It’s probably fair to state that season one of Queer Eye took everyone by surprise. Who could have predicted, at the year’s outset, that we’d be won over so entirely by a reboot of a reality show that seemed best left in the Noughties? That our hearts would be so completely warmed by the Fab Five (Queer Eye’s team of experts, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Bobby Berk, Jonathan Van Ness and Antoni Porowski) and our social media feeds would be so brightened by their digital footprints? Or that we’d engage in debates quite so heated about the value of Antoni’s avocado-specific cooking skills? (For the record, this house votes firmly in favour of anyone who can boast such an extensive range of The Strokes t-shirts.)
Dropping the ‘… For The Straight Guy’ caveat of the original Bravo series, this new iteration of Queer Eye was all the better for its more diverse line-up – in terms of both the experts and the ‘heroes’ (the Five’s peppy label for their makeover subjects). In season two, their remit expands yet further, with the opening episode bringing the Fab Five their first female participant – and the 45 minutes that follow include some of the show’s most emotional moments to date.
Though it’s the Fab Five’s charisma that powers the Queer Eye machine, the show goes up a gear when the ‘hero’ – or in this case ‘heroine’ – can match the presenters in the charm stakes. It’s hard not to warm to Tammye, a breast cancer survivor and committed churchgoer who (shout out to the Netflix production team) lives in the small town of Gay, Georgia, and instantly strikes up a rapport with the team. It’s also hard not to see that this is a woman so caring that she’s worn herself out through her own emotional labour. When she was suffering with cancer, she also nursed her mother and sister, who sadly never recovered from the disease; she’s also supporting her gay son, Myles, who feels ostracised from the church community as a result of his sexuality. So, while the gang’s usual schtick is still present and correct (would Queer Eye still BE Queer Eye without a salon scene?), this time the focus is a little different.
The criticisms – sometimes just – that have been levelled at Queer Eye are twofold. One: that it pedals a brand of self-care that is too focused on material things (We've done up your basement flat! Now go forth into the world!). Two: that it offloads emotional labour onto gay men, who become tasked with fixing everything that’s wrong with masculinity. Tammye’s episode is such a standout because it inadvertently addresses these two things. Unlike many of the men who’ve previously appeared on the show, she is very much, to borrow a Jonathan-ism, ‘owning herself as a person’ already. She doesn't need a pep talk from Karamo - in this episode, that's saved for her son, Myles. What she does seem to be in need of is some time that's focused on herself, be that the simple boost that comes with a nice hair cut, a fancy new bathroom, having an extra pair of hands in the kitchen: these superficial tweaks needn’t be superficial in the negative sense.
As for the question of emotional labour? In season one, the show was its best, most tear-inducing self when it functioned as group therapy, for the subject and for us viewers. Now that we’re in phase two of Queer Eye, it’s only fair that the presenters themselves benefit from that talking cure, too. In this episode, we see the balance shift a little, and though the focus is of course on Tammye’s transformation, she seems to deliberately leave space for the guys to learn from their week with her (see the episode's wonderful penultimate scene) without things getting too didactic. There’s also a chance for Bobby, our interiors expert, to air and address his fraught relationship with the Church. Though his mini-narrative - spoiler alert - can't be as neatly and peppily packaged as the main one (don't expect any major re-conversions here), it's just as emotive, for that very reason.
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