The original Fab Five: Carson Kressley, Jai Rodriguez, Thom Filicia, Ted Allen, and Kyan Douglas in 2004.
Well it’s happening, gays. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the show that ran for five seasons (five seasons!) and won an Emmy for Outstanding Reality Show, is hopping on the reboot bandwagon. Earlier this week, Netflix announced that it would begin production this spring on an eight-episode revival with a new Fab Five to “Make America Fabulous Again.” In its press release Netflix announced, “Queer Eye moves from the Big Apple to turn the red states pink … one makeover at a time.”
Queer Eye debuted back in 2003 on Bravo, introducing the rest of America to urban gay men with exotic names like Kyan, Carson, and Jai. With its debut, the show — a reality-TV cast full of openly gay men — felt as though it was serving a societal purpose by subjecting straight men to a baseline standard of beauty and hygiene. However, after a couple of seasons, it lost its relevance. The show has its haters (Slate called it “minstrelsy,” while host Ted Allen wrote a strong defense), but mostly Queer Eye just feels like a show encapsulated a very specific time in our cultural history. Watching old episodes of the show now feels dated, both in terms of its aesthetics and form. (Burn that Von Dutch T-shirt, Carson.) But because we’re all about hip tips, we’ve come up with some ideas to help Queer Eye looking as fresh as a face after a chemical peel.
1. Make it a half-hour show!
Hand to my Diesel jeans circa 2003, I have no idea why this was an hour-long show. (But then, many reality shows are inexplicably long: The Bachelor and The Biggest Loser among them. Also see No. 4.) The first half is devoted to the “makeover” and the second to commenting on the results as the hapless heterosexual in question “does it for himself.” The result is a show that needlessly drags on and ends up focusing too much on the “product.” Let’s keep it snappy, people.
2. Let us see the process.
Poor Thom Filicia! While Carson got to take the boy off shopping and Kyan got to rub some paste through his hair, Queer Eye often relegated interior decorator Filicia’s handiwork to a magic TV montage, which usually involved completely redoing the house. He does so much of the work and gets to have so little of the fun. Part of this was in the interest of making the change appear like it happened in a single day rather than the four days it actually took. But just look at how well HGTV shows are doing: People love process!
3. No tokens!
Queer Eye was reflective of a lot of the problems of the gay community, including the exclusion and tokenization of gay men of color. The show’s one person of color, Jai Rodriguez, was given an ill-defined and fairly useless role as the “culture” expert. (He’s said that he had no experience with teaching manners or etiquette.) It doesn’t help either that Rodriguez replaced another man of color: the original “culture” expert was a black man by the name of Blair Boone, who sued the show for breach of contract after he was booted after two episodes. This time around, it would be great to hire gay men of color who don’t just act as personality filler.
4. Less product placement.
Writing about Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Ted Allen said he believed “excessive product placement” led to the “premature demise” of the show. Inevitably, stuff will be sold and it’s good to know what moisturizer to use, but there’s a fine line where the products end up overwhelming the goal. Hopefully they can avoid that will all that Netflix money.
5. Maybe call it Gay Eye for the Straight Guy?
This isn’t just semantic. Queerness, as a term and identity, operates much more elusively: It’s fugitive and punk whereas gayness is easily commodified and reproduced. Queer Eye operated on the belief that gay men of a certain class are the cultural cognoscenti and arbiters of what is “tasteful.” While the show preached a kind of individualism (they’re just trying to help you be the best you you can be!), ultimately the goal of every episode was to create presentable, well-kempt straight men who have a better chance of getting a date. It’s hard to know what, exactly, was queer about a show that’s so firmly entrenched in an urban, gay, white male sensibility. Ultimately, the show either needs to go further and make it queer, or be honest about what it is.