Queer Eye’s earnest return to TV

Fifteen years ago, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy premiered on Bravo. The weekly appearance of five gay men turned Bravo into the cultural behemoth it is now and effectively changed reality television. Queer Eye is back, but now on Netflix with an audience that’s been through fifteen years of vast cultural change. In the show’s intro, Tan (fashion expert) states that the original Queer Eye fought for tolerance, but this time around, they’re fighting for acceptance. This works as a de facto mission statement for the Fab Five in 2018.

What makes Queer Eye so easy to binge-watch is its unmatched positivity. It is a rare bright light in reality television, especially when we see so few LGBT stars onscreen. Typically, in shows with multiple gay men the environment is hostile and competitive (Rupaul’s Drag Race) or they’re portrayed as catty (Will & Grace). Where Queer Eye excels is having five gay men share the screen, collaborating and encouraging and keeping all the negative energy out. They also feature two men of color on the team, Tan who is Pakistani and Karamo who is African-American.

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For almost an hour, viewers can see the polar opposite of much of contemporary television; fun in place of despair, wholesomeness in place of disdain, and constructiveness in place of disagreement. Some of the most hopeful moments of the show feature conversations on race, politics, and sexuality. In episode one, Tom asks Bobby (design expert) whether he is the husband or the wife in his marriage. Rather than being offended to the point of anger, Jonathan (grooming expert) and Bobby use it as a teaching moment for Tom to learn about gay relationships.

In episode three, the team is helping Cory, a police officer from Winder, Georgia. While Karamo (culture expert) is driving Cory through Atlanta traffic, the two have a discussion about police relations with black people. It feels natural and unprovoked by producers even if it was, but the moment is special because the two genuinely feel as if they made groundwork with understanding one another’s position. And it’s one moment that proves how unafraid the show is around these difficult topics.

Where Queer Eye falls short at times is holding momentum from these powerful moments. After Jonathan and Bobby explain the roles in a relationship, Jonathan undercuts himself and they transition to shopping for mattresses. After Karamo and Cory share their moment, it’s a sharp cut to “glam” time where they’re making homemade skin exfoliates.

When moments like this occur—when the topics shift quickly from serious to jovial and back again—it’s an important reminder that this is a reality show. Queer Eye doesn’t owe us any of these honest and constructive moments, but we see them nonetheless. It could very easily be a surface level show where a man gets a makeover and learns some general life lessons.

That’s how the show steals hearts though. Their fight for acceptance isn’t from a soap box, it’s intertwined within their personalities and the methods they help the men on the show. As you move from episode to episode, you’ll find that the Fab Five is the genuine positivity we were missing from television. And maybe some jubilant tears will fall down your cheeks while watching.

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