Maybe I’m less grouchy these days, but Queer Eye Season 6 is actually pretty damn good (but I still have notes).
I’ve famously been quite hard on Queer Eye — which doesn’t mean I hate it. I simply think that being critical of things you like is an important part of media consumption. Queer Eye famously has a blind spot for class, and can be a bit of a (JVN voice) gentrification station, which I’ve talked about quite thoroughly before.
That said, when the latest season dropped in the midst of a massive and devastating COVID wave, I pretty much had to watch it — at best it could take my mind off things; at worst (really, best) I could have something else to get mad at.
Much to my delight (disappointment? I don’t even know anymore) this season was actually my favourite and improved on a lot of things that didn’t sit right with me in Season 5. Just when I needed shallow feel-goodery, Queer Eye came in and did what it does best. Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have a few notes, so here’s what I loved and didn’t love about this season:
Tan’s collection of toques. I have to give Tan credit for always trying something new, fun and playful in fashion, and the toques kind of make him look like Parappa the Rapper, and add to his overall pleasant demeanour. It also feels like Tan is better than the rest of the guys when it comes to changing up his wardrobe style — he’s shown that style evolutions aren’t just something you do when your look doesn’t work, they’re something you can do for the hell of it.
Karamo’s “message” shirts. After the second or third I realized it was going to be A Thing this season, which might have been cool, but it feels like such performative slacktivism, especially following up a “DEFUND THE POLICE” shirt with a “THANK YOU KAMALA” shirt. Karamo is a guy who seems more willing to be critical of the left (he famously dislikes Bernie Sanders’ policies) than the right (being buddy-buddy with some of the show’s more vocal republicans, as well as fellot DWTS contestant Sean Spicer), so it feels almost starkly appropriate that most of Karamo’s politics are literally T-shirt slogans.
This season’s “eccentric, loveable old man” character is Todd, the “Craw-Zaddy,” and continues the tradition of this being my favourite Queer Eye hero trope. Like his predecessors Kenny and Kevin, Todd is not nearly as rough as he seems on the outside. He’s got an almost child-like innocence about him, a heartbreaking devotion to his late wife and an extremely receptive demeanour — the episode concludes with him handing over the management of his restaurant to his daughter so casually and without much fanfare. It’s one of those episodes that is just nice.
Our cowboy, Josh. No, it’s not because he’s the only (vocal) Republican this season; it’s because every now and then Queer Eye makes over a guy who frankly seems like he’s got a history of being a bit of a jerk or a player and gets a free makeover disguised as a life lesson out of it. Josh’s backstory with his ex-girlfriend seems ambiguous bordering on sketchy — Karamo talks vaguely about him “owning up to what he did” and he makes a big show of apologizing to his ex… for what exactly? Presumably, lack of faithfulness? Either way, Josh gets what is one of the most thorough home makeovers on the show (Bobby builds him an entire shipping container house) but in the end it comes across like Josh didn’t actually learn much, he just learned to look better.
The high school prom committee. As a thirtysomething, the impact of COVID shutdowns has mainly been on my work situation and my ability to do things like go to the gym and get tattoos. It hasn’t stunted my social development or robbed me of the alleged “best years of my life” the way it has for these kids. I feel like this episode was a great opportunity to actually bring that to the forefront, even though it was less of a makeover episode and more of an “event planning” episode. It was pretty special to see the genuine joy on the kids’ faces at their prom.
Disclaimer: almost everything about Angel’s episode was perfect. But! I don’t know if it was necessarily appropriate to put Angel’s partner on the spot to privately talk about the difficulties of Angel’s transition. While people are free to discuss the dynamics of relationships between trans and cis people how they want, because Queer Eye has a large contingent of cis and straight viewers, asking Katya how hard Angel’s transition was on her comes across like it’s sending a message that transitions are inherently hard on relationships. I don’t blame Katya for talking about her perspective, and she didn’t say anything wrong, but I do feel like the show had no need to show it (especially because the question was also asked by a cis person, Tan). I have a few friends whose partners are trans or GNC, and the one thing they know to not talk about in mixed company is how hard their partner’s transition or presentation is on them, so I’m disappointed that the show would act like that’s a tactful thing of Tan to ask, because I don’t consider it to be. That said, I thought Angel was a total star in her episode and really loved that she felt confident enough to direct the conversation with her father.
A bunch of other things!
- I’ve previously found Jonathan to be a tad too much, but she was a total star this season. In particular, her handling of Terri’s hair and stubbornness really showed that JVN is a genuinely supportive human being who’s not simply interested in pushing their personality to the forefront. It’s always amazing to see JVN get quiet and just listen to the hero, proving that she’s not just a one-note expert.
- Bobby and JVN both toned down their “stop being poor” tendencies; not once did JVN give a lecture about how expensive haircuts simply aren’t expensive if you rationalize the cost, and Bobby didn’t mattress-shame anyone, so it’s a start.
- Animal rescuer Jamie is a total angel, and if you didn’t scream at the adorable special needs animals you’re not alive.
- While I doubt it’s doing anything to quell the “Antoni can’t cook” rumour-meme, I loved how much of Antoni’s segments this season were about him stepping back and taking a less conventional approach in the kitchen, like asking Terri to teach her grandson how to make the cake (especially seeing how much it meant to her) or teaching Reggie’s son to cook and letting Reggie be the sous-chef. And, of course, he couldn’t teach anything to Sarah or Todd, so he let them teach him (although he gave Todd some gumbo tips).
EDITED TO ADD: DON’T LOVE AT ALL
- A response to this piece pointed out (apparently something that had circulated around the time I wrote this, so boo on me for not checking) that Terri and her establishment, The Broken Spoke, is not exactly an upstanding place where people of all walks feel safe. She’s been accused of making homophobic and racist remarks to people while in the establishment, grabbing people without their consent and all-around being a bit of a bully to people within the establishment. And all of this comes from Yelp reviews that were written well before the episode aired (therefore not being influenced by the “hype” from Queer Eye) and in some cases before the Fab Five event went to film. Really, the team behind Queer Eye can’t do a simply Google of a place? What a terrible choice.