Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was a big hit back in 2003 for Bravo. The concept of five homosexual men making over a heterosexual man had its charm, as did the five compelling leads who each tackled a certain area of expertise. And yet looking back on the original version, it felt like that show suffered from two key flaws. The first was that these were homosexual men through the lens of a heterosexual guy. It didn’t attempt to “other” the gay men, but it did somewhat reduce them to caricatures of the “gay best friend,” available to offer wisdom and help, but devoid of an inner life. The other problem is that the makeovers tended to all hew towards an ideal of metrosexuality, adhering more to current trends in fashion rather than trying to find something unique for that week’s subject.
Now the show has returned to Netflix with the shortened titled Queer Eye (the original show also shortened the title during its run) with five new gay men ready to offer their help to a hapless guy. My wife convinced me to give the new show a spin, and we pretty much devoured all eight episodes over the course of the weekend. The new Queer Eye fixes the flaws of the original and, as they point out in the first episode, the new version is about moving from tolerance to acceptance.
The format will be familiar to anyone who watched the original iteration. There’s a guy whose life needs some improving, the Fab 5 come along to provide some help, and a few days later, his life is better. The reboot also sticks to the original areas of expertise. There’s Jonathan van Ness handling grooming, Karamo Brown taking on culture, Antoni Porowski with expertise on food and wine, Bobby Berk providing design tips and remodeling, and Tan France tackling fashion. Like with the original, the five leads are immediately lovable, but where the two series starts to diverge is that the new Queer Eye is eager to get an idea of who these men are as individuals.
That’s not to say that the original Queer Eye was all about stereotypes, but the new Queer Eye is eager to explore conflicts to try and find at least some sense of a resolution. One of the most moving episodes is when the group goes to help a religious man and his family. While gardening with Bobby, Bobby talks about his own religious upbringing and how the Church’s negativity towards homosexuality can be so harmful. Bobby doesn’t say these things to make the straight guy uncomfortable, but rather to create a more honest and truthful bond. It’s the kind of step that takes the Fab 5 away from being gay genies and towards the fact that they are real people who have stories to tell.
Another powerful scene has Karamo driving with a different guy, who’s a cop. Karamo, a black man, talks about how black men and police officers perceive each other, and while the discussion can be a bit tense at times, there’s no hatred or enmity. There’s a belief that even in these divided times, two people can come together, recognize their mutual humanity, and acknowledge differences. That’s not to say that Queer Eye then moves in a wishy-washy “All Lives Matter” direction, but rather it kind of takes us back to Obama’s 2004 DNC speech where there’s no blue America or red America. The new Queer Eye isn’t afraid to bridge divisions.
Even when Queer Eye takes on this slightly heavier material, it never forgets to be a fun makeover show though. Pretty much every episode gave me a giant smile as we watched the gang use their expertise to help their subjects find their way, whether it’s with a new wardrobe, more confidence, or other touchstones of the makeover genre. But you also get the sense that the gang is also trying to make sure to stick to what’s important to each person. One subject has a swing in his apartment, and while you can tell that Bobby is a bit hesitant to leave it, he doesn’t just rip it out and try to standardize the guy’s home to some chic ideal. Rather than try to move guys to a metrosexual model, you get the sense that they’re trying to help each guy find the better version of himself – whatever that may be.
Netflix’s Queer Eye fits alongside series like Great British Baking Show and American Ninja Warrior as “nice” reality TV. It’s a show about people helping other people, and every episode of the new Queer Eye is incredibly uplifting as it discovers a new level of humanity and generosity. Although some episodes are better than others, there’s not really a bad one in the bunch, and I hope that we’ll hear news of a Season 2 renewal soon. If you think you already had Queer Eye figured out, you should definitely check out its new makeover.
All eight episodes of Queer Eye are currently streaming on Netflix.