So have y’all heard? I’m finally back after my months’ long hiatus—and so is Queer Eye for the Straight Guy! Sort of…
Netflix’s reboot of Bravo’s cultural juggernaut is now simply Queer Eye, and, as the catchphrase says, it’s about more than just a makeover. With a new cast and new trails to blaze, the new Fab 5 tour the Atlanta metro area offering makeovers and life advice for more than just poor schlubs with bad beards.
For those needing a history lesson, the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (QEftSG) premiered on Bravo in 2003 and ran for 5 seasons. Though the cast changed a little, the original “Fab 5” are generally cited as Ted Allen, Carson Kressley, Thom Filicia, Kyan Douglas, and Jai Rodriguez. Basically a straight guy was nominated (usually by his desperate girlfriend or wife) to get a “queer eye” makeover: the Gays know food, fashion, decorating, grooming, and culture, right?? Let’s bring it to the Straights!
While the show was immensely popular almost overnight, it did of course earn some criticism, especially from the LGBT community. First of all, without setting off any debates, the word queer is deeply controversial. Some people consider it a slur that should be put to rest, while others proudly use it as a reclaimed term. Whatever your POV on that subject, many believe it iffy to give everyone and their brother the idea that they can throw a word like that around willy nilly. It’s a sensitive topic.
Also, of course, there are a lot of stereotypes the original (and the reboot) reinforce. Oh you’re gay! Of course you know how to dress and decorate your apartment! Again, not to start something, but stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. Whatever else it did, the original Queer Eye reinforced the GOOD stereotypes, not the bad ones, and it helped put to rest (for some people, anyway) the idea of the “predatory gay.”
Meet the New Boys…
The reboot follows the same formula as the original, with 5 bright and chirpy (Ted Allen, chirpy??) gay men, each representing a “category” that needs a makeover: food, fashion, interior design, grooming, and culture.
In the original, the culture category always reminded me of “Heart” from Captain Planet. How is “Heart” an element? How do you make over someone’s “culture?” The main thing I remember from QEftSG is that Billy Joel is lame and it’s important to make eye contact when shaking hands.
Sorry, I digress. We’ll get to Karamo later.
If you compare the pic of the original group to this new one, I think you’ll notice something. The first Fab 5 were a great group of guys, but only one of them is brown. It’s not exactly a diverse selection. The new cast includes a Black man and a Muslim (who’s married to a Mormon), and it’s refreshing to see more than just the cookie cutter cute white boy.
I’m not going to get into some sort of ranking thing here, because that annoys the beejeezus outta me. I love them all, okay!? Each episode focuses on some aspect of one of the guys’ stories: Bobby and his religious upbringing, Karamo’s struggle as a gay Black man, Jonathan’s small town upbringing, Antoni’s love of avocados, or Tan’s need to bring the French tuck to the wider world; and as such they’ve all earned a solid place in my heart.
Obviously those last two are tongue-in-cheek, but I don’t want to get too heavily into it since this is just a general overview. Look for season 2 episode breakdowns starting next week.
More Like a Glow Up
A glow up and a makeover are basically the same thing, aren’t they? And a makeover is a makeover is a makeover, right? I mean, someone’s nominated, they get swept up into a whirlwind of “I can’t believe you WEAR this!” and after some fighting about it, they emerge at the end with a whole new look, right?
Except Tom up there doesn’t look that different. Sure, his beard’s shorter, but overall he looks like himself…just polished a bit.
That, to me, is what sets Queer Eye apart from other makeover shows—even its gay dad, the original QEftSG. The boys don’t try to make the contestants (or “Heroes,” as they call them) into someone else. They accept each person’s style as his (or her) own and just give them a nice glow up. Queer Eye is never about tearing down, only about building up.
One thing you’ll notice in the two promo images above: the “straight guy” looks pretty terrified to be surrounded by the Fab 5 in the first one, but in the second one he’s clearly engaged in the process and much more comfortable. Yeah, this group has to deal with some bullshit (Tan was asked by at least two Heroes if he’s a terrorist), but it’s a different culture now, and the idea of wearing pink or patterns doesn’t seem to be as terrifying to the average Joe as it was in 2003.
More than a Makeover
I don’t want y’all to think I have something against the term “makeover,” because this headline is lifted directly from the show’s tagline. And it is much more than a makeover show. Episode 1 has a man who basically thinks he’s too old to be attractive anymore, and he starts off telling the boys “you can’t fix ugly.” Over the course of 45 minutes you see him blossom again (not to sound cheesy) and realize that life ain’t over till you’re dead, and ugly is pretty much just a state of mind.
Episode 3’s Hero is a Trump-supporting cop (!!) who ends up connecting with Karamo over the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. Episode 4 is about a gay Black man who’s struggling to come out to his stepmother. While every episode has made me cry a little bit over something, hearing the boys’ coming out stories and seeing AJ read a letter to his dead father in front of his stepmother as his coming out had me bawling.
Some episodes are better than others, obviously. None in season 1 really dragged me down, though as I flip through the episode list on Netflix I don’t remember much about episode 5. Except that’s where we first learned about Bobby’s religious upbringing, and how hard it was on him to be rejected by the church he loved for being gay.
Hang on sorry I need a tissue…
Where Have You BEEN??
But none of this is news to y’all, because you’ve all devoured both seasons of Queer Eye like starving lions on the savanna. Or, I mean, if you haven’t, it’s in your queue. Just waiting for a quiet weekend when you can mainline all 16 episodes.
Otherwise what are we even DOING here?! In a world where grimdark rules the day and every new headline makes you want to rip out your hair, why are you letting a gem like Queer Eye go unwatched?! Why are you letting all that beautiful positivity pass you by??
In case I’m not expressing myself clearly enough, Queer Eye is a show you NEED to watch. Ration it, despite what I said above. Sure it’s re-watchable, but nothing beats the feeling of the first time you hear a Karamo Pep Talk or seeing the Hero’s face light up from something as simple as a pair of pants that fits.
This show, like I said before, is about telling people it’s okay to take care of yourself. It’s okay to be confident and do traditionally “feminine” things (like moisturize). Also the focus on “dress up for your woman; make her proud that you’re with her” is so great because how often do we hear that we have a to dress for a man? Men rarely put in any effort toward that on their wife/girlfriend’s behalf, and the message that hey!! Women want that too!! And it’s a good thing to do!! Is so important.
Antoni shows them it’s okay to cook. Bobby reminds them that they deserve nice surroundings. Karamo helps give them confidence to take on their challenges. Tan helps them merge their individual style with an updated, modern look. Jonathan teaches them how to make their outsides match their insides.
Watch Queer Eye, y’all. Warm your heart. Cry a lot. Refresh your soul.
You won’t regret it.