Starring: Antoni Porowski , Karamo Brown, Tan France, Jonathan Van Ness , Bobby Berk
When the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was launched in 2003, George W. Bush was in the Whitehouse and gay marriage wasn’t legal in the USA or Australia. LGBTQI characters were becoming more prominent through shows like Queer As Folk and Will and Grace to name a couple. 15 years later same-sex couples are legally able to tie the knot but in Trump’s America there is a bigger divide than ever between progressive and conservative America. This has led to an at times vicious political and cultural war. Netflix Original Series Queer Eye (2018) has moved past the concept of tolerance that its predecessor promoted to the idea of acceptance for a range of minorities not just gay people. The show is focused on bringing the two different Americas together one makeover at a time.
Five out and proud gay guys makeover the bodies, homes and lives of a range of members of the community in Atlanta, Georgia. The team makeover a black gay guy, a white cop and a conservative Christian family to name a few. The new line up is Antoni Porowski (food), Karamo Brown (culture), Tan France (fashion), Jonathan Van Ness (grooming) and Bobby Berk (design). The Fab Five clearly know their stuff but it is definitely lifestyle advice and makeover 101. There is no cordon bleu cooking just simple delicious dishes like guacamole. They are giving gentle makeovers that take into account the subjects personality and lifestyles. The five are charming and have good chemistry but the star of the show is without a shadow of a doubt the love him or hate him flamboyant hairdresser Jonathan Van Ness.
Like the original they build the self-confidence of the makeover recipients and use the external changes to start a process of internal change. They are definitely aiming to tug at the heartstrings and make us fall in love with the average Americans they transform. In particular Dave, a 57 year old thrice divorced dump-truck driver who keeps calling himself ugly from the premiere episode You Can’t Fix Ugly has become a fan favourite. The show successfully pushes past the obvious stereotypes we may hold about this slightly gruff working class man to reveal a vulnerable side and a desire to be loved that we can all relate to.
In Episode 3 the Five make over Cory, a NASCAR loving white southern cop. It begins with culture expert Karamo Brown experiencing a confronting encounter with the Atlanta PD. As a black man in America, you can see the tension, frustration and unfortunate familiarity in his body language during the set up incident (which his producers obviously hadn’t let him in on). It borders on uneasy viewing, but in the light of Black Lives and Blue Lives Matter this launches an important and controversial subject to explore in the reality TV genre. Karamo confronts his own preconceived ideas about the police and has uncomfortable but constructive conversations about the relationship between cops and black men in the USA today. Cory and Karamo seem to come away from their time together with mutual respect.
Fun and engaging, Queer Eye has kept the elements of the original iteration that fans liked with overly scripted and staged cheesy moments and the fairly predictable makeovers that make this the TV equivalent of comfort food. However the injection of politics means that like a delicious gumbo this has a bit of depth while still being a delicious bite.