Netflix’s reality hit Queer Eye returned this past weekend for another batch of episodes, with the Fab Five reuniting just in time for Pride Month with more makeovers, home improvements, avocado recipes and light therapy for the wayward and sartorially-challenged.
As the shortened name suggests, and the brief detour into helping a gay man come out last season proved, the group aren’t just here to help clueless straight men anymore. This year there are also episodes dedicated to helping the religious mother of a gay son, and a transgender man following his top surgery.
I’m always wary when something gets described as a ‘tearjerker’, which Queer Eye has, because it’s a label that tends to boil interesting things down to something more numbing and one dimensional. The same thing happened to This is Us at some point in its first season. For me, it’s much more interesting to look at why a film or a show or a song makes us emotional, and why this can turn into such a unifying experience.
Queer Eye makes us cry because it’s a little slice of fantasy in a world where our fantasy worlds have become dystopian and knowingly, grindingly prescient. Pop culture right now is an empowered force fighting against the establishment, the alt-right, and social injustice in way it never has before. Queer Eye does its part, just by nature of what it is, but it’s not bogged down by it.
Instead of warning us about the things that are going to hurt us, our family and our friends that lie just around the corner, it offers up an alternative. It’s no accident that both series have taken place in the south of America – a place that would stereotypically be unwelcoming to people like Bobby, Karamo, Tan, Antoni and Jonathan. It’s a setting that opens up conversations.
The first episode of season two – probably the strongest of this second batch – deals directly with the church’s attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community by first introducing us to a woman who wants to get ready for the opening of the town’s community centre. We meet her first, but then we slowly realise that her son is also a character in this story, and that he’s gay.
Over the course of 45-minutes that are never not entertaining, the episode deals with the redemption of homophobic caregivers, forgiveness from their children, and acceptance within the church itself. On top of this, we delve further into Fab Five member Bobby’s own rejection, and the residual trauma that comes from it. It’s a staggering achievement for an over-produced reality show like this.
While last year’s very staged conversation about police violence between Karamo and a white Atlanta cop felt a little heavy-handed, for the most part the issues brought up here do not. Over the break Queer Eye has figured out its USP and how to make these moments feel more natural, so much so that the standard ‘scruffy guy gets a haircut and a new sofa’ episodes are slightly disappointing in contrast.
Season two as a whole succeeds even more in this way because of the familiarity we already have with the Fab Five and their personalities, and there’s no worry this time that the series will be an embarrassing failure when compared to the ground-breaking original ‘90s show. It’s proven itself as its own thing, and so the audience is free to just sit back and enjoy the makeovers and personal revelations.
It’s broad enough to appeal to straight people, older people or even particularly worldly kids, but (though I obviously can’t speak for them) it doesn’t do this at the expense of what we can assume is its core demographic. Episode five is also notable because it criticises the division between the gay community and their transgender brothers and sisters – an area I can’t imaging being talked about elsewhere.
Maybe stepping back into church after coming out won’t lead to widespread acceptance from your community, and perhaps learning to cook a traditional family recipe won’t soften the blow of telling your immigrant mother you didn’t graduate college, but what if it was? What if this was the world, and a well-fitted suit could help you conquer the world?
Queer Eye will make you cry for those on screen, yes, but it’ll also teach you how to do a french tuck and the power of a good moisturiser. It’s the fact that it can do both that makes it so wonderful.