Cast: Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski, Jonathan Van Ness
When Queer Eye for the Straight Guy premiered in 2003, it became a cultural phenomenon. The stylists became celebrities and the show became a huge ratings success.
Now, 15 years later, the program’s concept has been revitalized and five new stylists have come onboard to change the lives of their makeover subjects.
Like the original program, the new Netflix show Queer Eye features five gay men. Each of them specializes in a specific field. Booby Berk understands interior design, Karamo Brown is the cultural expert, Tan France knows fashion, Antoni Porowski is a kitchen connoisseur and Jonathan Van Ness focuses on grooming. Each episode (8 in the first season) focuses on a different person, who receives the week’s makeover.
Fortunately, the show is about more than making over a person’s appearance and the look of their home. It’s also about changing different aspects of their lives. The five stars understand that they won’t be able to change one individual permanently over the course of a few days but they appreciate the importance of even a small change. A small change can really change a person’s outlook on life and that’s the case for many of the makeover recipients here.
In the show’s pilot episode, a divorced Georgian man named Tom gets a new outlook. The episode is less about his physical appearance though and more about what makes him happy. His love for one of his ex-wives is palpable, seeping through the whole episode. The experts notice that. After the makeovers and a tearful goodbye between the group and Tom, Tom reconnects with his ex-wife while the experts fondly watch from a distance.
Tom’s new attitude is more than a superficial exterior and viewers can tell that when towards the end of the episode, he opens up to the five guys.
A latter episode finds the experts making over police office Cory, which sets up one of the most talk-about moments of the season. As the episode opens, the five guys are pulled over by a police officer. Although several of the guys are amused by a police officer’s prank, Karamo’s nervousness is palpable. Karamo is an African-American and the police pulling him over has a different context than the police pulling over any of the other four.
When Karamo opens up to Cory about police violence later in the episode, the program lets a natural discourse occur with both Cory and Karamo vocalizing their perspectives of the issue. For a show intent on making over individuals, it’s this kind of thoughtful conversation that elevates the program into being something more.
That’s only one example of the empathy and kindness that’s exhibited in each episode. The five guys are always encouraging and friendly to each of the makeover subjects (despite their different tastes), allowing a close relationship to develop over the course of several days. It’s this show’s focus on understanding and love that make this program something incredibly worthwhile.
“We just want to be loved,” one of the guys notes in the first episode and it’s a feeling that’s on display here throughout. Of course, the program offers some great advice to viewers (Antoni’s simple recipes really stand out alongside Jonathan’s clever one-liners as the grooming expert) so there’s plenty of viewers to hold onto.
But it’s the show’s beating heart and empathetic spirit that makes this one of the year’s best.
Review by: John Hanlon