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Makeover Shows: A Comparative Review

Like many unemployed louts, I love makeover shows, but there are a lot of pitfalls for this particular type of entertainment. They can be mean, or boring, or punny, or (and this might seem obvious, but) excessively shallow. In order to watch one where the fun factor outweighs the ewwurrrgh... factor, one must choose carefully. Fortunately for you, I have watched an embarrassing number of these shows, so you don't have to.

Fashion Emergency: (E!) The platonic ideal of makeover shows, now unfortunately defunct. Each half hour featured two subjects. Fifteen minutes less commercials is the perfect length for a tight, fast-paced, yet thorough makeover. They used (pioneered?) the standard formula: frumpy dresser needs a new look for some event. A Fashion Emergency makeover expert--usually Leon Hall--would come to the rescue. First the expert would take the subject shopping, where they would try on a bunch of outfits, and the expert would say what was good and bad about them, until the subject found one they really loved. Next, the subject would go to an upscale salon where friend-of-the-show experts would do their hair and makeup, explaining at each step of the way what they chose to do and why (for example, for a lupus patient with thinning hair: "I'm giving her a bob, since short hair looks fuller"; for a singer in a local rock band, "We're giving her a bright, dramatic red, very glamorous, very rock and roll"). Each step, in short, was tailored to the individual and situation. While the experts weilded a lot of power--which was warranted, since their judgments about what would look good were almost always spot on--the subject made key decisions, and the show never lost sight of the fact that this is all about making someone happy.

Then they would show us the event, and that would usually be boring.

Special Bonus Feature (12/30/06 update): Whilst cleaning I found this picture I drew long long ago of Fashion Emergency cast with Batman villains!


A Makeover Story: (TLC) Along the same lines as Fashion Emergency. Because they only do one makeover per 30 minute show, it seems to drag in comparison. The actual amount of outfit and makeup time is about the same, but they spend a lot of time on things that I consider unnecessary, like interviews with friends and family about the subject's "look" and how they'd like it to change. See, the hair and makeup and clothes are different every time, depending on the event and the person's individual circumstances and appearance; you learn things you can apply in your own life, like "don't use blue eyeshadow with blue eyes" or "short hair makes you look taller". But interviews about the person's pre-makeover "look" are always the same: "She always dresses the same. I'd like to see her try something new." Yawn. I didn't come here to dwell on the BEFORE picture.

Still, this is the closest approximation of Fashion Emergency, and while it compares unfavorably, it's still good.


Extreme Makeover: (Style Network) They do clothes, hair, and makeup on this show, but they also do plastic surgery, which I think is kind of horrible. It's like, they have no limits, no shame. Anything can be changed. Nothing is satisfactory. I know, I know, it's an extreme makeover, but I think I prefer a nice, down-to-earth, partial makeover. And, like, because they do plastic surgery, the person is away for two months, and there is no price limit, obviously. But I like a nice price limit!

Also, instead of dressing the subject up for an existing event, the show manufactures one, inviting all the friends and family to "the big reveal". This is loathsome.

On the other hand, they're good about explaining what they're doing so you know the reasoning for each step, and you learn some good tips like how to wear clothes and make-up that accentuate your good points (yes, even people who have had plastic surgery are not always satisfied with their bodies!! can you believe it???). And they do multiple makeovers simultaneously so you're cutting back and forth between them over the course of the show, which is nice.


What Not to Wear: (TLC) As the name suggests, the emphasis of this show is on mocking the person's original look before, during, and after the makeover. The spending limit is high--$5,000--which is okay, since the idea is to buy a whole new wardrobe and not just an outfit for one event. But really, that's the whole problem: instead of a loving "let's make you look special for a special occasion", this one is all about "you suck, let's change you." Much of the hour (!!! a whole hour for one person!!) is spent on derision that is supposed to be funny but is actually just mean and--I don't know--fashion elitist.

