Take TLC's A Makeover Story,
add the cynical judgment of American Idol
and you'll get the gist of What Not to Wear,
a new series about to debut on BBC America.
On TLC's show, the subjects are self-selected: women who believe their style lacks zest and want help from professionals. On the British program, women are identified as fashion-needy by the folks that purportedly love them. Then, two style journalists, Trinny (rhymes with skinny) Woodall and Susannah Constantine — who pride themselves in their take-no-prisoners approach to fashion "help" — ambush the subject.
Each episode begins with clips from two weeks of surveillance footage of that episode's fashion victim. The two presenters view the footage, uttering such catty comments as "She's lost respect for her bosoms" and "Everything in her wardrobe is butch!"
Next, the subject/victim is confronted with a proposal: Bow to the will of the fashionistas and receive 2,000 British pounds to spend on a new wardrobe. But our contestant's entire current wardrobe — down to the bras and "knickers" — will be reviewed, and possibly ash-canned, by the writers.
The result can be upbeat and fun. In one of the early episodes, the pair take on a big target: Geneve, a larger-than-life, buxom hairdresser with shoulder-length poodle hair. The advisers want to dress her down, but Geneve desperately defends her most garish wardrobe favorites. When she gets the check and goes shopping, the writers watch on a monitor. If Geneve veers toward a hot pink floral, they dash in to "rescue her."
They do succeed in toning her down, but I think she also raises their bar. I thought they would have trashed the choice of a black satin cincher from which her boobs threaten imminent escape. Instead, they pronounce it fabulous.
It's mostly fun, but when the subjects get to speak to the camera in private, their hurt shows. First, they're deemed style-impaired, and then while shopping, the snooping scribes swoop in to snatch their offensive garment choices.
But in the end, they look fabulous and appear to feel better about themselves, too. Some of them get so swept up in the makeover they dip into their own pockets to continue shopping.
It's relatively harmless — in a "better-them-than-me" kind of way.
What Not to Wear
debuts on BBC America Dec 10 at 10 p.m. EST/7 p.m. PST.