Joan Rivers on Fashion Police
Working to make the world safe from ugly dresses.
Fashion Police (E!) trailed in the wake of Emmy coverage as if bringing up the rear in a parade of tall ships and, also, as if diving for the ultimate morsels shaken from a chum bucket. The title is a misnomer. There was no police presence. In capturing their photo evidence, the lens men of the celebrity press had already rounded up the suspects, and the eyes arrested the unusual. The function of this red-carpet wrap-up was judicial, and it would more accurately be called Fashion Hanging Judges. Its panel convened to deliberate tired silhouettes, brassiere miscalculations, and similar human atrocities. Joan Rivers was chief justice and senior executioner.
Joan herself wore a smart wine-colored jacket and too much jewelry from her own QVC line, which, by the way, is currently offering cheetah-print reading glasses at an amazing price. The hairdressers had sprayed Joan's white-blond hair so heavily that, immobile, it was way too matchy-matchy with her face. She's had some work done, but Joan Rivers is all about getting work done. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, the smart and serendipitous recent documentary profile of her, depicts the compulsive drive of a woman who has spent half a century being only as good as her last performance. With age comes wisdom; Joan is Solomonic.
She brought a veteran's depth of knowledge to contextualizing the crimes of Rita Wilson. The defendant's dress, a crystal-draped number with the silhouette of a parsnip sack, came from the R & D team at Prada: "They destroyed Sigourney Weaver for years, and now they're gunning for her." Joan was agile in plucking vintage references. Of Sofia Vergara's glitz-wrap, she decreed: "Charo wore that on The Love Boat." Giggling hard and hoarsely, Joan barely got the line out. It was like laughing at Merrill Stubing for the first time. On regaining her composure, Joan straightened in her chair to dance an upper-body choochie-choochie cha-cha.
Joan's co-panelists were the multi-talented no-talent Kelly Osbourne, lovely in a lemon-cream gown; a young fellow named, I think, George, who made an incisive Norma Shearer observation; and Giuliana Rancic, whose own dress was a Gaga-tinged bandage dress deconstruction—nightclub duct tape. After an unsteady start, they got into the groove when analyzing the sacred Marchesa hemline of Heidi Klum. Joan disapproved of the brevity of the dress. In doing so, she performed one of her favorite insult-comedy tricks: The humor is not in the wit of the insult (by necessity, because there is none). It's all in the angle of the abrasive hostility. "Slut," Joan said. "Slut," Joan continued, adding, "and you're too old."
Elsewhere, Kelly Osbourne wielded a deft knife. Kelly on Tina Fey: "I've never looked at an Oscar de la Renta and thought it looked kind of cheap." This nice George fellow also had a provocative take on Fey's dress: "She needs to show boobs." An armchair over, Giuliana, visibly intrigued by George's analysis, nodded and said, "Interesting," like a lean lecturer admiring young academic talent.
As we broke to commercial for the first time, we caught a split-second of Joan swinging her arm proudly. She was back, baby. During the break, promos clarified that this was a special preview edition of an all-new Fashion Police. Joan's got a good regular gig! It is heartening to see that she's hustled her way back to a full book. It was not so long ago that this regal talent was scraping by doing red-carpet commentary on the TV Guide Channel, up in exile.
I haven't been watching nearly enough television lately. (I cannot even bear to contemplate how you summertime slobs get in five hours a day.) Many of the commercials were new to me. Today's advertisers think they know what women want—to enjoy whirlpools of milk chocolate, to enjoy the privileges of rich ballerinas, to pay for a Toyota without Daddy's money. I was struck by ad for Broadband for America, a lobbying group fronted by Michael K. Powell and Harold Ford Jr. The white-columned set made them look presidential. Broadband for America wants to "heighten public awareness about broadband." Specifically, Broadband for America wants cable viewers to behave in the explicit interest of their cable providers. Great stuff. My last note about the ads is a personal aside to the friends who will so graciously entertain us in the coming fall dinner-party season: I am totally picking up all my hostess gifts at Edible Arrangements.
Back from commercial, they teed up Christina Hendricks, who runneth over Zac Posen's purple. Here, Kelly Osbourne, rising to the opportunity, executed a sophisticated first-person ironic half-twist: "It looks just the dress I wore for my foxtrot on Dancing With the Stars." I'm not going to explicate Joan's milkmaid remark.
They kept things going smoothly into the last 45 or 50 minutes, at which point the time for judicious assessment was over. We were onto the penalty phase of singling out fashion criminals, and Joan had gotten cranky, just plain mean, randomly firing base imputations. They'll work out the kinks before the regular season starts.
In its final minutes, Fashion Police got meta, it's my responsibility to say. Joan signed off, but her microphone was open. You know that bit at the end of a segment where the personalities make a show of themselves huddling to chat? Monday night, we heard two seconds of Joan chatting with her supporting team. We happened to be eavesdropping on Joan shooting the breeze like a coach. She said, "Now we all talk and laugh and—" Cut. Nip, tuck.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.
Photograph of Heidi Klum by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.