If it was your understanding that the comedian Kathy Griffin was taking over as the host of E!'s Fashion Police from Joan Rivers, who died on September 4 last year, then you may be as confused as I am right now.
Griffin didn't seem in charge of the show at all when it returned Monday night—and, worse and most glaringly considering the killer heels she had to fill, she wasn't very funny either.
The E! show, famously fronted by Rivers who merrily ripped apart celebrities' fashion sense or lack of it, returned for its first episode last night since her death, in a special edition devoted to the triumphs and calumnies of the Golden Globes red carpet. Griffin welcomed viewers heartily. She told us she was on a "mission to speak the truth" about celebrities' clothing choices.
Griffin graciously, and quickly, thanked Rivers whom she was sure was watching from Heaven. "Don't get twisted. I won't be afraid to bring the hammer down on anyone and everyone," Griffin promised Rivers.
Excellent, the Fashion Police fan thought at home. Griffin, a famous, acid-tongued puncturer of Hollywood hype and self-glorification, was Rivers' nearest natural heir, or seemed the closest to it. This could work.
But whereas Rivers liked fashion, and knew about it (or at least was very well-briefed), Griffin isn't and only cares about fashion to laugh at when someone wears something outlandish. Fair enough, but it's very quickly one-note joke-telling. George Kotsiopolous had also been unforgivably dispatched from the show, and replaced by Brad Goreski, a Hollywood stylist turned reality TV star. Only Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne remained from the original lineup.
The first actress up for discussion was Kate Hudson, who wore a stunning white Atelier Versace dress on Globes night—it clung ruthlessly, sexily to her body.
As in Rivers' days, Griffin as host had first chance to flay this frock with her talons. The best she could do was note that one false move and Hudson's boob might fall out, which Griffin would have liked.
This came to be a repetitive trope: she liked any dress that invited the possibility of humiliation and a faux pas. Rivers also awaited sartorial disasters hungrily, but that wasn't the defining feature of her criticism. Rivers had crafted zingers to throw at said dress. Griffin did not.
The welcome, dirty jokes Rivers loved immediately fell to Brad Goreski, who said the Hudson dress was so hot it could turn him straight. He demurred on what sexual position he would do until Giuliana Rancic revealed she would 69 with Hudson. Goreski said he'd take her from behind, "obviously."
Griffin was observing, smile fixed, silently.
She was like a flickering light throughout the show, which seemed so odd, as on stage and on her own shows, she is "on" in the best way. Was she intimidated, nervous? Both would be understandable, and her co-hosts generously and professionally filled in the silences where her voice should have been.
As with Rivers, Griffin led the discussion of various dresses, but unlike with Rivers, who was the fulcrum of the show, she retreated as soon as she had spouted her gag. Griffin played as one of a company, not the host: it was very strange to watch. Rancic really felt like the host.
All that Griffin could summon up about Salma Hayek was that she would always be best-dressed because she was married to "a billionaire with money flying out of his buttonhole," referring to François-Henri Pinault. Griffin sniped that there was a gap between Hayek's bodice and boobs, "for lipstick and loose change," she wondered. Not funny.
However, she still had some zingers ready to go. When Rancic said Emily Blunt had been suffering from flu, Griffin shrugged so what—she had a yeast infection.
But on Julianne Moore, all she managed was that dismissiveness that came to characterize her opening-night performance: everyone loves her, she said of Moore, yadda yadda. Rancic would periodically mutter, "OK," as if she couldn't believe Griffin had nothing much to say, and was throwing so many possible one-liners away.
Jennifer Lopez's insane silver, body-hugging, slashed dress offered up an easy home run, surely? Well, Griffin went for something like, she loved the dress because it offered a near-miss of seeing Lopez's vagina. And that was that: the Fashion Police fan might have been thinking about the just-as-dirty, just-as-rude, but a-thousand-times-funnier and better-delivered jokes Joan Rivers would have fired off.
In the old Fashion Police, host Rivers closed and opened each segment, but here Rancic closed many of the segments, with Griffin opening them—subtle, but a definite balance of power shift.
Griffin at least had something funny to say about Emma Stone, who looked, said Griffin, as if she had a pillow attached to her pants. Everyone disagreed with Griffin on almost every choice, with Goreski giving particularly pointed and informative criticism, and Osbourne and Rancic actually funnier than Griffin, who sat, and clapped, and smiled politely.
