Bull market

Flipping Out  on Bravo, plus Celebrity Bull Riding Challenge and Meerkat Manor
By JAMES PARKER  |  September 4, 2007

VIDEO: A preview of the fifth episode of Flipping Out

Piloting the family vehicle around Park Drive the other day, with the sullen ember of the “CHECK ENGINE” light steadily before my eyes and the heat of the afternoon pressed against the windshield like a maniac’s grin, I remembered all of a sudden my great fear of mediocrity. On the radio they were playing that rather charming song by Mute Math in which the handsome young singer frets hoarsely about the hegemony of “the typical” and laments that he will never be able to “break its spell.” The music filled the car, my heart rang with it. “How long does it take somebody/Before they can be someone?” Yes. YES. How long to bump along in the rut of the unexceptional, with an injured Volvo’s steering wheel in my hands? When will my splendor rise? Heavens above, when will I be real?

Jeff Lewis is real, baby. He’s so real he works in real estate. On a reality show. The star/villain of Bravo’s FLIPPING OUT (Tuesday at 10 pm) is realized, with a kind of bitter photographic clarity, down to the last detail — which would probably be his dramatic distaste for an onion. In last week’s episode, as Jeff sat down for lunch with his three assistants/dogsbodies, his ironic cleaning lady Zoila noticed him staring fixedly at his food. “Are you praying, Jeff?” she asked, and as a matter of fact, he was. Jeff was mute and nearly ecstatic before the idol of his own indignation. Once again, despite his repeated requests to the contrary, there were onions in his salad. “I said no onions!” he yelled. “It’s like somebody’s fucking with me right now! Every day, Jenni, every day! No onions! No onions! Check the box! I don’t know what I have to do!” Earlier, another assistant, Chris, had suffered a vertiginous demotion after he was busted for checking his e-mail. “I’m feeling a little betrayed,” said Jeff. “So what’s going to happen is, effective immediately, you’re going to go back to trash duty. Okay? So if you could please empty the trashcans now. Start with that.” Chris’s face was a potato of disbelief.

Jeff flips houses for a living, buys them, tarts them up, sells them at a profit. He represents the culmination of a certain tendency in reality TV in which the whims and thrusts of the individual are prized above all, and every man is his own private Sun King, extending the empire of his selfhood across a genuflecting world. Over at Bravo, they’ve been working on this for some time, but neither the unlovable Jackie Warner from Work Out, barking at people in her gym, nor the bonkers hairdresser Jonathan from Blow Out ever quite achieved Jeff’s level of ruthless solipsism and control-freakery.

The only thing not-quite-real about Jeff is his face, which looks as if it’s had a bit of work done: there are taut glints of perfection around the eyes, and the lips are a surgically augmented smudge (I like to think that Jeff would disdain collagen in favor of the injected fat of his own thighs.) In the frequent close-ups of this face, it’s as if another man were staring through it like a window.

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