Flab Four," set out each episode to teach a gay man how to act straight. Over the course of an hour, they redecorate his apartment, teach him to dress, walk, talk and act like a straight man. Why? To see if he can pass.
In the second episode, the Flab Four target Steve, a Broadway musician. In the "Meet Steve segment," we see him answer the door in a thong, show us his furs and introduce us to his cat, Burt. Horrified, the Flab Four guffaw about the work they have cut out for them.
As in Queer Eye, each of the master teachers has an angle. Billy Merritt, the "Appearance Guy," takes his protégés to the Salvation Army for a wardrobe makeover. "If you have a fur," he tells Steve, "it better have a bullet hole in it."
Curtis Gwinn, the "Environment Guy," strips the victim's apartment of anything resembling Crate and Barrel and naked-man art, replacing it with animal skins, beer posters and Playboy centerfolds. His chief home décor hint: "Nothing says class like a neon Dos Equis sign above your bed."
Kyle Grooms, "the Information Guy," teaches Steve how to pick up on woman: Don't smile. Fake like you're interested in what she's saying. And dogs truly are a man's best friend. A cute puppy goes a long way in meeting that hottie in the dog park.
Rob Riggle, the "Culture Guy," takes Steve to his first female strip bar. As our hetero neophyte squirms and struggles his way through his first lap dance, Rob, "his wing man," reminds him to keep his head in the game. Because, of course, there's nothing like a sports analogy to bring a lesson home for a gay man.
Straight Plan climaxes when the gay man is deep undercover, trying to pass. In the second episode, Steve competes in a speed-dating event in which he's got five minutes to impress the ladies with his masculinity. He scores two out of three (one pegged him as gay.)
Some viewers will surely take offense at a television show that sees entertainment in gay men trying to pass as straight. I wonder if these are the same viewers who are bothered by the uber-gayness of Queer Eye.
Viewing either of these shows through that prism is hopeless. Straight Plan and its gay forerunner are easy, breezy, low-IQ comic strips. They're low budget no-brainers, which totally achieve their purpose: to make people laugh and to make money for the networks that own them.
So enjoy Straight Plan while you can. In very short order, it will grow weak and flaccid. Viewers will look back and try to remember what the fuss was all about in the first place. And, trust me, they won't be able to remember. It's a trick Saturday Night Live learned long ago. Funny can't last forever.