Fifteen years after “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” changed the face and look of reality television, the series returned anew on Netflix Feb. 7.
The streamlined-titled and updated “Queer Eye” features a brand-new Fab Five: food and wine aficionado Antoni Porowski, interior designer Bobby Berk, culture expert Karamo Brown, grooming consultant Jonathan Van Ness and fashion guru Tan France. The group will help men and women from different backgrounds and beliefs to remake their lives and looks.
France said that while the show’s original incarnation was groundbreaking, the new incarnation tries to improve upon the cultural and social strides the original set in motion.
“I think [the show] was perfectly culturally relevant back in the day because we needed the exposure back in the day,” France said. “However, I think it was done in a different way. The original show was a lot less about our personal lives. The five guys were gay but they really didn’t talk about the fact that they were in relationships and some of them wanted children. This time around, we do. We talk about everything we do. We talk about our husbands. We talk about our children. We talk about the fact that we live the same lives as everybody else. We just so happen to be gay.
“I don’t know if this season is more culturally relevant [than] previous seasons. I just think that we approach it from a different standpoint. On the whole, the show is still the regular format that did so well, where we talk about food, culture, fashion, grooming and interior design. But it’s so much more far-reaching this time because you [see] the ins and outs of our lives. And we get to take the hero, which is what we call the person we are helping, and we work with them on the emotional side of things, not just the physical side of things or things on the surface.”
While the original “Queer Eye” was filmed in New York City, the rebooted season takes place in Atlanta. France said this makes the show more interesting.
“I was glad that it was not in New York,” he said. “It would have been a snooze-fest. It’s a little more dull when you have easy access to all the things you might want to use. And on the whole, the hero would know about those things already and you’re not teaching them anything new. And New Yorkers are as liberal as I am. So it wouldn’t have been as entertaining for me to go into New York and try to make someone over. It was so much more interesting for us to go to the South and meet people who have literally never met someone who looked like me or spoke like me or behaved like me. That makes it a much more entertaining week to spend with these gentlemen.”
France added that operating in politically red states means that version 2.0 of “Queer Eye” isn’t afraid to take on social and political issues.
“We do not sidestep anything,” he said. “I don’t know if this was something that the show creators expected but we are five very vocal people. So was the original cast, but I don’t know if it was the right platform for them to talk about anything they wanted to talk about.
“With the original show, it was all done in one day. We have a whole week with these heroes. I had no idea how a show like this operates, so I was expecting a lot of this to be produced and we’d get told what to say on the whole and reshoot scenes. That was not the case at all. We’d never reshoot a scene. They’d never let us repeat something we said once we said it. So it gives us the freedom to be able to talk about whatever the heck we wanted to talk about. And a lot of our heroes are political and they want to talk about the current climate. Karamo is concerned about the Black Lives Matter movement and one of our heroes is a cop. Those kinds of things naturally came up. We don’t just have to talk about clothes. If we were to just talk about the fluff stuff, it just would not be a successful show at all in this day and age.”
France added that the new cast lives in close quarters and quickly became fast friends.
“We’ve all become super-close and it’s really lovely and I hear it’s very uncommon that a cast is as close as we are,” he said. “Before the audition, we had never seen each other. We got along super-well. There were 40 people there and we were the group that was clicking very well.”
One would think trying to make over conservative-leaning Southerners would be a somewhat uncomfortable change of pace for France compared to his usual clientele, but he said suiting up the fashionably challenged can be fun as long as they are game.
“The only time I found it difficult is when somebody had no opinion,” he said. “That was only a couple of heroes. On the whole, they all have strong opinions. They just didn’t know how to shop. If somebody knows whether or not they love something, I can make that work, whether they are older than me or younger than me, shorter or taller than me, bigger than me or smaller than me. All of those factors don’t matter as long as they care to a certain degree and want to look better.
“Only one person in particular didn’t care about clothes. It’s amazing how he behaves. He’s a comedian and he didn’t understand the impact of what his clothes can do to the audience or how they treat him. He didn’t care about whether he had decent clothes or not but everybody else did, and that makes my job a lot easier.”
“Queer Eye” is currently available on Netflix. For more information, visit www.netflix.com/queereye.