Two seasons, 16 makeovers and countless Instagram affirmations later, we know exactly what to expect from an episode of Netflix's Queer Eye. There’ll be rolled-up shirt sleeves and gratuitous use of the Fashion Singular from Tan, heart-to-hearts with Karamo that are part therapy session, part Carpool Karaoke; maybe some memeable one-liners from Jonathan and pretend cooking from Antoni before Bobby turns up and reveals he’s rebuilt an entire house. And, of course, there’ll be tears. Tears from the makeover subject, tears from the Fab Five and (without fail) tears from us, the viewers: ugly, earnest happy-crying that's strangely cathartic. So unrelentingly, unashamedly emotional is the show that we'd feel short-changed if a lump didn't start to form in our throats about 12 minutes before the closing credits. It's formulaic, but irresistible.
As a format, the makeover show is nothing new: we’ve devoured series that sell improvement (whether that means a new wardrobe, a new diet, a new face or just painting a feature wall to double the price of your home) since the Nineties. ‘I think that at times when we are struggling, we all yearn for a change, whether it’s a change of scenery, change of pace, or a change in our appearance,’ says Dr Janina Scarlet, a clinical psychologist and author of new self-help book Therapy Quest. ‘In many cases, watching makeover shows can demonstrate that everyone deserves to be happy, and that everyone can find hope and meaning. It can inspire the viewer to do something different in their lives, something uniquely for themselves, as a way of healing.’
The narrative arc of, say, What Not To Wear or Changing Rooms never moved anyone to tears, though. While Queer Eye still focuses on external transformation – it’s definitive proof of the power of a decent haircut, for one – the show gives plenty of airtime to what’s on the inside, too. ‘It helps others with not only the physical makeover, but an emotional one,’ says Janina. ‘This helps both the participants and the viewers to become more open about their own emotions, as well as to be more accepting and compassionate toward themselves.' In a handful of the makeovers, the presenters have their own learning curves, too, a move which cleverly doubles the emotional pay-off.
Of course, there’s something undeniably heartening about watching someone have their problems apparently solved for them by five cheerful presenters with a 45-minute turnaround. Queer Eye falls neatly into the category of ‘comfort watch,’ but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (we can’t exclusively watch The Handmaid’s Tale, after all). ‘Most humans are empathic,’ Janina explains. ‘We hurt when we see others being hurt and we can feel happy for others who overcome something they’re struggling with.’ It seems that, at a time when the news headlines appear relentlessly grim and upsetting, Queer Eye is giving us a little emotional release by appealing to our better instincts. ‘At a time when there’s so much darkness in the world, and when people feel like there is no hope, they can find hope and healing in seeing others overcome their obstacles,’ she adds. It's important to note, too, that the show isn't selling us a full-on fantasy where the ‘real’ world never intrudes: the most talked-about episodes act as a Trojan horse (a very well-groomed one, obviously) for discussions of everything from homophobia to police brutality to trans rights.
As for your ruined mascara and ugly sobs? According to Janina, they might actually help you become a better, more emotionally-adjusted person, Queer Eye-style. ‘Many of the episodes demonstrate how people can experience personal growth through being vulnerable and open,’ she says. ‘Seeing others embrace themselves and heal from deep emotional wounds can elicit happy tears. These positive emotions might not only improve your mood; they can potentially reduce physical and psychological pain for a period of time, and allow the viewers to be kinder to themselves and others.’
We bring you a definitive ranking of Antoni from Queer Eye's best slogan T-shirts in the gallery below...
Nashville, but backwards
There's nothing wrong with this one per se, it's just that the reversed lettering makes our eyes hurt. Nice scarf, though.
Elysian Macarthur Griffith
This one might get a little lost in translation for UK viewers (Elysian, Macarthur and Griffith are three LA parks), which accounts for its low ranking. Plus, Antoni is a Canadian living in New York, which makes this about as authentic as those tees that declare 'Je suis francaise' in cursive font.
OK, so this is not strictly a t-shirt, due to the undeniable presence of sleeves, but we like the flippancy. Plus, it holds its own in the same frame as Tan's inexplicably large hat.
James Dean Speed Queen
We can only assume that Tan and Jonathan are pondering what 'James Dean Speed Queen' actually means...
First band tee klaxon! It's got colourful lettering, there's some kind of tiger, but The National aren't, you know, The Strokes, are they? __
The Strokes (navy blue edition)
Speaking of The Strokes, here's their first entry: the navy blue 'Is This It?' era t-shirt that you'd find in the bedroom of every NME reader in 2005, along with a Libertines jacket and a Yeah Yeah Yeahs CD.
The Strokes (turquoise font edition)
It's slightly obscured by a well-placed dishcloth (probably to remind us that he is the Food and Wine guy, after all), but this is another piece of Strokes merch, one which has a slight edge thanks to its interesting font.
The Strokes (no sleeves edition)
Reigning supreme in the Strokes stakes is this sleeveless version. There are many great things about this screencap (the bandana, the perturbed expression, the watermelon), but it's the top that wins out.
We're genuinely perturbed that, should Antoni actually choose to form an avocado cult, we would probably up sticks and join, so this one misses out on the top slot. Also, cults are problematic and shouldn't be glamourised in grey marl, Antoni!
Jude & JB & Willem & Malcolm
And we have a winner! If we needed another excuse to finally tackle A Little Life, it's the prospect of being able to legitimately wear the same t-shirt as Antoni...