The Netflix reboot of the 2003-2007 show, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” now renamed simply “Queer Eye” has been a smashing popular success. The show follows the same basic premise: five exuberant and discerning gay men help ill-kept, uncultured and generally schlubby ones redo their lives in the areas of culture, home design, food, grooming and fashion. Critics lauded the original series for its representation of queer people in the main stream at a time when LGBTQ representation and tolerance was not the norm. Now, over 10 years after the original ended, the U.S.’s outlook on the LGBTQ has shifted dramatically, marked by both policy changes on national and state-levels as well as on a popular level. According to GLAAD, in 2016, 4.8 percent of TV show characters identify as LGBT, including 28 recurring characters, compared with less than 2 percent in 2005-6. LGBT representation in TV is clearly increasing, and “Queer Eye” adds to this number both quantitatively and qualitatively. With an increased understanding of its social context, the reboot gets more political than the original, which is intensified by its location change from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia and surrounding suburbs.
The show’s new Fab Five includes (in a completely unbiased order): Karamo Brown, the dreamy, personable culture expert, Antoni Porowski, the gorgeous and unbelievably sweet food guy; Tan France, the witty and eagle-eye fashion guru; Jonathan Van Ness, the over-the-top and slightly problematic grooming specialist; and Bobby Berk, the quiet, bland and generally unloved interior designer.
The show is funny and easy to watch due to the Fab Five’s wild banter between themselves and with the men they help. While definitely not as raunchy or as problematic as the original, particularly Carson Kressley, the fashion expert, the new show has a good bit of levity, including its fair share of masturbation jokes.
What the new show lacks in the r-word and pedophile jokes, it makes up for in its political messages. As the trailer for the reboot said, while the original Queer Eye was about tolerance, the new version is about acceptance. The show does a good job of countering misconceptions and tackling some of the issues raised by its setting in Atlanta and its more rural—and more conservative—suburbs.
Although I do love the show for its humor and uplift, I have two problems with the premise. First, the show revolves around queer people doing labor to help help straight people reimagine themselves. Queer people are constantly marginalized by society and now they are required to help straight people make themselves better? Not a great thing. But, if there was straight eye for the queer guy it would just be about how to wear basketball shorts and eat Buffalo Wild Wings so maybe this setup is best for now. Along with this problem, there is the issue of the “Queer Eye,” the supposedly inherent good taste that queer people have. This show quells this misinformation, but it is still present in the show’s premise and the name.
The second problem I have with the show is the issue of class. Most of the show involves a house remodel and a complete wardrobe change, both of which can be costly. In a way, this equates having money with having style or being confident. The reboot of the series is much more conscious of this issue than the original. The original food expert, Ted Allen, had his straight guys make foie gras with truffles and buy expensive chocolate boxes to put mousse in. While this is certainly many steps up from Antoni’s uninspiring grapefruit and avocado salad and hot dogs (yes, you read that right), it was most certainly NOT price conscious. Just something to think about.
In the first episode of the series, titled “You Can’t Fix Ugly,” the Fab Five helps Tom, a lonely thrice-divorced truck driver living in a basement apartment. As the first episode in the season, it sets the tone for the show as a confidence-builder. Tom is constantly self deprecating, calling himself “a dumb old boy from Kentucky” and “butt-ugly.” The Fab Five work their magic, helping Tom regain his identity and get the courage to ask his ex-wife and true love, Abby, out to a car show. This first episode does a great job of setting the tone not only as uplifting, but also as political. In one scene, Tom ask Bobby, the design expert, who is the man and who is the woman in his marriage. Bobby and Jonathan help tom “unpack” that misconception, calling out the sexism in the statement and saying that even in straight relationships gender roles continue to be blurred.
The second episode of the season, “Tackling Sasquatch” helps Neal, an app developer with obscenely long hair and low confidence. The central moment in this episode is the heart-to-heart between Tan, the fashion expert who is of Pakistani descent, and the subject, Neal who is of Indian descent. Tan and Neal bond about their common heritage and one can see that Neal, ever self-critical, gains confidence from hearing from someone who understands the struggles of being second generation and navigating cultural tension.
The third episode, “Dega Don’t” is probably my least favorite of the season. This episode features Cory, a disgusting, slobby and Trump-supporting cop whose wardrobe consists of gym shorts, t-shirts and slides and whose main form of culture is Nascar. The episode starts with the Fab Five driving to the subject’s house, like normal, except that they get pulled over. Karamo, who is black, is driving, and as the sirens start, his face drops. He tells the rest of the car, “I’m very aware of this type of cop,” and when the cop asks him to step out of the car, everyone becomes uncomfortable. After asking what they are doing, the cop then reveals that he is Cory’s nominator. Everyone laughs and yells, and Tan says “You can’t do that to brown people.” This scene basically sums up this episode. Cory is a Trump supporter and part of the episode is dedicated to him having conversations with the Fab Five, Karamo especially, about some hot-button issues. Although these conversations are important, I don’t really care about what Cory the Trump supporter has to say about police violence because he is complicit in the system, and even though he might say police are going to far, he is doing absolutely nothing in the way of real change. One the one hand, it is important that people like Cory have these conversations, but having them on TV means that they’re surface-level and coupled with no actual change.
What I did like about this episode is the idea that Cory needs to put in the same effort to his appearance that his wife puts into hers. In most of the episodes in which the subject is married, this theme crops up, that it’s not unmanly or stupid to put effort into one’s appearance. If only all the boys on campus who wear athletic clothes everyday while their girlfriends wear dresses and heels would learn this.
The fourth episode, “To Gay or Not Too Gay,” is probably my favorite. This episode is the reason the show is no longer called “For the Straight Guy.” This episode features AJ, a gay black man in Atlanta. The goal of this episode is to boost AJ’s confidence generally and, specifically, to help him come out to his step mom. The climax of this episode comes near the end when AJ begins the conversation with his step mom. The actually coming out goes smoothly, aside from the ugly crying that lasts for five minutes. This scene is incredibly touching, but it might have been a bit too personal to air in entirety. Nevertheless, if you’re just going to watch one or two episodes, I recommend this one and the first one.
The fourth episode, “Camp Rules,” is also a crowd favorite. This episode features Bobby and Vera, devout Christians and parents of six children. The highlight of the episode is the heart-to-heart between Bobby, the interior designer, and Bobby, the featured straight. Bobby (straight) makes sure that Bobby (gay) knows that, in this house, homosexuality is accepted. Although sweet and maybe a little curated, you’re left wondering if he’s actually accepting or if it’s a love the sinner, hate the sin situation. Overall, it’s sweet and probably pretty genuine. This episode also cemented the fact that Bobby’s designs look like bougie seaside-village McDonalds and also that open cabinets are NOT A GOOD IDEA, particularly when coupled with poor organizational skills!!
The fifth and sixth episodes are more of the same, but the featured straights are not as memorable. The highlights of the fifth episode are the garish colors and crazy murals in the house pre-Bobby. In the sixth episode, I honestly felt like they made him look bad and for a 30+ year old stand-up comedian, he was cringy.
The final episode, “Hose Before Bros,” was a perfect one to round out the series. A little different than others, this remodel was for an entire fire department. The Fab Five certainly enjoyed this episode, featuring beautiful heroic firefighters and an all around good time. The downfall of this episode came in the form of Antoni’s hot dogs, which were, for some reason, cut down the middle to be made more appealing?
Overall, I give the reboot of Queer Eye 4.5 out of 5 stars for being at once hilarious, diverse and political. If you’re looking for a show in which you can cry from humor and sadness while watching five queers roast—but ultimately help—straight men, this show is for you.
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