The clothes people's suggested outfits are usually quite nice though, and they have some good tips about how to pick clothes that will look good on your body. And the hair guy, who is really not that mean, has a vaguely Scottish accent hOtT.


The Look for Less: (Style Network) The goal here is to try to approximate designer style with a restrictive spending limit (I think like $150? To me, that still seems like a lot, but they do have to get a whole outfit and shoes). Cool idea, but I feel that the show is weakened by attempts to simultaneously fit it into the traditional makeover show mold. Like in other makeover shows, the subjects are frumpy dressers who have a particular event they need to clean up nice for, and there are interviews with the family, etc. Then, in the makeover part, they sort of shift gears. They show two pictures of outfits by famous expensive designers, the subject picks one, and then they try to get as close as possible to the original, only at like Target or whatever.

It's like, the beginning and end of the show is all about the subject, but the makeover--the meat of the show--is all about designers and budgets, and what the subject wants or needs is irrelevant. I know they're getting clothes for free, and all, but it still seems unnecessarily restrictive to force them into one of two outfits. You know? Maybe they would rather have something else.

If they want to keep the whole "designer outfits for less!" aspect, and I think that they should, I feel like they should ditch the touching subject backstory--which they're going to ignore anyway--and just have people come on who are like "Yeah, I like Gucci, but I have no money!" Maybe contestants could come on who already have a designer or outfit picked out that they want to imitate. They could also fit a lot more outfits into a single episode that way. I mean, it's not like that would get prohibitively expensive--they're spending $150 per outfit, here.

While highly problematic in its execution, I'm rating this show semi-highly because I love time and budget restrictions.


Instant Beauty Pageant: (Style again) I guess this is only partially a makeover show: they ambush women and ask them to be in a beauty pageant, then give them a time and budget limit (one day, $400) and they have to get eveningwear, swimwear, and a talent. Whoever they are with at the mall can help them. My favorite thing about this show is that one of the co-hosts is this totally rock'n'roll dude with like, a gravelly voice, artful stubble, aviator sunglasses, and fingerless gloves. But then he's all concerned with clothes and beauty. What an awesome guy. So, pluses: Restrictive time and budget limits, relative freedom otherwise, rock'n'roll dude; minuses: I do not care about beauty pageants.


Makeover Show Personalities Pocket Reference

Yoanna House, The Look For Less
Very pretty and tall, comes off as very vacuous

Leon Hall, Fashion Emergency
Very short and gnomelike, comes off as very gay

Rossi Morreales, Instant Beauty Pageant
Very pretty and rock'n'roll, comes off as very smarmy (and gay)

Clinton Kelly and Stacy London, What Not to Wear
Wish they were very urbane, but come off as very bitchy. Also? Kinda lispy! I'm just sayin'.

Mia Butler, Movie and a Makeover
In a word: scary.

Movie and a Makeover: (I think TBS or something) Basically, they show a movie, with a segment of a makeover at each commercial break. I only saw one episode; the movie was Legally Blonde, and the girl getting made over was a social worker who worked with young mothers, and whom they eventually made over to look just like the host. There were lots of interviews about how, as a do-gooder, this lady really deserved a new look. That's all very well and good, but since I barely have tolerance for the friends-and-family testimonials on a pure makeover show, it's even more annoying to have to sit through them during a movie.

Basically, this show fails on two levels: as a way to see a movie, it's less than ideal, because the breaks are LOOONG, showing both a makeover segment and a whole commercial break, and since the show still fits into an approximately two hour time slot, they surely cut some stuff out to make room for their inane makeover. Also, sometimes they attempt to tie the makeover into the movie by showing a brief movie clip, often from a part of the movie that hasn't been shown yet. And, as a makeover show, it also falls short; it commits many of the excesses of poor makeover shows: too much time on the testimonials, too many stupid puns and catch-phrases and fluff from the host, too little time spent on actual picking out clothes and, you know, MAKEOVER. Plus, you have to watch Legally Blonde (ZING!)



- Laura