The Fab Five
The Fab Five: Bobby, Karamo, Antoni, Jonathan and Tan (Photo: Netflix)

TV

Why you should be watching Queer Eye

Netflix’s reboot of the makeover classic combines gay rights with interior design, and racism with beard oil. It shouldn’t work – but it does

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By Emily Baker on

Tom is a 57-year-old, self-described “dumb old country boy from Kentucky.” He watches TV from an old, stained lazy-boy chair every day, lives alone in a basement flat and drinks Texas margaritas – tequila and Mountain Dew, for the uninitiated. With his well-worn denim shorts, plaid shirts and unkempt beard, to look at Tom is to see a stereotypical Southern man, but he has a softer side, too – he is popular, funny and spends his weekends at vintage-car shows. He also seems lonely, and while he is still friends with his ex-wife, Abby, he is obviously still in love with her. Enter five gay men, known collectively as The Fab Five, tasked with turning Tom’s life around.

The Netflix reboot of mid-noughties makeover show Queer Eye, formerly known as Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, was not something audiences were necessarily asking for, but sometimes it’s the surprise gifts that turn out to be the best ones. If you missed out on the first incarnation and are yet to begin your journey into the second realm of Queer Eye, the premise is satisfyingly simple: five (very handsome) gay guys, each with a different skill to bring to the table, visit another man whose life could do with a remodel. In the beginning, the show relies heavily on stereotypes – gay men are good at grooming, they like to cook, they have excellent taste in interiors; straight men from the South in America are gruff, they have slight (or serious) prejudices – and then smashes each one with a sledgehammer of compassion and understanding. But it would be nothing without the Fab Five themselves.

First, there’s Bobby, probably the most hardworking yet underrated of the group. Bobby is in charge of design, but he doesn’t just throw a few cushions around and light a Jo Malone candle – Bobby’s house makeovers are full-on renovations, with new furniture, new kitchens and, in the case of Tom, a brand-new garden for entertaining lady friends. Fashion comes down to Tan, who is originally from Doncaster but now lives with his husband in Utah. While traditional fashion-makeover shows seem to have gone the way of the rara skirt, Tan’s honest take on how clothes can change a person’s life is honest and refreshing enough to make the changing-room segments of Queer Eye seem helpful, rather than shaming. Through the medium of bespoke suits and turned up T-shirt sleeves, Tan is showing his students their potential, rather than what is wrong with them.

Bobby, Karamo, Antoni, Jonathan and Tan just might be the Spice Girls of 2018 – embracing the fun of being alive while not shying away from serious topics

Karamo, who looks after the culture side of each project, is perhaps the most conventionally attractive human I have ever seen. And that’s not his only skill, as his role is more life coach and confidant rather than an art-gallery tour-guide, placing most of the show’s emotional weight – and there’s a lot of it – on his shoulders. Fan favourite Jonathan is the show hairdresser, extending to “grooming” when the subject has a beard. To say Jonathan embodies the spirit of camp is understating it, and those not well-versed in gay slang and/or culture have accused Jonathan of being “too much” but, by the end of the second episode, you’ll be screaming “yas queen, werk” at Neal’s new cow’s lick and beard line, too.

The fifth and final member of the Fab Five only looks after food and wine, but is so controversial he deserves his own paragraph. Antoni, who teaches the men how to prepare their own fresh, healthy meals, is quietly reserved compared to the other four. With his A Little Life T-shirts, undying love of The Strokes and his devilish Christian Bale-esque smile, Antoni offers an air of mystery and sensibility not found in any of the other Fab Five. OK, yes, I fancy him. But Antoni has faced an unprecedented and unfair backlash, mostly focusing on the question of whether he can actually cook or not, thanks to his reliance on “easy” recipes such as avocado and grapefruit salads. To the Anthoni truthers I ask, do you know how to julienne a grapefruit? Do you put sour cream in your homemade guacamole? Didn’t think so.

The reason Queer Eye is so popular comes down to the perfect balance between silliness and genuine warmth. One minute Tan’s trying on a bondage harness, and then, within the same 45-minute episode, he’s supporting “the straightest gay man in Atlanta” to come out to his stepmum. At the beginning of the third episode, the Fab Five are pulled over by a policeman who asks Karamo to step out of the driver’s seat. As a black man, he explains later, it was an all-too-familiar – and scary – situation. It transpires to be a (rather unfunny) practical joke, but opens the door for Karamo to have a frank and honest discussion about police brutality. The group are also confronted with helping a Trump supporter and, in a later episode, a Christian who was brought up to believe homosexuality was wrong. They are difficult subjects that would never be tackled in an episode of How To Look Good Naked or DIY SOS, but, in Queer Eye, the discussions easily sit beside scenes of mattress shopping without dampening the significance.

It would be a useless exercise to try to explain the full transformation the Fab Five help Tom through in the very first episode – it’s something that can only be understood by watching his baby blue eyes well up when he sees his new garden fairy lights for the first time. But it’s safe to say that Bobby, Karamo, Antoni, Jonathan and Tan just might be the Spice Girls of 2018 – embracing the fun of being alive while not shying away from serious topics. It makes for an extremely watchable, inspiring and loving show. Honestly, in the wise words of Jonathan, who gave Netflix the right?

@emilyrbakes

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The Fab Five: Bobby, Karamo, Antoni, Jonathan and Tan (Photo: Netflix)
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