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A Place of Their Own

Poor Lifetime. Perpetually a poor relation to stronger cable channels like ESPN and MTV, it has always lacked a signature show, a Sportscenter or a Beavis & Butthead of its own, with the power to strengthen their brand and leave a mark in popular culture.

Lifetime has long tried to claw out its niche as 'Television for Women' largely through endless reruns of thirtysomething and Intimate Profiles, a show profiling the cream of modern womanhood, or at any rate, Valerie Bertinelli.

Unfortunately they seem to have worn out the thirtysomething tapes after the thirtysomethingth showing, and even Mrs. Van Halen, El Niño of perkiness that she is, wears thin after the third bio-pic. So what is a poor basic cable channel to do?

Enter The Place, a two hour block of half-hour original shows, held together by a unifying graphic that looks like it was drawn on the back of a high school English notebook. When The Place first appeared earlier this year, it was scheduled in primetime Friday. But, perhaps for fear of competing with Meego, perhaps because such classics of American cinema as Cagney & Lacey: The Return draw in more viewers, or perhaps because it just plain sucked, they flinched and chained it up in the attic on Friday at midnight.

Last Friday night, after stumbling home drunk from a party, I decided to give it a try -- to catch a glimpse behind enemy lines, if you will. I've never been considered a Ladies' Man, and I figured that a show about the thoughts and concerns of real women, a show that got beyond the patriarchal stereotypes of beauty-obsessed, chocolate-binging, man-chasing harpies shoved down the throat of society by The Man would give me the insight I needed to understand the fair sex.

Besides, I've needed something to fill the void in my life since they stopped showing the thirtysomething reruns.

First up was a segment called the Wire, an smorgasbord of information of concern for women. Aha, I thought -- now I'd find out what really concerned women. Surely they worry about more than food, clothes, and makeup, right?

What awaited me? Uniquely feminine issues like the role of the woman as caregiver and propagator of the species? Or traditional topics -- philosophy, art, technology -- explored from a woman's point of view?

I knew I was in trouble when I saw the intro -- a woman stood in front of a TV, clearly outraged at her frizzy, flyaway problem hair. Then she stuck her head in the TV, and came out looking like Heather Locklear. Then she reached back into the TV and pulled out an apple in her right hand, and a Twinkie in her left. She almost took a bite out of the apple -- ah, the tension! -- but then laughed and engulfed the Twinkie with her lips, throwing her head back in near-orgasmic pleasure.

The show did not fail to live up to the promise of the intro. I was treated to a cliched gay male hairdresser explaining "self-tanners" -- creams that tan your skin without sun -- for 12 minutes. His lecture included the seven day advance preparation regimen, and advice for finding your own unique 'self-tanning rhythm'. This was followed by an even more cliched gay hairdresser giving advice on turning avocados and coconuts into a natural conditioner for your hair.

The final segment was billed as a guide to high tech portable computers. Being a tad on the nerdy side, I looked forward to women discussing the merits of symmetrical multiprocessing, advances in processor and memory speed, or maybe even a "chick" application like graphic design.

Why should women want computers, according to Lifetime?

(1) The make you 'cyber-cool'.
(2) They can replace your filofax.

In that order.

I decided to have another Mickey's.

The next show up was Three Blind Dates, where Lifetime sets up three blind dates and follows them around with a camera, Real World style.

The first date was Eva and Paul. Eva was a very attractive Swedish woman, with blond hair dyed, teased, and frizzed just enough to make her look like a porn star on a coffee break.

Her side of the date?

  • She fed Paul straight vodka shots...

  • Suggested they snuggle up together next to the fire with a blanket...

  • Fed him ice cream and cookies with her fingers...

  • And suggestively licked all the ice cream off of a cylindrical cookie with her tongue and then proceeded to mimic fellatio on said cookie.

Paul's reaction?

  • After downing said shot of vodka, he grimaced and pranced around like Paul Lynde, crying "I've been poisoned by a strange Swede!"...

  • Told a joke about an Italian friend in England who once had mistakenly uttered "up your bum" when he had meant "bottoms up" -- clearly, not the only thing Paul remembered from his Benny Hill School of Romance correspondence course...

  • Took his Julia Child impression out for a spin...

