It seems nothing ‘new’ is original these days, and the world is inundated with prequels, sequels, reboots and remakes. Queer Eye is no exception, except that it is! Be prepared to fall in love with this surprising reboot which offers more than a familiar format. From redneck margaritas to soulful omissions, there is more to be made over than an unkempt house. Find out why everybody is watching!
I was in my early twenties when the original show Queer Eye For The Straight Guy launched in 2003. It was a whirlwind of camp fun led mainly by the breakout star of the first series, fashion expert Carson Kressley. Carson typified gay stereotypes with his innate flair, Scandinavian good looks and a tongue as sharp as Joan Rivers. The Fab Five as they came to be known, were made up of complimentary personalities that offered up variances to the stereotypes alongside their field of expertise which were presented as holistic lifestyle categories for grooming, culture, food, design and fashion.
At the time it most certainly was groundbreaking; metrosexuals (straight men who practiced self care) were a relatively new idea in the West, there was little in the way of positive homosexual representation in the media and reality television was just starting to take off in pop culture with shows like MTV’s The Real World airing in the same year. But unlike the fly on the wall scenario which shows like Big Brother would later run with, this was unscripted situational comedy that played on the homosexual stereotype that all gay men are cultured, well dressed and groomed unlike their heterosexual counterparts they were tasked with transforming.
It was light, fun, informative and the home makeovers were often more anticipated than the subject himself. It was this combination of home improvement, style and comedy that led to the shows success and drew in the family audiences, mine included. In 2004 it won an Emmy award for Outstanding Reality program and went on to produce five seasons. The 2018 series of Queer Eye follows on from the original third season where ‘for the Straight Guy’ was dropped from the title, expanding the shows subjects to include all men, gay or straight who lacked fineness.
I’ll admit my expectations for the new launch was lowered by the Australian attempt to localise the series back in 2005. As a fan of the show I was keen to see it work but plainly, it didn’t! I put it down to the fact that producers tried to simulate American copies of the personalities that had already proved popular and whilst you can replicate a stereotype you just can’t reproduce personality or likability. It’s inauthentic and what’s worse makes the original cast seem more contrived. Ultimately it was axed after three airings, which goes to show that format alone is no guarantor for success.
Prompted by nostalgia and with enough time passed to draw out my curiosity I decided to give it a go, but mostly because I thought it would be light relief. What I didn’t expect was to be endeared, to be moved to tears and laughter and engendered to the new stars and their lost men. The opening line in the first episode reflects the thoughts of series creator David Collins who revealed to Entertainment Weekly, it was time for a new audience:
“If the original round was about tolerance, this time it is about acceptance”.
Where it resembles the success of the original – and where the Australian version failed – is its soul, it digs deeper into character and the cast are not carbon copies of the original. The Fab Five of 2018 have very different hallmarks of personality (albeit still playing off stereotypes) that drive the show: from the uncensored Jonathan (grooming), the prim Tan (fashion), reformed conservative Bobby (design), the romantic Antoni (food), to the suave Karamu (culture). The types of subjects are also evolving as the show progresses, starting with a polar opposite home-brand-margarita-drinking redneck who frequents car shows and lives in a hovel, to A.J. an African-American who is educated and successful, but completely oppressed by his internal struggle as a closeted homosexual.
What’s different between the seasons goes to the heart of that opening line, with characters like Tom the red-neck who in 2003 would probably have shown more resistance but in 2018 is open to the process: being vulnerable on camera, rolling around on the bed in play with other men in the spirit of fun and not sexuality. His transformation is heartwarming as much as A.J’s emotional coming-out to his family was brave.
Interestingly, racial stereotypes are only very lightly touched upon. Whilst the show’s main agenda is to push sexual acceptance it inadvertently navigates charged racial stereotypes, which seems to be a deeper issue than sexuality within the current climate in America’s South, whereby the show is filmed. What was meant to be a a light set-up on the Fab Five turned sour when a Caucasian cop pulled over the token African American host – Karamu, prompting his own negative realisations of cops versus black Americans. Even Tom the loveable red-neck came to logger heads with Tan over his Muslim background. Although it did not make the final cut, according to NY Post Tom asked Tan if he was a ‘terrorist’. And whilst Tan turned a corner with Tom and his view, he expressed his responsibility as one of the only gay Muslim figures on television:
“I do represent a certain community that is usually going through a real fight to be themselves”.
The episode of Karamu and the cop is the most uncomfortable to watch and in every way an effect of the shows ability to start a conservation about what makes us different, but more importantly it emphasises what connects us as humans. Whilst the audience has changed dramatically since the 2003 launch of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, the core values that underpin the show are ever relevant and uncompromised across the generation gaps.
Check out this clip from the original and new fab five talking why the show is still culturally relevant all these years later:
So if you can handle a Netflix and Chill, my task for you is to keep an open mind, and take in the fun. Whether you were a fan of the original series or are new to the crew we’d love to hear what you thought of the show! Why do you think it does/doesn’t work for a 2018 audience?