“Queer Eye” from a Newb’s Eye

I never saw the original “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” the show that originally aired on Bravo in 2003. I was not interested in these kinds of shows when I was ten, so I went into the “Queer Eye” reboot completely blind. I didn’t even know it was a reality show until I read about it on Vice. I couldn’t understand how a makeover show could certainly make anyone cry either.

The premise is simple. Five fashionably-conscious queer men help other less-gifted men become confident better versions of themselves. Bobby helps with interior design, Karamo helps with culture, Tan helps with fashion, Antoni helps with cooking, and Jonathan helps with grooming.

Each episode begins with the friend or family member who nominates the episode’s client explaining why they need help. The clients were all men who lived in the state of Georgia and had problems that clearly ran more than skin deep.

The titular “queer guys” then enter the town in their large pick-up truck, take the client away, and take a week to improve his life. At the end of the week, each client usually has an event going on, and after the Fab 5 leaves, they watch the event when a cameraman livestreams it to them. The Fab 5 then applauds his successes and celebrates at the end of the show.

The formula is simple and enjoyable. Each client is different, so it never feels that repetitive. The Fab 5 are each fun to watch and interesting to hear from. It’s a good makeover show. But after binging the entire show with my male friends last Saturday, I was surprised to realize this show was about even more.

“Queer Eye” is a show about five “queer” men finding common ground with “regular” men and it is a show about men who find themselves unappealing being taught to have self-confidence. That was unexpectedly touching and uplifting in a way that always felt genuine.

In the process of improving the client on the outside, the queer guys usually discover problems going on inside and give him advice and encouragement to improve his outlook on himself. Their advice on life and clothing is never condescending. They never badger their clients into choosing styles that don’t suit their personalities. The Fab 5 listen to their clients and look for ways to help them improve their personal styles and lives based on their preferences.

That lack of condescension was honestly refreshing to me. I was expecting there to be much more judgment considering what I’ve seen on shows like “What Not to Wear,” who always seemed to me to be talking down to their clients like they were naïve children. Even more surprisingly, that lack of condescension extended much further than to clothing preferences. It extended to how these men treated each other.
To give some context, every client was from the state of Georgia. A few of them lived in or near Atlanta. One man was Indian-American, and two others were African-American, one of whom was their only gay client. But mostly, these men were straight, white, from smaller towns, and from a poorer socioeconomic background. Only one of them was confirmed to be a devout Christian, but the others could be described as conservative and religious.

With that description, some viewers would expect me to describe the constant tension and fighting between the Fab 5 and their clients. But that isn’t necessary because it never happened.

Despite having completely different backgrounds and life experiences, the Fab 5 and their clients never fought. They respected each other’s beliefs and got along with each other beautifully. Even with their most conservative client, these men always found common ground with each other.

That camaraderie is a stark contrast to how most people view the South and how she treats anyone who’s LGBTQ. It was refreshingly jarring. It has forced me to confront a prejudice I didn’t expect about my rural neighbors and will force the more liberal half of Netflix’s viewers to do the same.

To paraphrase what Karamo, the only African-American in the Fab 5, said about his growing friendship with a client who was both a cop and a Trump supporter, he doesn’t expect the world to be healed because of a conversation on a TV show, but it is a step in the right direction.

The beauty of “Queer Eye” lies in these different groups of people finding their common humanity as much as it lies in their client’s transformation and growing self-confidence. It is a beautiful experience all around, beyond anything I expected to see from a makeover show. I understand now why there are tears and I can’t wait for season two.

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