Instead of Politics, Beauty

Counter-programming The State of the Union Address.

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Sure a lot of you were probably watching Obama's big speech last night, and good for you. You are civic-minded! You are dutifully concerned with the workings of our political system! Meanwhile, some of us lesser beings were watching shows about hair and fashion.

One of the better shows to roll out of the Bravo plastic dream factory in recent years, Tabatha Takes Over is a mechanical delight of process. Former Shear Genius contestant Tabatha Coffey, a stern Australian (they do exist!) who dresses like a young Professor McGonagall, is our host, going into hair salons that are struggling to stay in business and, with bluntness and intelligence, getting them back on track. She gives inexperienced or not up-to-date stylists fascinating little tutorials in technique — there really is a method! — and makes over the salons in satisfying, if not terribly elaborate, fashion. It's Kitchen Nightmare or Restaurant Impossible in the slightly more exotic world of hair. Oh, but there's a change this season!

Now Tabatha doesn't just do salons. One of the three episodes of the season that have aired so far concerned not a beauty shop, but an old gay bar in Long Beach that had lost its pizzaz long ago. And wouldn't you know it? Tabatha went in and pizazzed it right back up! Sure, we didn't get to see the interesting hair cutting lessons (seriously more of those please, we can handle a little learning, Bravo), but the lady knows how to run a good service business, so she was still effective. If they keep the ratio pretty heavily in favor of salons with a few other random joints peppered in for taste, they'll have a perfect season on their hands. Well, they could do away with some of the activity — last night's visit to the cancer support center for a salon owner who had recently lost her mother was nice and all, but it took precious time away from all the business makeover stuff that we're there for. And Tabatha needs to rely a little less on the corny lines the producers are writing for her. But other than that, it's a makeover-ish show that's well worth missing some boring old speech for. Hey, Washington, you should can the speechifying and get Tabatha to come over there and fix things up. Just imagine John Boehner begrudgingly giving Nancy Pelosi a foil while Tabatha barks at him. Just imagine it!

Also on Tuesday nights is the new ABC Family show Jane by Design, a teen version of The Devil Wears Prada about a big-dreaming teenage girl who somehow winds up the assistant to the imperious head of a high fashion concern. The only thing is, she sort of has to keep the job a secret at school and school a secret at her job, the latter because they all assume she's just out of college (or something). So far there have been lots of Fred Flintstone-esque two-places-at-once scrambles and whatnot, while Jane navigates both the world of high school (a longtime athlete crush who suddenly becomes interested now that she has nicer clothes and a secret) and that of the fashion industry (a jealous former assistant trying to steal her boss's job, the romantic overtures of the company's [straight] assistant designer). This is not high-art television, but it's strangely engaging.

Some of that is owed to the fact that the boss, named Gray, is played by Andie MacDowell with a mesmerizing woodenness that's even more flat and monotone than Andie MacDowell usually is. The game of watching her in every episode (most of her scenes are done on a computer screen of sorts, as she's out of town and communicating remotely) is trying to figure out just what everyone on set says about her when she and the showrunners aren't around. It's a spectacularly bad performance, a quaalude-hazed Miranda Priestly impression, but one that's oddly beguiling.

There's also, like any good ABC Family show, a high Cute Boy quotient. Take your pick: There's Jane's older brother who takes care of her, a former high school popular guy who's now working as a baseball coach at the school. There's Jane's baseball playing crush (though he's heavy on the dopey side). There's the previously mentioned somehow-straight British fashion designer. And there's Jane's best friend, a punk/indie guy who's secretly (or not secretly anymore, as of last night) dating Jane's main school antagonizer. All will set angsty hearts aflutter in their own ways, though we suspect that Nick Roux, playing the best friend, will induce the most intense swoons. ABC Family knows its demo, and they work hard to give it what it wants.

Again, this isn't Shakespeare. This isn't even Greek. But it's a perfectly pleasant, mindless thing to have on in the background while you catch up on emails or Amazon shopping or whatever it is you do on the computer after work hours until Justified comes on. Be sure to look up from your laptop (maybe you're reading State of the Union liveblogs!) when MacDowell is on screen, lest you miss the show's strangest, most unsettling asset.

Or, you know, have a crisis of patriotism and flip over to whatever important newsy thing it is that's on. A debate, a speech, whatever. It's your free time, after all.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.