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TELEVISION REVIEW

Sox prove good sports primping for 'Queer Eye'

Kevin Millar enjoys getting his face slathered with a pumpkin mask.
Kevin Millar enjoys getting his face slathered with a pumpkin mask. (Bravo Photo)

So there are a still a few things left you might not know about the Red Sox. Like the fact that Kevin Millar picks his nails. And Johnny Damon is no stranger to the paraffin wax hand treatment. And Jason Varitek has bunions.

And that the reigning World Champions -- five of them, at least -- are fabulously good sports, as they face the cuddles and coos of the Fab Five on ''Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

Even in this era of the metrosexual, this is not the pro-sports stereotype. Much has already been made, sight-unseen, of the ''Queer Eye" season premiere, which airs Tuesday on Bravo and features the typical back and brow waxes, pedicures and innuendo.

On WEEI, sports-talk agitators John Dennis and Gerry Callahan have been working to drum up outrage about the cross-promotions -- the Fab Five are scheduled to throw out the first pitch tomorrow -- and goaded reliever Mike Timlin into joining in. (He said, on the air, that gays are ''not living correctly.")

We haven't heard much from the participating Sox: Millar, Damon, Varitek, Tim Wakefield, and Doug Mirabelli, who spent some time in March getting primped and pruned at their Spring Training ballpark. But if Tuesday's episode is any indication, their suggestion might be to lighten up. From their head-shaving days of 2003 to Damon's current see-my-skivvies ads for Puma, these particular Sox have seldom been afraid of poking fun at themselves. This ''Queer Eye" stuff is just a little more . . . explicit.

''Who said gay was bad?" Millar says at one point, swathed in a white bathrobe, sinking his feet into a tub of water laced with rose petals. ''I am now gay!"

In spirit, at least, for an hour or two. Filmed in Fort Myers, Fla., the episode takes pains to remind us that these players are straight. The point of the makeovers, we're told, is to please their wives, two of whom are pregnant, all of whom agree their husbands need less hair. And to raise money for a Florida Little League team whose ball field was destroyed by a hurricane.

Both worthy causes, obviously. But another advance is the way the show plays with old stereotypes of sports machismo. There's something deliciously modern about watching Mirabelli, hand extended delicately for a manicure, razzing Millar about his hair. And about the mix of fear and pride on Wakefield's face when Carson Kressley sits on his lap, pats him encouragingly on the shoulder, and says, ''You're so good; you're so comfortable!"

That has always been the best conceit of ''Queer Eye": the way it acknowledges its straight protagonists' unease, then watches them evolve. Most episodes end with their deep appreciation for the Fab Five's humanity and practical tips.

Of course, that same dynamic has sparked complaints that ''Queer Eye" is little more than a gay dog-and-pony show. And there are times, in the Red Sox episode, where the stereotypes seem overdone. We see a few too many riffs on the fact that the Fab Five guys can't throw or catch a ball.

But the cliches are mostly overcome by do-good spirit. The poor catching takes place in an exhibition game with awe-struck Little Leaguers, who get to play ball with the TV stars and the Sox players.

And Kressley does manage to hit a tiny bloop off Millar. (To be honest, he probably gets on base because of an error. But no one seems to care about the rules.)

Those who object to ''Queer Eye" from a religious point of view will probably take issue with the use of kids at all, and with one shot of food guru Ted Allen, picking out pink Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins ''for the gay children."

But the Little League scenes are so tame they sometimes veer toward maudlin. And except for a couple of bemused-looking dads, the assembled parents don't seem to mind. They join with their kids in chanting, ''Fab Five! Fab Five!"

Bravo also drew no objections from the Sox or from Major League Baseball, which had to give approval for the filming. ''You get Carson Kressley in a pink Red Sox uniform, you'd better have permission," says Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick, who makes no apologies for the episode, its content, or its players.

''It's hard to understand the kind of reaction of intolerance," she said yesterday, ''when it's such an a) lighthearted and b) goodhearted piece of entertainment."

Yesterday at the ballpark, Millar cautioned against taking any of it too seriously. ''It's starting to take on a life of its own, but the idea was to raise money for a Little League team."

For ''Queer Eye," now entering its third season, the premiere represents a slightly new direction. Future episodes will be built around similarly heartwarming stories: the parents of 2-year-old quintuplets, looking to rekindle their romance; a Marine injured in Iraq, whose home must be made stylish and wheelchair-accessible.

But Bravo promises the same old ''Queer Eye" formula. And in the Red Sox episode, the Fab Five poke their usual fun in the clubhouse, then convert the press room into a spa, complete with jute rugs, lantern lamps, and draped fabric. They still ride on the back of slightly-forced product placement -- though we mostly forgive Allen for shilling for Dunkin' Donuts, since the chain did make a big charitable donation.

The most disturbing matter, from a Sox-fan point of view, is that a few pieces in the Sox's new wardrobes look suspiciously decked in pinstripes.

Among the players, Damon seems most comfortable. His wife has already trained him, it turns out, to match his underwear to his shirt. In a fashion show before the exhibition game, he does a giddy little moonwalk.

But all of the players get into the spirit. Millar seems truly to enjoy it when his face is slathered with a pumpkin mask. And at one point, as someone gives him a gentle shoulder massage, Mirabelli sighs, ''This is kind of how I pictured it, after winning a World Series, how it'd be."

In a way, he's right. This is what happens when you become World Champions: You get to set an example.

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