Gay times

Television - Andrew Billen is pleased to discover US TV celebrating every nuance of homosexuality

On the latest Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (Thursdays, 9pm, Living), the formerly hirsute, now shaved, moisturised and gelled Adam, 39-37-29 (we're talking age, waist and leg measurements here), went into his newly and rigorously tidied closet and pronounced he was happy to see it that way. But if he was happy, Adam's wife was in bliss. As one of her friends observed: "Her husband, she loves for a minute. This is a long-lasting love affair."

Watching on a monitor from a discreet distance were five aesthetes who have come so far out of the closet themselves that they are currently the toast of Hollywood and American TV. The Fab 5, as they call themselves, are each week charged with transforming a heterosexual man into something a little gayer. The joke, obviously, is not on the over-fastidious quintet but on the hopeless and unreconstructed straights they target. File Queer Eye for the Straight Guy under Crisis in Male Sexuality.

There is a lot to this gay business if you believe this American makeover series, and the Fab 5 tackle it from all angles. Ted Allen, an Esquire magazine critic, teaches culinary inspiration, typically instructing his subjects on how to throw together canapes for a surprise party. He's full of tips, such as: once the resealed wine bottle has dust on it, it's probably all over for the wine inside. Kyan Douglas is the grooming guru, selling pre-shave moisturiser and eyebrow waxes (he was full of tough love for Adam's "monobrow"). No hair is left untousled. Thom Filicia, an interior designer, declutters, rehangs and repaints. More nebulously, Jai Rodriguez, an actor/singer/dancer, coaches social skills, including how to flit from guest to guest at a party without causing offence.

The first among equals, however, is the fashion savant Carson Kressley, a blond who resembles the gay receptionist in NYPD Blue. Kressley is the wittiest of the group and perhaps the wisest, full of sound advice - for example, that thin ties make fat men look thinner, and stripes and checks work together. He purports to be in a state of perpetual shock at male fashion sense, although on the most recent show he was even more shocked to discover that the sartorial nitwit Adam owned a custom-made jacket. "You've got part of our DNA!" he screamed.

In more uptight times, joking that gay men have different DNA from heterosexuals could have caused trouble. Twenty-five years ago, an episode of the newspaper saga Lou Grant had a straight-looking cop puzzling over why his straight-looking partner never fancied the girls he ogled. Tolerance towards your workmate's private gayness was that week's sermon. In the present day, the latest and best season of Six Feet Under, which has just concluded on E4, has had as a major plot strand the relationship between David, a slightly effete and over-reflective homosexual, and his macho and undemon- strative boyfriend, who happens to be a cop, or ex-cop. From Sex and the City and Will and Grace to that immensely popular comedy about two heterosexual gay brothers (I refer to Frasier), American television explores and celebrates every nuance of homosexuality.

Queer Eye is thus the happy ending to that long-ago Lou Grant. Adam raises not a pinkie in protest as his life is restyled; his only motive appears to be a desire to become a better husband. The previous week, a carpenter who looked like an extra from Deliverance had his shoulder-length hair cut, his eyebrows coloured and his "crack den" apartment prettified. By the end, not only were female tongues hanging out as he entered the room, but he had self-actualised as an artist. Susan Sontag defined camp as making light of serious things and taking trivial things seriously. Queer Eye tells us trivial things demand to be taken seriously. Camp's Darwinistic purpose is to help straight men get laid.

Like most American television, it is a fantasy that advertises a utopia, in this case a utopia of infinite personal correctability. Since it so safely fits this genre, it was quickly promoted from a cable to a mainstream network in the US. But this also shows how far America has come.

A previous generation believed in concepts such as authenticity and "the real me". Fashion was a despised veneer. A little of me still does think in those terms, but there is so much good humour knocking about this show that it would be churlish to say anything more. One need only compare it with the previous week's episode of What Not to Wear (Wed-nesdays, 8.30pm, BBC2), in which Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine bullied the comedian David Baddiel into a new look. It was sneering, aggressive and more about class hatred than aesthetics. Baddiel did not want to be perfected. At least, he did not want to be perfected by a pair of posh women. The Fab 5, I suspect, would have amused him.

Given that everything is show business these days, it is surely only a matter of time before the Fab 5 intervene into George Bush's life and style. There must be something to be done about his Camp David bomber jackets, that old-fashioned, untousled side parting, and possibly his toothpaste, too. That ultimate posh bird, Her Majesty, will not say a word this week during his visit. Perhaps, however, George could take a few tips from a royal equerry.

Andrew Billen is a staff writer on the Times