Jai Must Go

Watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has been a guilty pleasure at Polytropos HQ; we’ve caught about four episodes. I haven’t been tracking any buzz about the show, but I get the general sense that there is some buzz, and that I probably don’t have to explain its premise here. Suffice it to say that it has all the watching-a-train-wreck addictive trappings of the rest of reality television, but, perhaps because it’s on Bravo, is marginally more well done.

Let me get to the point: they have got to get rid of Jai. (It’s pronounced “Jay,” so the spelling thing is a strike against him right there.) Before last Thursday’s episode I believed this because he was superfluous; now I believe that he is largely superfluous and incompetent.

The members of the “Fab Five” each have their specialties, and for four of the five, these are well-defined, concrete, and helpful. Grooming. Food & Wine. Fashion. Interior Design. And then there’s Jai, whose speciality is “Culture.” What does that encompass, exactly? Clearly the show’s writers have had to scramble to answer that question anew for each episode. Usually Jai’s role is to give advice on social mores that even the suavity-deprived guinea pigs featured each week would find painfully obvious. In the premiere, Jai helped Butch (a friend-of-friends and fellow former Calvin denizen) by encouraging him to make eye contact with folks at his art show. In another episode, all he did was teach the guy how to say “I love you” to his girlfriend in Armenian, her native tongue. While the other four stay busy actually transforming the straight guy, and his apartment, into something new, Jai wallows in irrelevancy.

Last Thursday he had his chance. Josh, the subject, needed to learn how to dance in order to please his girlfriend. At last, something concrete that clearly lay within Jai’s purview! A whole segment of the episode was devoted to his instructional session at the local gym. And the result? Complete and utter failure. The genius of the show is the final segment where the Five gets to watch from afar as the poor stupid straight guy tries to carry out their instructions in his pivotal date or appointment or whatever. Josh comported himself admirably at ever turn, except for when he hit the dance floor. At that point it became clear that Jai had not succeeded in carrying out his appointed task of giving the guy rhythm, or any sort of dancing clues whatsoever.

The chief problem lies not with Jai himself, but with the whole notion of having a “Culture” expert at all. But the show has painted itself into a corner — they can’t simply drop the position, because then they would have to call themselves the Fab Four, which they cannot do for obvious reasons. The burden of the Culture guru is thus to make relevant a hopelessly diffuse category — it’s a burden that Jai has proved thus far unable to bear.

In my book, he gets one more chance. If he fails to demonstrably assist the subject of this week’s episode, then I’m going to have to give this issue the careful attention it richly deserves, and kick my evict-Jai campaign into high gear. Who’s with me?