When Queer Eye for the Straight Guy first debuted 15 years ago, it was some viewers’ first exposure to real, out gay men. The premise was a perfect addition to the plethora of early millennium reality show offerings: five gay men, each with an area of expertise, make over a straight dude who’s lost his mojo. With the help of the “Fab Five” — Ted Allen (food and wine), Kyan Douglas (grooming), Thom Filicia (interior design), Carson Kressley (fashion) and Jai Rodriguez (culture/relationships) — the subjects walked away with a new confidence-boosting look from head to toe to apartment. The show brought terms like “metrosexual” and “tszuj” to the mainstream, expanded to a spinoff for “Straight Girls” and won commercial and critical acclaim.
Representation is very important for the LGBTQ+ community and other groups not regularly seen in media. While QEFTSG served its purpose, in 2018 it’s not at all unusual or particularly noteworthy to see gay men onscreen. Today, people care less about token inclusiveness and more about the message — how someone uses that platform — and the newly rebooted Queer Eye (Netflix) delivers.
The Fab Five is now comprised of Antoni Porowski (food and wine), Jonathan van Ness (grooming), Bobby Berk (design), Tan France (fashion) and Karamo Brown (culture). Moving from New York to Georgia, Queer Eye borrows the original run’s format while boasting a brand-new feel. This crew is less catty and more compassionate — they’re far less critical of the subjects than in the original, where they were often treated as the butt of a joke. What was once an over-the-top makeover show has evolved into a feel-good therapy session, where serious topics like racism, homophobia and religion are thoughtfully explored amid the haircuts and home redecorating.
Some might criticize the show for only scratching the surface, stopping short of taking a hard stance. Take, for instance, when a white Southern cop discusses excessive force and police shootings with Karamo, who is black. Karamo explains his fear of police, revealing that his son didn’t want to get his driver’s license because he was so afraid of getting pulled over and possibly killed. The officer made a “not all cops” argument and renounced a fellow officer who had recently resorted to using excessive force.
To some that might seem like the bare minimum for a decent human — and there’s no denying that it’s unfair to compare the black experience to that of trained law enforcement. But the idea of listening to someone different from you and really trying to value their experience is a two-way street. To find common ground despite not having identical perspectives is actually more progressive than reacting with outrage or writing someone off. Such in-depth, heartfelt interactions make this reboot a pleasant surprise.
As explained in the premiere episode, while the series’ first iteration was all about tolerance, the goal is now acceptance. And it’s not just for the “straight guy” anymore: In one particularly emotional episode, the guys help an incredible young man living something of a double life come out to his family. This episode especially touches on the ideas of masculinity and presenting a particular image in the gay community. There is no one gay (or straight) male archetype — it’s more about being comfortable with who you are. Not every gay man is a flamboyant, loud, perfectly manicured, image-obsessed drama queen. Jonathan certainly checks a few of those stereotypical boxes as he flips his enviably shiny long locks while cheering, “Yas, queen!” But the campy quips are truly authentic to him — he’s not putting on an act, and he can mesh with even the straightest arrows, offering practical and body-positive advice for skin and hair.
Queer Eye is less about changing these people and more about making them realize what they had all along. It’s such a powerful, positive message that you really don’t see anywhere else on TV right now, presented in a way that feels genuine. Just try and get through an episode without tearing up.
While the series has not yet been renewed, it seems like a shoe-in for a second season. Creator and Cincinnati native David Collins has said he’d love to bring the Fab Five to his hometown, making over guys from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Fingers crossed.
Contact Jac Kern: @jackern