Claire Danes, in her strange Valentino appliqué gown, offered up both target and bull’s eye, but Griffin could only opine that she was a “pill” who didn't seem to have a great sense of humor, which wasn’t a joke, wasn’t an insult, and was an observation totally devoid of anything related to fashion. Her other panelists were momentarily silenced.At least Goreski rescued the uncomfortable situation by observing Danes looked like she’d just “flown out of the chicken coop.”Keira Knightley’s hideous, shapeless Chanel gown with awful doily neck and lampshade tassels at the base was again a bitch-gift on a plate. And Griffin went for it, but too quickly and in an over-it voice. “It was a riot,” she concluded, with the aural equivalent of a “meh” shrug. “Bring it.” Advice to Griffin: if in doubt, if struggling for anything to say, avoid “Bring it.” It’s becoming a new, desperate iteration of “Whatever.” It sounded great on The View when you rightly baited Elisabeth Hasselbeck—not so here.
Goreski again managed the thousand-times-better, “Chanel and Keira have a special relationship, and they may be angry at her right now.”
Lena Dunham in red Zac Posen, everyone agreed, looked OK, but not Griffin, who said she preferred her more outrageous outfits, but again just because they offered more opportunity to laugh at her—which isn’t a funny observation in itself. Griffin kept emphasizing she liked people to look stupid because it gave her more opportunity to make jokes about them. Well, yes—but you should work with the material you've got.
Lorde, Griffin judged, was humorless and ridiculous, which again left everyone wondering what show Griffin thought she was on. Again, everyone else dissented, noting how good Lorde looked in her trouser suit.
Lana Del Rey in a hideous, badly fitted, green vintage Travilla dress at least united the panel in scorn, but all Griffin could manage was that it looked like the bridesmaid dress you dread being made to wear.
Griffin said “yawn, perfection again” over Lupita Nyong’o’s flowery-bodiced dress, whereas everyone else noted, correctly, that no—this wasn’t a great dress, but fussy and overwhelming.
When it came to Amal Clooney’s ill-fitting gloves, Kelly Osbourne had the best gag—that they looked like a veterinarian’s. From Griffin: “She’s annoying.” As for Tina Fey’s red-carpet dress, which looked like an oddly constructed meringue, while the others puzzled over its fit, Griffin blurted the still-baffling-to-me: “It looks like she’s about to be bullied.”
Rivers would have had the snarky fun Griffin was going for when she gently mocked Goreski for saying Naomi Watts was an “ambassador” for Bulgari—another ridiculously conferred job of privilege within Planet Fashion. But it was her query that fell flat. Sienna Miller’s Miu Miu dress was dismissed as drapery from Downton Abbey. A funny insult, but not correctly leveled at Miller—the dress was a bit bad-plungey, but not old-drapey.
At the end of Fashion Police, the panel give their best- and worst-dressed, and in the old incarnation host Rivers would finally rule on who was the best and worst dressed. But Griffin hasn’t been given this power.
Instead, Rancic asked for her choices. Griffin’s best-dressed was Lopez, because her “inner gay boy” loved it for its danger factor and the fact you almost saw her “cooch” (to quote her, yawn). The others went for Kate Hudson and Emma Stone; and then a new move, the final voice now is the Fashion Police audience, who went for Lopez.
Griffin next put on rubber gloves, to announce her worst-dressed choice was Amal Clooney. The others went for Lana Del Rey and Keira Knightley. Audience choice: Lana Del Rey. The show would return next week, we were informed, and it would seem with two pilots at its controls—and a distinct, and sad lack of Joan Rivers at its heart.
The paucity of Griffin-originated laughs, and the predictability of those that came, and the strange hosting structure and Griffin’s lack of sharpness, made for a depressing return of what was once such a zesty hour of irreverence and rudeness.
Perhaps this season premiere held another uncomfortable truth—that, without someone with Rivers' chops, is there much of a point to laughing scabrously at dresses, or does it all become Mean Girls? Maybe, and necessarily, Fashion Police’s time might be up. Or maybe, as E! would like us to do, we should give Griffin and Rancic time to figure out what needs to be figured out, Griffin a chance to get into her groove, and a new show to grow around that.
Whatever, if the new Fashion Police reminded us of anything, it was how good Joan Rivers was; how fast, how serious about good joke-telling she was, how fearless. This new Fashion Police is quite literally missing a heart. If Rivers is in Heaven watching, as Griffin imagined, she would have been cursing the timidity of her successor—and really ripping that Keira Knightley monstrosity to pieces.