Friday, 15 June 2018

Why Queer Eye is the most important TV show of 2018


QUEER EYE IS BACK! We’ve always loved a makeover show, haven’t we? From bossy Trinny & Susannah telling us what not to wear, to Gok Wan’s obsession with our bangers, makeover TV is an easy hour that feels faintly educational, vaguely useful and entirely entertaining. So what’s so different about Queer Eye?

As someone old enough to have watched and LOVED its first incarnation, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy back in 2003, the recent Netflix reboot wasn’t particularly on my radar. The first incarnation felt truly radical, arriving as it did hot on the heels of Channel 4’s Queer as Folk, itself groundbreaking telly. The term metrosexual – freshly minted thanks to David Beckham’s impeccable grooming habits – had just hit the mainstream. But it’s 2018 now. How different could the new version really be to the old show? Both feature five gay presenters, each a specialist in a certain field (fashion, food, interiors etc), adopting a clueless straight man and sorting out his wardrobe, mainly.

Not much, on the surface of it. But actually? Everything is different. Although the presenters are all kinds of fabulous, the fact that the Queer Eye coaches are gay is genuinely beside the point. Like I said, it’s 2018. What’s really changed in the intervening decade and a half is the discourse around masculinity. What struck me most of all when watching the first episode of Netflix’s Queer Eye was the willingness of both presenters and participants, gay and straight, to speak openly about feelings. This remains the holy grail of therapists worldwide – the vulnerability of speaking your truth as a man in western culture is still a very touch-and-go subject. But it seems that no one told the Fab 5, who swoop in like a troupe of spectacular superheroes and find each participant’s kryptonite – self-worth, usually.

And that’s where the connection is made with us viewers at home. When Tom from the opening episode initially braves it out, saying ‘you can’t fix ugly’, the Fab 5 don’t buy it and nor do we. We’ve all been there. By the end though, they’ve got him to open up about  everything – his feelings over ex-wife Abby, mostly. And that feelings chat? Not even really a thing. Jonathan, Antoni, Karamo, Bobbi and Tan carry Tom and his feelings along so deftly that there’s nothing to see here. It feels natural and safe for Tom to say those things, things on the surface of it you’d never expect him to say. Jonathan in particular is the voice we all want to replace our inner critic with – imagine!

With suicide remaining the biggest cause of death in men aged 45 and under, the received wisdom is that us women – with our book clubs and girls’ holidays and gossip – have a support network in which we can share everything on a spectrum from a brilliant beauty product we’ve just discovered to our deepest thoughts, however ugly they might be. That we’re protected from our demons by our girl gang, who accept us for who we are. But that's not necessarily the case.

Queer Eye is nothing to do with normalising the use of male grooming products or raising awareness of grapefruit as a salad ingredient, and everything to do with normalising the discussion around male emotions. Nothing to do with being gay and everything to do with being human. The Fab 5 push their participants but they’re careful with the fear and doubt that bubble up. They create snark-free safety - like the best kind of family, who build you up but bypass the knocking down.

And they’re BACK! Queer Eye 2 is available to stream on Netflix from today. Binge watching this wonderful series totally counts as self care, right?

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