Queens of the deserted

Posted on 19 Aug 2010 at 6:03pm

‘Project Runway’ alums Austin Scarlett and Santino Rice go ‘On the Road’ in the American heartland —and the Midwest may never be the same

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Ont the road
TWO WRONG FOOLS | Thanks for everything, guys: Your traveling fashion reality series is a hoot.

4.5 out of 5 stars
ON THE ROAD WITH AUSTIN AND SANTINO
airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on Lifetime.  Watch episodes online at MyLifetime.com.

There are three big surprises about the new Lifetime Network series On the Road with Austin and Santino. First is how damned entertaining it is; second is how Lifetime made no effort to market it to the gay press; and third is how that it is on Lifetime at all — it seems ideal for Logo or Bravo.

Come to think of it, the third may explain the second. But let’s stick with the first.

For those who haven’t been addicted to Project Runway for a few years, Austin is Austin Scarlett and Santino is Santino Rice, also-rans in the first two seasons of the series but fan favorites for their personalities: Austin, the fey, face-powdered Quentin Crisp dandy; and Santino, the butch, cutthroat bisexual. Sharing the screen, they present as a queer Felix and Oscar, i.e., ones who know how to throw a half-lip stitch and cut on the bias.

The premise of the series is a kind of traveling Queer Eye for the Straight Gal, where the fashionistas visit small-town tomboys and make for them one faboo gown to wow their friends and family.

That’s the premise, but it’s not what the show is about. No, it is about the fish-out-of-water picaresque that puts a flamboyant odd couple in the heartland: RuPaul’s Drag U Meets Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
And it’s effin’ brilliant.

After only three episodes (the fourth will air after press time) — one of which was to nearby Weatherford — On the Road already deserves cult status. The highlight of the series so far: Austin flouncing into a general store in rural Antlers, Okla., beret jauntily askew, and sashaying through the aisles of Wranglers and gingham while the stunned proprietor and his son stare — polite stares, but stares nonetheless.

Not only is the show touching in the predictable but effective Queen for a Day tradition (with the added sweetness of Austin and Santino’s sometimes prickly but loving pas-de-deux), it’s a remarkably empowering bit of social acclimatization, as two queer men withhold judgment on Red State America while Red State America withholds judgment on them. Could it be gay acceptance has come so far that even in the “deer capital of the U.S.” two fashion designers can be welcomed with open arms and open hearts?

It is if this show has anything to say about it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 20, 2010.

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