Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style (Bravo, Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET) introduces audiences to several new dimensions of the television personality’s television personality—none of them especially attractive. Fans of Project Runway adore Gunn for the elegant balance of frankness, tact, and pep he brings to den-mothering that show’s aspiring fashion designers. He’s been nothing but a silver-haired sweetheart, and his catchphrase—“Make it work!”—is as sturdy as a World War II slogan or Bauhaus directive.
Thus, it was disappointing, when watching this new makeover fantasy, to discover a new superciliousness in his tone and a noxious haughtiness in his demeanor. Downer! And it was off-putting that Guide to Style takes a soporific hour to reform the dress sense of one single lass. Drag! But Gunn still has a warm shine in his eyes, so I’ll blame his producers.
What that committee has done is to class up TLC’s What Not To Wear. This was its first mistake. What Not To Wear is shamefully watchable precisely because it’s just classy enough to be respectable—and not one pearl fancier than that minimum requirement. It’s democratic like that—plain-spoken and common-sensical, sweetly squawking and invitingly cheesy—which helps its pop-therapy lessons (“Girl, stop wearing that burlap bag to work and let your inner beauty free!”) go down smoothly. Guide to Style is too glazed and slick for its own good, too clinical and forensic to be any fun. Oh, also: It conflates self-help thinking with luxury shopping in a way that makes me want to burn down Saks.
Consider the case of unfortunate Rebecca, Gunn’s project in the first episode, a young Manhattan thing who hasn’t worn a dress in two and a half years. In her introductory montage, Rebecca moons about her lack of confidence. Watching this tape, Gunn asks his sleek sidekick, the fast-quipping model Veronica Webb, “How can you have confidence if you don’t own your look?” The pair coach Rebecca to purchase the clothes on Gunn’s list of basics, which he seems to have picked up at Mount Sinai. These include the basic black dress, the trench coat, the classic white shirt, the cashmere sweater, and, my favorite, “the sweatsuit alternative.”
This is all well and good—as is the earthy lingerie expert who teaches Rebecca how to buy a bra and keeps the show from feeling entirely bloodless. But what are we to make of the “Life Stylist” who brings Rebecca to a higher plane with an exercise involving funhouse mirrors? (Lesson: “You have to be confident. You have to pick a mirror in life.”) Or that creepy feeling that sweeps over you when Gunn, unbidden, presents Rebecca’s husband with a platinum engagement ring to replace the dinky thing he’d bought for her a couple years back? Or the fact that by the time Gunn and Webb—and designer X, and name-brand hairstylist Y, and product-placement makeup maven Z—are done with Rebecca, she looks like every third fembot having drinks on Park Avenue South? This show reads like a Pygmalion fantasy by way of Sex and the City and the ad department at Elle. Gunn does not make it work.