In the lingering tradition of celebrating a brand of "femininity" long ago abandoned by actual women comes The Brini Maxwell Show -- a crossdresser-hosted home show on Manhattan cable's public access network that combines the ruthless domesticity of Mrs. Cleaver with the unavoidable camp of loopy (and sometimes looped) drag queens.
For public access, the show is startlingly well-produced by its star, Ms. Maxwell (aka Ben Sander), whose wardrobe and set consist of an impressive private collection of vintage '50s and '60s fashions and accessories culled from thrift stores and antique shops around the world.
The show is directed by Maxwell's mother -- a situation she describes as "interesting" and "occasionally fraught with tension." I'm inclined to think that a situation wherein a gay man is directed to look and act like a woman by his mother is fraught with more than tension -- the Freudian overtones would make Norman Bates feel upstaged.
Despite this, Maxwell's range of housekeeping tips, relationship advice, and culinary surprises -- which might have come straight from a Betty Crocker tome circa 1960 -- are delivered with Carol Brady-esque sincerity that confirms the practicality and convention that is the show's raison d'être. The show is ripe with the kind of etiquette advice that would make Miss Manners proud. During one segment a member of the ensemble encourages the audience to wear "ladylike accessories" to avoid "looking like Gertrude Stein," while in another, viewers are instructed on the proper execution of the phrase "ladies first." ("When getting on a bus, subway, elevator, or up-escalator, that term would apply. However when getting off... the gentleman would preceed [sic] the lady.")
Thank God someone finally cleared that up.
But it's all in the name of nostalgia, says the show's creator and star, who longs for a time in our country's history when "we recognized all that we could be."
Part homage to and part parody of the post-War housewife of yore, The Brini Maxwell Show seeks to appeal to the single woman who survives on her own -- but not without the wherewithal to rid her floor of scuff marks.
The contradiction, of course, is that Brini Maxwell is hardly the epitome of today's single woman. Likewise, it's unlikely that the domesticated and demure 1950s "gal" Brini aspires to be ever felt capable of recognizing all she could be while simultaneously keeping the bathtub squeaky-clean.
Nevertheless, there is more to learn from The Brini Maxwell Show than how to create a good "man-pleasing meal." Just ask the show's advice columnist Philomena, who, in one of the show's less sanctimonious segments, encourages condom-shy viewers to place an already-opened one within reach prior to the start of a promising tryst. In addition to convenience, Philomena reminds us, this tip offers an extra advantage to those who hastily attempt to open condom wrappers with their teeth -- by keeping their mouths free to engage in other, more enjoyable activities.
Now that's practical.
Amy Glavasich is co-editor of The Notion, a satirical magazine about bad ideas. She lives in New York.