I did not want to watch Netflix’s Queer Eye.
Why? A few reasons. I hate Netflix, the nebulous digital channel that smothers anything beloved by an audience, scrubbing all creativity out until you see the keywords moving onscreen. I also very much do not like queer mainstream media because it is designed for straight people. Consider Drag Race, season nine: that was to teach non-queer people about queer people. While fine, that is annoying. Moreover, makeover shows – particularly ones that juggle tears and queer stereotypes – drive me insane.
The new Queer Eye: not that. None of those things.
It is such a good show. I never watched the original Queer Eye because I didn’t have Bravo (My family was not-rich.) nor did engaging with such an outwardly gay show behoove a closet case like myself. Still, it did some work. The danger of this new incarnation was that it would, at worst, be a facsimile of the past crossbred with the “Love Is Love!” sermons and, at best, a silly makeover show at the expense of straights. It doesn’t do either of those. It doesn’t do that at all.
Instead, the show zooms in on something that we never see so genuinely revealed on television: straight people and gay people interacting in a way that isn’t about “You are straight, I am gay.” This was a revelation. Many are calling this “political” but it never openly, actively is “political.” Thank god. The show is instead about people and not the differences that define them, a breathe of fresh air in this tense year of our lord. It showed that we, as queer people, are seen and understood by some very unlikely figures. There was none of the drama of “The fight lives on!” which, while true, spends a lot of airtime that the audience for this show knows too well. In subtle ways – like culture dude Karamo talking to a Georgia cop about race – politics are served in an effective, loving, intimate way. There are so many moments where the show feels likes friends making new friends, doors opened in homes to let a fun bunch of gays in. Their politics are invited in as well, warts and all. How lovely is that?
Much of the success of the eight episodes has to do with the cast and the casting. The new “Fab Five” (Ugh. Hate that.) is a delightful group of guys that you really, really, really want to hang out with: there’s the silly, normal Bobby who can redo your house and, boy, does he redo houses; there’s culture kid Karamo who is the show’s surrogate therapist who should maybe, probably run for political office; Tan is the fashion guy who has a brilliant versatility to be able to transform waify country boys and beefy city guys alike; Antoni handles food and wine and, while he doesn’t actually cook, is some of the best eye candy; and the initially grating Jonathan, the grooming gay, is the show’s unspoken central figure, the gayest of the gays who serves as a rainbow olive branch to all the five come across.
For the makeover subjects, the producers and casting team found men who don’t have to be battled to “get” these gays but instead have open, excitable ways about them. There was (Thankfully!) little drama of “I don’t like this!” or “I don’t eat that!” but instead guys who are ready and willing to embrace change. That’s what we need to see today that, regardless of political beliefs or identity, that people (Men, particularly white ones in the South.) are excited for change. Paired with versatile subjects – like episode four’s gay subject – the show illustrates that even the most complex men need attention. It breaks down masculinity, trampling anything toxic, confronting inter-community struggles, to show that a lot of dudes and a lot of people can be great if they are pushed and prodded and met at their level. Perhaps it takes a gay village to pull that off.
This Queer Eye was not anything I wanted. I don’t know who wanted this or needed this or wished upon a star to make this work. Still, it did. It works so well. The eight episodes vary greatly and, while not every one is a grand slam, you leave them wanting more, wanting to call up a group of gays and hang out with them.
Everyone needs a Fab Five. Unfortunately, we all won’t be able to get this Fab Five.