I only have vague memories of the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Airing in 2003 until 2007, it was a time when LGBTQ+ actors and TV stars were often, unfortunately, portrayed as camp stereotype. The noughties’ reality TV show relied on a premise of gay men guiding clueless straight men to a world of styling, personal grooming and an overhaul of their caveman-like lifestyle. When it was announced that the newly abbreviated Queer Eye would be coming back to our screens again in 2018 via Netflix, many people wondered if we weren’t past the reductive roles of the noughties. I wondered if a new ‘makeover show’ (which are often just a nice name for a show that bullies someone with low self-esteem) would really work in a ‘woke’ world?
How wrong I was. From the first five minutes in, I was converted and in love with ‘Queer Eye’. And not just because it speaks to my love of trashy tv and fashion montages either. Where the show really comes into its own is with the emotional makeovers that the Fab Five work on with their guests.
The show’s plot is much the same as before, but with some important updates. There’s a new Fab Five, of course, consisting of Bobby (design), Antoni (food), Jonathan (grooming), Tan (fashion) and Karamo (culture) and they’ve moved to new surroundings in Atlanta. The show is no longer aimed at just helping straight guys; it’s now open to men of any sexual orientation.
What sets it apart from its predecessor is its message. You can be whomever you want to be and you deserve to love yourself. The show’s most outstanding message is that spaces for straight guys to express vulnerability are something that’s sorely needed. In an op-ed for the New York Times about the recent school shooting in the U.S, Michael Ian Black summed up how damaging toxic masculinity can be: “To be a girl today is to be the beneficiary of decades of conversation about the complexities of womanhood, its many forms and expressions. Boys, though, have been left behind. No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender. It’s no longer enough to ‘be a man’ — we no longer even know what that means.”
Obviously, a man turning to mass violence is an extreme example of what societal pressures can result in, but the message remains the same. Men need space to cry, to be in touch with their emotions and to express love. This is what Queer Eye does so wonderfully. The hosts of the show coax stories of fear, of repressed sexuality, of struggles with religion and identity from their guests, and they do this with the type of love that a lot of straight guys have been taught to deflect.
“We have fallen in love with you and I didn’t expect to have this moment with you. And you are such an amazing man” hears a teary-eyed Tom, the subject of the first episode. To give some context, Tom is a bearded older gentleman from a small town in Georgia, whose favourite activity is to sit in a recliner in the backyard and smoke. At first, one might assume that Tom is adverse to showing emotion, but the Fab Five open him up to the idea of self-love that might have seemed alien to Tom before.
We’re in an era of feel-good television at the moment, where the cringe factor of people embarrassing themselves on reality TV is on the way out. With everything happening in the world, people want to see others feel good about themselves and be nice to each other. ‘Queer Eye’ has tapped into this in a major way and that’s what makes it such perfect viewing. If you’re feeling low about yourself, about the world or just in need of a laugh, this is one binge that you won’t regret.