As a compulsive flicker through the music channels, I sometimes see things I wouldn't otherwise between videos. But among the ads for Sexy Teens With Terrible Secrets and vignettes for the EMA's a trail for one show in particular caught my eye.
Plain Jane is an MTV makeover show that aims to take girls with confidence round their ankles who have reserved parking spaces in the friend zone and doll those Frumpy McGees up so they can summon up the blood to confront their secret crush. As a concept, it seemed ripe for detesting.
But a couple of things got in my way. For starters, the presenter Louise Roe is head-clatteringly, howl-like-a-cartoon-wolf beautiful. It's hard to be cynical about a TV show when the woman presenting it fills your head with Beach Boys music every time she appears on screen.
The show's raison d'être isn't as ghastly as I thought either. After initially thinking it would essentially be the last five minutes of Grease stretched out ad absurdum, the show is much less about taking sweet Australian girls and changing everything about them to make an admittedly hot leather-clad sex vamp to please an aqueduct-racing slick than it is about giving girls a shot of badly-needed confidence. Neither is it like the US primetime abortion The Swan, where Stepford presenter Amanda Byram would officiate over people with dangerously low self-esteem having their woes botoxed and liposucked away. Louise Roe uses her own experience as a fashionista to change not just their appearance, but their outlook, and using one's skills as a means of helping people is as good as you can hope for in television.
Once I decided that I didn't in fact hate the show's very purpose I could then move on to the next stage: being amused by the many, many moments of mortifying hilarity the show provides. For instance in one episode, after the initial set piece where Louise assesses the size of the Henry Higgins job on her hands with Cardiff student Jade she then calls a bewildered-sounding fella to tell him, in classic teen disco style, that a friend of hers pure fancies him and would he go on a date with her. At this point, she assures him she's "legit", the sort of thing only people swearing they actually are the Ghanaian Minister of Energy in emails usually say.
Once he eventually acquiesces in a flurry of ehms and errs, they go and stalk him out. At a swimming pool. In a sign that perhaps the road to confidence will get rockier before it gets smoother, poor Jade is told to put up her hood to hide her hair and face while she points out her dreamboat to Louise. You may wonder how the young buck lacked the presence of mind to miss a conspicuously well-dressed glamour puss and a girl with her hood round her face like Kenny from South Park ogling him from an observation deck, but he was a little bit preoccupied. You see, while the girls were talking about him, he was swimming about and horseplaying with some other dude in the pool, in some of the most homoerotic scenes televised since poor, moustachioed Goose died. In slow motion.
Once they've dispatched with the section that would look bad if they were ever brought to court comes the transformation. First Louise deals with the confidence issues with a couple of allegorically dovetailed challenges. In Jade's case, years of being Someone Else's Hot Friend made her uncomfortable as the centre of attention or the one in control. Thus, she was signed up to an improv session and taken for a day's drifting round a skid pan (where she learned that stressing out was counterproductive and only when she relaxed and felt comfortable would she be able to drift properly. The steering wheel and pedals are basically her life, ya see.) After that, she was taken to flirting supremo Matthew Hussey, where he set her up at a roof party full of singles. It was there that all her previous lessons appeared to crystallise, and she went from chatting up like Hugh Grant with a swollen tongue to coquettish minx in a couple of minutes.
Once all that was sorted there came the Hollywood trying-on-clothes-montage bit, where Louise would marvel at Jade's new ensembles by unnecessarily truncating syllables off the ends of words ("You look gorge!") and saying things that made no sense whatsoever ("He'll absolutely die...in a good way). A quick trip to the makeup artist and a new dress later and, blammo, she's got brass in pocket and she's going to make him, make him, make him notice.
The venue for the date was, naturally, Barcelona, where Louise did her reputation for stalking no good by hiding round the corner and whispering a play-by-play commentary to the camera. Presumably drunk by his surroundings and the transformation the girl in front of him undertook for him, after he placed his eyes back in his sockets he suggested the next date should take place in Paris, which is either a sign things are going well or that he's a Barney Stinson-spec liar. As it turns out, it was the former, as just before the credits rolled we were shown a slew of pics of the now happy couple, like at the end of The Hangover.
As shows go, Plain Jane was pretty bizarre. But unlike so many shows of its ilk and style, its message is ultimately affirmative; it serves to bring the best out of people rather than foist an image of perfection on them and doesn't engage in any trickery. Its heart is absolutely in the right place. As Louise Roe herself might say, it's a bit ridic, but in a good way.
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