New "Queer Eye" cast. Left to right: Bobby Berk,
Karamo Brown, Antoni Porowski, Jonathan
Van Ness, Tan France
Well, that went fast.
I tuned in for the first episode of “Queer Eye” 2.0 about six weeks ago and worked through the season without an urge to binge. I figured I’d be watching the show into late Spring and was surprised when the show stopped being a viewing option on my Netflix account. Eight episodes, call it a season.
Original series cast, L to R: Jai Rodriguez,
Ted Allen, Carson Kressley, Kyan
Douglas, Thom Filicia
I remember the hype when the original “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” aired in 2003 with five gay guys guiding straight men into a transformation regarding their lifestyle. Ted Allen mentored in the kitchen, Kyan Douglas gave grooming tips, Thom Filicia guided a home decorating overhaul, Carson Kressley advised on a fashion makeover and Jai Rodriguez had the nebulous role of being “Culture Vulture”, offering tips on relationships and being a swell guy at social functions. The show ran for five seasons and one hundred episodes. Carson Kressley and Ted Allen continue to be in the public eye, riding whatever cable waves they can find.
More than ten years after the original show ended, QE2 (also how I refer to Her Majesty) waded in again with a new cast, checking to see if some campier than average gay men can still endear themselves to seemingly polar opposite straight men (and one closeted gay man) while also delivering an After that is radically different from Before.
Did it work? Are there still straight guys whose worlds are sheltered from gay exposure? Does the premise still pique an audience’s interest? Is there enough in a makeover to give five guys enough to do?
Well, I’d say Will & Grace 2.0 (okay, so it also needs a nickname…WAG2) is fresher than QE2. But then WAG2 has legendary director James Burrows, amazing writers and a stellar acting team. It was reborn with a silver cocktail strainer for Karen Walker’s butler.
Unfair to compare reboots. Perhaps it’s better to consider how it stacks up against the original and whether it’s still relevant. As with the original, QE2 struggles with having substantial roles for each of the five pairs of queer eyes. Jai Rodriguez had a weightless role in the original but Karamo Brown as culture expert steals every scene. Jai was 24 when the QE1 started and he came off as too green. At 37, Karamo has more life’s experience and a genuine interest in getting to know what the setbacks have been for each makeover man. He quickly develops a rapport on each episode. (As well, his casual attire is impeccable and, well, he’s easy on the eyes.)
The hair and makeup guy—handsome Kyan in the original; see-me, hear-me, love-me Jonathan Van Ness in QE2—is a thankless role in both series. There’s a bit of talk about eye cream, lots of talk about moisturizing and then Jonathan primarily cheerleads as a barber does most of the haircutting. Moreover, a couple of the featured men don’t require much of a hair transformation but just the kind of cleanup any decent barber or stylist would provide. The wow factor in the haircut and/or beard trim is present more in the first half of the season than the latter half. That leaves Jonathan reverting to dipping his head in front of the camera and Vogue-ing with his hands a lot.
While energetic Jonathan doesn’t have much to do, it’s even more of a slog for producers to figure out what QE2’s food and wine expert Antoni Porowski should do. In the original series, Ted would show how to make a single meal which seemed like a limited part of a makeover. How many times is the guy going to “impress” people with the same damn meal? Pan-seared salmon? Again?! It’s much worse for the very nice (he’s Canadian) Antoni who freely acknowledges he has no training as a chef; instead, he has an interest in food. Ah, yes. Another “foodie”. I suspect Antoni got the part because of his good looks. The concoctions he coaches the weekly makeover guy through are laughably simple. Guacamole. Avocado-grapefruit salad. Hmm, what else can I do with avocado? Macaroni (from a recipe he lifts off the guy’s mom!). Chili. Hot dogs. (Yes, hot dogs. But with fancy condiments, which reminds me of a line in Canadian group Barenaked Ladies’ “If I Had $1,000,000”: “Buy really expensive ketchups with it, That’s right, all the fanciest Dijon ketchups.”) So we’ve got a guy who can eat guacamole at home when he loves a certain Mexican restaurant. I don’t see it happening. Same with everything poor Antoni dishes out.
There is no one with the sassy wit of Carson Kressley. The QE2 team tries, especially in the opening montage where they are all in one SUV driving to each episode’s particular Georgia location, but I think the producers need to let go of any thought of a Carson reincarnation. It’s the same as when “American Idol” lost Simon Cowell. The zingers are gone; you move on.
Still, in addition to Karamo, Tan France and Bobby Berk work well in their roles as fashion expert and home design expert, respectively. Tan’s clothing advice is thoughtful and there is genuine interaction between him and the makeover guy. Tan wants to know if the guy is comfortable in each suggested look and adjusts based on the feedback. It seems there is a greater likelihood that the new wardrobe and ways of wearing clothes will be adhered to due to the conversation.
Bobby is much like Thom in the original, forgoing the limelight (which Jonathan seems to crave) and working with contractors and a design team behind the scenes to turn neglected bachelor pads into fresh, livable spaces. The reveal is always polished but with special touches involving family photos or a quilt made of a deceased father’s clothes that had overtaken closet space. Any tear shedding from the made over man or the viewer at home is likely to come from the work of Bobby or Karamo.
Just yesterday, Netflix announced that there will be a second season of QE2. Going forward, the show could be tweaked. During the eight-episode season, they cut the end segment, a useless half-minute tip such as how to walk with confidence. (That particular tip made me feel they needed J. Alexander from “America’s Next Top Model” as a special guest to show his runway walk.) The show would be tighter if they went from a quintet to a quartet. Get rid of some of the filler in each episode; deepen the transformation. I’ll let the producers decide who gets cut,…maybe, ahem, as they eat fancy hot dogs and realize they’re still just hot dogs.
Really, they could cut the cast to three. Okay, if producers are seeking advice, I’d say keep Tan (fashion), Bobby (home design) and Karamo (culture and grooming). If the makeover guy is in a nacho rut, so be it. Let him apply to be on whatever happens to be Bobby Flay’s newest show.
Is “Queer Eye” still needed? Not really. Gay men are out in the open more than ever and, yes, they’ve left their enclaves in the Castro, West Hollywood and Boystown. There may be an uptick in hate crimes and a White House that doesn’t want transgendered people in the military, but in the world of reality TV, “Queer Eye” is tame. We don’t need it any more than we need junior chefs making food the viewer can’t taste or some catty housewives from, I don’t know,…Iowa City.
That said, “Queer Eye” is easy viewing. I watched each episode on nights when I knew I’d fall asleep if I cracked open a book. I found myself wishing they’d include a buyer’s guide in the credits or online to indicate where to buy Tan’s white polo with red and blue trim and a zipper instead of buttons—he wore it and distracted me in two episodes—or where to get any of Karamo’s clothes. Perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit it, but I found myself wishing the QE crew would come help me. For the past three years, I’ve used moving boxes for a coffee table and a basic wooden stool is my only chair. Almost all my clothes are solids and my feet only know what it feels like to be immersed in Converse. (Thirty pairs, mind you!) Yes, this gay guy could use a Queer Eye with better vision. For now I’ll just have to learn from the TV and congratulate myself for my new habit of buying flowers for myself each week. (It’s an easier decision than a table. Cheaper, too!)
Bring on the second season!