Extreme LES Makeover


I’m a huge fan of bad television. I’ll watch anything—even MTV. So I’m more familiar than I’d like to admit with Made, that unrealistic reality series that transforms chubby girls into cheerleaders and rejects into rappers. It’s billed as a self-improvement show (“Dreams really do come true!”) but plays like parody. Now, confusingly, three twentysomething New Yorkers have actually parodied it.

Premiering last week with a party at the Tribeca Grand Hotel, Made: I Wanna Be a Hipster played up a cast stocked with New York’s downtown habitués. MisShapes doorman Thomas Onorato plays the “Made Coach” to our Jersey boy Matt, while tarts of pleasure Sarah Lewitinn (Ultragrrrl) and Karen Ruttner (Karen Plus One) guest-appear as giggly lifestyle experts. (They also supplied the music at Tuesday’s party.) Also featured in the episode: DJ/photog Brad Walsh and gadabouts Gurj Bassi and Quinn Asteak. I actually heard someone squeal “Gurj and Quinn!” when the girls made their on-screen cameo—perhaps the same unfortunate soul who again squealed upon recognizing Lewitinn’s dog: “Awww, Monkeeeeeeey!”

Much less lame than that display: the party. Open bar, followed by two capacity showings in the private screening room (which seats 100), followed by an after-party in the hotel’s Church Bar, followed by more drinks with cute, nice, non-hipster boys who went to school with the director, followed by a lengthy stop at Pianos to pick up a tab left on Saturday night, followed by a hangover. Debbie Harry was mentioned as a potential attendee, as was Alan Cumming, but I didn’t see either. (“No major notables,” Onorato confirmed the next day.)

As for the actual project, editor Faran Krentcil and Urban Builders Group project manager/filmmaker Matthew Tritt conceived it, then approached their friend Shruti Ganguly to direct. “Hipsters originally tried not to fit into any ‘norms,’ but consequently created their own stereotype following certain styles—skinny jeans, Converse sneakers or Vans, black or fluorescent colors, listening to British bands from the ’80s and ’90s, and so on,” explains Ganguly, marketing director for the League of Artisans, an organization that helps build sustainable business enterprises in India’s craft sector. “We thought it was a fun idea, and relevant to New York pop culture today—a combination of a popular TV show and a hyped-up subculture.”

Their faux 30-minute Made (see it at touches on all those tired trends and more. Matt (played by Tritt) moves to the Lower East Side, starts wearing purple vests, eats baby food to shed pounds, invites suspicions of homosexuality from Dad, DJs at the Annex, and is recognized as the beau ideal by an “It” Girl (played here by Alexis Page). Of course, he’s eventually welcomed back into the Jersey fold when his family and friends recognize that he’s still Matt (and, you know, not gay)—presumably, he’ll be mortified in 10 years that he ever went through this ridiculous fucking phase.

That’s the overview. Not terribly original, but pretty entertaining. Onorato comes off like the Tim Gunn of hipsters, so innately fabulous that he makes his criticisms feel like pretty little gifts. He renames the show’s subject immediately: “Matt is a name for people who drink boxed wine and ride in the backs of Saturns on their way to Dave Matthews concerts, and talk about . . . soccer. Get it? OK. Your new name is Matthieu.” Onorato pauses. “You just went from Kevin Federline cool to Jamie Lynn Spears cool. Not good—but much better.”

Tritt’s not bad, either, mimicking perfectly those pathetic hacks on the real show, especially the staple scene in which the subject questions all that hard work. “I honestly didn’t think being a hipster would alienate my friends and family,” he begins, sifting through a photo album. “I mean, maybe I should just quit . . . what am I doing?” Cue Five for Fighting, and a montage of Matt’s recent arguments. “Since my friends already hate me, I should at least try,” he decides. This part happens in every episode! Usually with tears! But then Onorato takes him to see his Made stylists, Gurj and Quinn, who give him the “Helmet Lang gets totally cracked out on Pixy Stix and learns all the words to the Jem and the Holograms theme song while in the Thom Browne dressing room” makeover. Order is restored.

The real scene-stealer, though, is Tritt’s sister, who deadpans some of the spoof’s best lines in her thick Jersey accent. When Matt tells the family he’s giving in to the pressure of his new neighborhood, she spits, “You’re gonna look like a freak, OK?” as only a sister can. “Look at you. Your skin is sagging off of your bones,” she adds in Week Three. “I can’t see you already. Turn sideways—whoops! There he goes!”

Made: I Wanna Be a Hipster is the sort of self-congratulatory shtick that would be unforgivable if it had been made by annoying hipsters, but Ganguly and the others don’t seem to fit that mold; on the other hand, they’re not removed enough to cry satire. And there’s no downplaying the project as an unserious effort—the premiere also drew press from New York and, so somebody’s courting the media. So what of their critics?

“I’m not worried about backlash,” Ganguly says. “It’s a spoof that provides insight into hipster culture—exaggerated, to some extent—involving hipsters and non-hipsters who, at the end of the day, accept the main character for who he wants to become.”

Fair enough. “I wouldn’t consider myself a hipster, but I do have good friends who are,” Ganguly concludes. “And they’re awesome.”