Queer Eye season five review – makeover show remains a thing of beauty

More than ever, the Fab Five step up to the plate with love and empathy, in a show that is as much about haircuts as it is heartrending moments

Can it really be that Queer Eye (Netflix) is on to its fifth season already? After a brief trip to Japan, the Fab Five have gone back to basics, although any notion that the whole-life-makeover experience they bring to deserving strangers is something basic really does their work a disservice. This is a deep dive into finding out who people are and what they need, and it is always as moving as it is entertaining.

By now, their brand of self-love, self-care, self-improvement and self-acceptance is laser-focused. There is nothing that can surprise the gang – except maybe the mid-episode reveal that one participant is the brother of a famous pop star. The only real change here is that the headquarters have moved from Atlanta to Philadelphia. Jonathan Van Ness remains eternally watchable, even when he’s simply shouting “We love safety!” and “I love an alley!” (That is alley, and not ally, though I’m sure he loves both.) Food expert Antoni Porowski even shows up in a T-shirt emblazoned with “Nothing irrational about my love for the National”, a knowing nod to his seemingly endless supply of band T-shirts. This is a format so good that the five of them know it doesn’t need a makeover.

In the opening episode, they meet Noah, a pastor who runs an evangelical church, who is struggling with his identity as a gay man. Through numerous heart-to-hearts, he learns to cook for himself, keep his appearance tidy and, crucially, he gets some major work done on his dilapidated parsonage. Most of the participants in this show need some new furniture and a lick of paint, but in this case, the walls are quite literally crumbling away.

Even though there is a reveal, they resist milking it with any hugely dramatic before-and-after moments, instead showing most of the tweaks as they go along. Still, its narrative of transformation gives it the irresistible appeal of Changing Rooms combined with What Not to Wear, with the added benefit of 20 years of social progression.

But it’s the life-coaching that ramps up the emotional intensity. Usually that’s up to Karamo Brown, whose range of slogan T-shirts rivals Antoni’s collection of indie band merch (“Cry today, smile tomorrow” reads one). In the heavyweight opener, though, it’s mostly left to interior designer Bobby Berk to talk to Noah. When they meet, Berk makes his disdain for the church known. “I was pre-warned, which is why I wore my fireproof suit,” he jokes, dryly. Regular viewers will know his painful history with organised religion. The pair bond over their experiences of homophobia in the church, and both come to a new understanding about their place in the world. It would take a hard heart to deny the power of conversations as frank as this one. It’s a reminder that for all of its positivity, the show is not afraid to ask difficult questions and offer difficult answers.

If this is an accurate portrait of the US, then it is a hopeful one. There is a mobile dog-groomer who is the tallest woman in her family at 6’ 3”, a newly qualified paediatrician who gave birth six weeks before her final medical residency and an earnest teenager fully embracing politics and activism who is in danger of burning out. Ryan is a DJ on the Jersey Shore, at least by night, though by day he is a property manager for the family firm.

The nice thing about Queer Eye is that it pushes your feelgood buttons in the way you would largely expect – the transformative power of a nice haircut, some carefully chosen and well-fitted clothes, a living space that suits the person’s needs is clearly not to be underestimated – but it also takes the occasional swerve into the surprising. You might be forgiven for thinking that the advice to Ryan would be to knuckle down, now that he is in his late 30s and wants to find a family, but instead, they encourage him to follow his heart, into the club. 

This fifth season arrived with such haste that I checked my Netflix to see if I had finished the fourth. I still had three episodes to go. Five seasons of any show is a lot, in such a short period of time (the first run aired in 2018), but the beauty of Queer Eye is that it’s adaptable and could run for years. Perhaps it will. It seems churlish to object to a show as wholesome as this on the grounds that there is too much of it. It’s not as if there is an excess of love and understanding in the world. In its most poignant moments, and there are many, this show is compassionate, humanising and completely heartening.


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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