Queer Eye season three review – feelgood TV doesn't get any better

It could so easily be nauseating, but the Fab Five’s life-affirming makeover show still has a remarkable gift for staying the right side of saccharine

After two wonderful, weepy, life-affirming seasons of Queer Eye (Netflix), there were bound to be questions about longevity. How many more the National T-shirts could Antoni possibly own? Will France give its namesake Tan honorary citizenship for pioneering the French Tuck? Can avocados ever be the only ingredient in a recipe? I would gladly take an endless number of its makeovers – there’s nothing more heartwarming than a lumberjack discovering he loves himself – but inevitably, there will be a question, too, over whether it can still churn out the freshness it brought when it first put an up-to-date spin on its old guise, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, at the start of 2018.

The Fab Five do not balk at fridges full of leftovers on the turn, or T-shirts that have long since missed their calling as a dishrag, and for this third season, they have pointed that can-do attitude towards their own format. That’s not to say there are any radical differences in the premise: five gay men, in differing shades of outlandish, head to the midwest of America to meet people whose lives need shaking up and give them motivational speeches about self-worth and self-care while tidying up their appearance. There are, however, attempts to widen the net – to make it just that little bit different.

Queer Eye.
Wonderful and weepy ... Queer Eye. Photograph: Christopher Smith/Netflix

Their first case, Jody, is a 49-year-old correctional officer from the outstandingly named Amazonia, Missouri. She is a camouflage-wearing, animal-hunting, self-confessed “country backwards” kind of woman. She is at her happiest when hunting or fishing. Her wardrobe consists entirely of clothes best described as functional. Her husband, Phil, loves her, but she wants to start taking more care of herself. The men swarm around her daily routine like birds flock to Snow White. Tan sorts the wardrobe, Jonathan grooms her long red hair into a Connie Britton-esque glamour ’do, Antoni tells her not to be afraid of chomping down on a lobster in a posh restaurant, Bobby tries to wrestle the hunting trophies into a single wall of death, and then Karamo does his thing. Oh God, when Karamo does his thing.

If you can make it without tearing up at a Karamo moment you have a stonier soul than me ... Queer Eye.
If you can make it without tearing up at a Karamo moment you have a stonier soul than I ... Queer Eye. Photograph: Denise Crew/Netflix

In each episode, the moment Karamo steps into the spotlight is the one where we reach for the tissues. He gets Jody to talk about the tragedy that stopped her doing anything nice for herself. He gets others to open up about their harrowing childhoods, their alcoholism, their lack of ambition or self-esteem. If you can make it through an episode without tearing up at a Karamo moment then you have a stonier soul than I.

What has given Queer Eye a shot in the backside is its ongoing willingness to learn. If that sounds cheesy, then it is, but so much of this show teeters on the edge of saccharine, only to pull it back with some real talk and a well-timed joke (and they can be judgmental, too – Karamo calls Jody’s interior design, all deer heads and stuffed ducks, “a horror movie”). Jody resists the idea that she should be “traditionally” feminine, so the Fab Five resist it with her. In another excellent Karamo interlude, he realises that the last thing a woman needs is a man lecturing her about what femininity means, so he introduces her to a group of women who talk about what makes them unique. Writing this, I realise it sounds nauseating, but it is one of the show’s most remarkable qualities that it treats such scenes with a perfectly gentle hand.

Such subtlety is not always at the forefront. When Jonathan van Ness struts through a salon in high heels, snapping his fingers, shouting, “Full! Spa! Day!”, it’s obvious that Queer Eye likes to have fun. But it is kind and warm, and it is the most feelgood of feelgood TV, and it manages to entertain by crossing, for a time at least, boundaries of class, of race and of sexuality. I laughed when it opened with the voiceover of a happy customer telling them they have “gifts” and that they are using them “for the good of humanity”. But then I watched a few more episodes and realised it isn’t entirely without foundation. And as RuPaul says at the end of every episode of Drag Race: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

  • Queer Eye season three is on Netflix now.


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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