  • And at one point, bafflingly claimed to be "the complete Mickey Rourke."

The real question is, did he pick up on the oh-so-subtle cues Eva was sending? She was a fellatio-mimicking Swede, for chrissakes. Most men would excuse themselves to start writing a Penthouse letter the second they saw that agile Nordic tongue wind its way out of Eva's pouting mouth. But Paul planted a polite goodbye kiss on Eva's cheek and swished right out the door.

Date two was Shauna and Marcus. How's this for a first date -- Marcus decided that they would meet at a natural-themed spa and immediately strip down to swimsuits and hop into a hot tub. Shauna agreed.

Of course, to suggest this, you need to be the type of guy who's pretty stoked about his own body. Marcus looked like sort of like Treat Williams, had Treat grown up on the East German Women's Olympic Swim Team. It may be unfair to paint Marcus as a mere musclebound hunk, though -- after all, he was very proud of the fact that he could shave both of his legs before the end of the second song on side two of Van Halen's "Diver Down."

I did not just make that up. Marcus' leg-shaving provided the topic for the longest conversation of the date.

For Shauna, I have three words -- tasteful fake breasts.

The better-seduction-through-food theme continued, this time with more success. Marcus had brought strawberries and grapes, one thing led to another, and most of the date footage consisted of them throwing grapes in each other's mouths and making out, a computer generated oak leaf covering Shauna's ass, interrupted by the occasional Tarantino-esque non-linear flashback to Marcus talking about shaving himself.

At this point I was confused. I asked myself how this differed from a particularly randy episode of Baywatch, which is usually not labelled as "Television for Women". But it all became clear -- the date footage was followed up by a round-robin critique of the date footage by women-on-the-street interviews, generating McLauglin Group-esque small-town petty gossip. Among the comments: "They definitely have a future in pornography"; "I'm sure they slept together, and may not have even made it to a bed -- I think they might have done it right there."

Date three played out like some sort of cruel joke. Patrick, who looked like a perfectly nice guy, spent what seemed like an hour waiting alone in a restaurant for his late date. They showed him playing with his napkin. Drinking a beer. Talking to the flowers he'd brought as if they were his date. Trying to make idle conversation with the waiter, and then the maitre d', and then the manager. Drinking another beer.

It was riveting TV.

Finally, the crew must have gotten bored, because they found a woman old enough to be Patrick's mother, and sent her in, pretending to be his date. When Patrick handled the situation like a gentleman and played along, asking her to sit down, she panicked and fled. He had another beer. He ordered a beer just for the flowers, in case they were lonely.

Finally, Julie, the date, showed up, with no real explanation. They only had time enough left for Patrick to make fun of vegetarians, and to try -- and fail -- to go back into the kitchen to look at their food being cooked. But later they both agreed it was a good date.

Next up was another episode of The Wire. The first segment was on air travel. According to Lifetime, do you know what the number one problem with flying is? Terrorism? Slack FAA safety rules? Air quality problems?

It's skin dehydration, according to another flamboyant gay man who may have been the same one from the first episode. I lost track. Ahead of me, he explained, lay 10 minutes devoted solely to the unique beauty challenges posed by air travel.

I couldn't take it anymore. I switched to Sportscenter to center myself. Luckily I returned in time for the last show of the bunch, "The Men's Room" -- a show, I assumed, about men.

"Ah!" I said, "undoubtedly seeing my own gender from a woman's perspective will give me new insights. I'll understand what women are really looking for."

By now, you'd think I'd know better.

What did I learn?

Men really only need their reptilian hindbrains. The rest of the brain -- cortex and all, language ability, temporal processing, pretty much every central nervous system development from the Pre-Cambrian on -- is just taking up space which could be better utilized to store extreme sports gear and spare condoms.

According to Lifetime, what are men concerned with? Sex, sports, extreme sports, and sex. Not that any of this is untrue, really, but you don't have to go to "Television for Women" to find that out. And, if these men -- concerned solely with matters of reproduction and reflexive motor control, represent Lifetime's best guess as to what women want, either they've been lying to me the whole time, or my future love life is bleaker than I'd imagined.

I wanted to stay and learn more, but after that realization, what was the use, really? I gave up and switched back to Sportscenter.


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