Queer Eye: Season Two Review
In a super quick turnaround, probably due to season one's overnight success, Queer Eye returned to Netflix this month. The Fab Five returned to transform the men of America and season two brings a few new elements to the mix - namely the addition of a cis woman and a transgender man to the Fab Five's clientele. Along with the other eight men (including home schooled 19 year old and a man whose greatest love is Burning Man Festival), the team reunite to spread their ever so catchy messages of 'love yourself' and 'look good, feel good'.
Continuing from Season one, Queer Eye doesn’t ever lean too heavily into political commentary, which is something that fans were rightfully concerned about last season when the Fab Five made over a Trump voter, and neatly side stepped any real conversation about police brutality. In Season two, one particular episode does lean into American politics. The season finale, in which the Fab Five help a mayor of a small Southern town to rejuvenate his look, confidence and home to try and appeal to more voters, concludes with a dinner for a group of foreign correspondents, and Mr Mayor himself making a speech about learning from one another and welcoming different cultures with open arms. It's a high note to end on, and one that sends an actual message about unity, instead of hugging it out.
The vast majority of the season goes down smoothly - it's the standard format with no big surprises - but episode one is something of a revelation. There’s something ever so slightly awkward about the idea of five men (regardless of sexuality) telling an adult woman how she should dress or wear her hair, but to Queer Eye’s credit, their first female ‘client’ is actually a whirlwind success. Revealing a bit more of the very private Bobby's backstory, the episode focuses more on the relationship between Tammye, her religion, and her son - and how the three things can co-exist together.
Seeing Bobby's reaction to the Church and community centre allows the audience to see a little more of what makes each of the Fab Five different - their own personal histories, backgrounds and life experiences. Though each of them are clearly very different people, Season one didn't really allow the time for the audience to get to know the Fab Five as anything other than a homogeneous group - Season two does make significant attempts to rectify this. We learn about Bobby's childhood, Karamo talks about the difficulties and pleasures in raising his children, and Tan identifies with one of their Asian clients about various pressures within the culture. Antoni even gets to actually cook in this season, and Jonathan is as wonderful as ever (particularly when doing kitty-cat impressions).
Politics may not be Queer Eye's jam, but it makes an attempt to shine a light on contemporary social issues (particularly within the LGBTQ community) with "Sky's the Limit', an episode starring Skyler - a thirty-something trans man who has been nominated for a makeover by his friends. Though the episode has its moments of sensitivity, most of it falls into a weird and uncomfortable space where the idea of a trans man seems to be explored more than Skyler as a person.
As explored by KC Clements for Into More, it feels like Queer Eye hasn’t really progressed since the first and only other time the show featured a trans man back in 2006. After opening on shots of Skyler’s surgery, the Fab Five are then shown before/after photos of Skyler - a comparison that seems completely unnecessary and is probably cut in for curiosity factor rather than anything else. The only transformation that seems relevant is the one before and after the makeover, surely? Amongst some odd questioning from Tan (perhaps designed to make include certain audience members) and a dismissal of Skyler’s pride themed home, the episode seems to exist solely so that Queer Eye can tick off the trans box on the diversity form, with little to no platform for any kind of diversity within the gay community.
The issues with Skyler’s episode capture the problematic element of the show has a whole. It has a great message, and no doubt the Fab Five are well meaning in their pursuits, but all of the makeovers tend to boil down to a very reductive and simplistic idea of masculinity. Sharp suits, clean shaven faces, displays of wealth - these are all actually very traditional and sterile depictions of being a man.
As a woman, I’m not the best placed person to give a hot take on Queer Eye’s depiction of masculinity, but I will say that there seems to be an awful lot more encouragement for the men to become ‘better’ versions of themselves by conforming to gender stereotypes, rather than encouragement for them to express themselves as individuals. It’s ironic that a show that prides itself on acceptance can’t seem to do that unless it’s dressed in slimline trousers, smashing avocado and throwing a party for friends and relatives.
This isn’t to say that Queer Eye isn’t wonderful entertainment. It’s genuinely heart-warming at times (I, for one, ugly cried when William proposed to his wife in 'A Decent Proposal'). It is a much needed respite from all the endless horrifying news cycle, and the show’s uplifting messages are a wonderful reminder that there is hope in these dark times. Queer Eye works really well as light-hearted reality TV, but perhaps it shouldn't try to go much deeper than that.