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Harsh judgments rule Gunn's 'Style'

Tim Gunn and Veronica Webb (right), his supermodel sidekick, with Karen on 'Tim Gunn's Guide To Style.' Tim Gunn and Veronica Webb (right), his supermodel sidekick, with Karen on "Tim Gunn's Guide To Style." (Barbara Nitke)

Who knew that Tim Gunn, who lends such endearing support to aspiring fashion designers on Bravo's "Project Runway," could be so mean to the common woman? Who knew that he could think so badly of us all?

In tonight's premiere of "Tim Gunn's Guide To Style," the fashion-maven-of-the-moment reacts with abject horror at some photos of a woman's wardrobe. "Oh my God! It's all jeans and T-shirts!" he gasps.

"And they're ugly! Every single proportion's wrong! And the color's not clever!" chimes in Veronica Webb, the supermodel who serves as Gunn's sidekick.

This is, of course, a tried-and-true part of the fashion-makeover formula, and "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style" borrows liberally from such shows as Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and TLC's "What Not to Wear." But Gunn seems especially harsh. Most TV fashion victims are committing some painfully obvious offense: They wear sweatpants every day, or haven't bought new shirts since 1974. In tonight's premiere, Rebecca - like most middle-income people with access to shopping malls - gets by on jeans, pumps, and vaguely trendy shirts. Gunn spends a lot of time looking hopeless, his head in his hands.

Future installments of this eight-episode series will focus on starker fashion disasters; next week's show features Karen, a mother who goes to PTA meetings with the word "Juicyland" emblazoned across the rear end of her pants. But Gunn's demeanor remains the same. He tries hard to be tough, then makes a point of being caring, so that everything comes across as insincere. One minute, he's declaring Rebecca's closet "horrifying," the next he's providing her husband with a new engagement ring for his bride. ("From ice .com," Gunn says. These shows are nothing without product placement.)

Gunn, the former chairman of the fashion design department at Parsons The New School for Design, became a breakout star as the contestants' guide and mentor on "Project Runway." There, his appeal stems from his heart and his expertise. The judges can be cold and unforgiving, but Gunn - though critical - always encourages. And always, he speaks with authority: He knows what ruching is, and how to use it.

"Tim Gunn's Guide To Style" shows moments of similar potential; every once in a while, Gunn offers a technical explanation for why clothes fit as they do. But for the most part, the show is content to be another study in the effects of fashion on self-esteem. Tonight, before her giant shopping trip, Rebecca is sent to a "life coach" who instructs her to wear a garbage bag and stand in front of some misshapen mirrors. Within minutes, she is cured of her body image issues and sent off to buy a bevy of expensive clothes.

It's a wonderful development for her. The rest of us, whose wardrobes aren't bankrolled by Bravo, might be rifling through our closets, hoping Tim Gunn won't have a chance to peek inside.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com. For more on TV, go to viewerdiscretion.net.

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Tim Gunn's Guide to Style

When: Tonight at 10

On: Bravo

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