The Fab Five move to Kansas City for more uplifting tales of retail therapy.
It’s an appealing and admittedly effective instinct, especially given the new show’s occasional focus on political divides and gender representation. They’ve made over gay guys, trans men, cis women, Trump supporters, all using the veneer of interior decorating and careful arrangement of avocados (we’re looking at you, Antoni) to dig into the values of self-care, and the confidence that can engender. The reboot was borne of an America still stinging from the divisiveness of the 2016 election, a relatively earnest attempt to bridge the urban/rural divide and show how we’re not so different at the end of the day. How much of these moments are manufactured is up for debate – there’s a first-season episode involving a hardcore Trump supporter that begins with a dubious prank in which Karamo is pulled over by a cop – but the overall effect is genuinely heartfelt.
The real big change of season 3 is the Fab Five picking up stakes and moving their efforts from Florida to Kansas City, Missouri (having presumably run out of people to help in the Sunshine State; I presume we can expect it to be a color-coordinated utopia going forward). Moving from the swamp to a flyover state doesn’t change much of their format, or the makeup of their heroes – you still get the deeply rural country folk who presumably haven’t met a lot of gay dudes before, the plus-sized bearded guys who use humor to mask their insecurities, and so on. They’ve still got a sweet, brick-walled loft they call home base (with the addition of an adorable pug belonging to one of the buildings’ neighbors, who steals the errant shot), and the occasional sketch-like #HipTips to close out every episode.
This is all to say that, despite the location change, Queer Eye season 3 is more of the same – which might be its biggest problem. It’s easy, warm, and appealing, but hardly as ground-breaking as it was at its inception.
As for the heroes themselves, the third season keeps trying to push boundaries in small but subtle ways. Take for instance Jody, the camo-covered corrections officer who, while still treated as an object of fascination for the Fab Five, is treated sensitively and seriously. She digs into some risky territory with Tan in a conversation about guns that ends surprisingly well – the two can agree that people who can’t handle guns responsibly shouldn’t have them – and is clearly supported by a loving, respectful husband, which is a nice way to dodge some stereotypes about Trump country. The gender breakdown of the heroes is more equitable this time around, handling as many women as they do men, showing that equality also counts when it comes to freshening up your look.
But the real joy of the season is their close work with two sisters, Deborah “Little ” and Mary “Shorty” Jones, two of the only female BBQ pitmasters in the area who operate out of a small, crowded shack by the highway. It’s a big job; not only must they makeover two heroes at once, Bobby’s task is to bolster their small, but acclaimed business with a total redesign. But the results bear incredible fruit – the Jones’ sheer gratitude at small things like giving them clothes that flatter their big-and-beautiful figures, or one heartwarming scene in which the Five pay for Deborah’s un-cared-for top teeth to be repaired with veneers, is visceral stuff. “I never thought I’d get this far,” Little weeps out after an unexpected meeting with a bottling company to distribute their award-winning BBQ sauce.
That being said, there’s a certain apolitical nature to these episodes that makes it feel a little familiar and safe. Sure, it’s a glitzy makeover show, but the first two seasons were at least willing to go to those uncomfortable places in dealing with people who are maybe less than comfortable with them. Apart from the aforementioned conversation about gun control with Jody, the four episodes provided to critics play it safe and keep it personal. While it’s hopefully evidence that things are changing and normalizing, it does tame the show in ways that are decidedly less compelling.
As for the Fab Five themselves, they’ve leaned harder into their archetypes now that the show’s a hit, which makes them feel a bit more like they’re performing their given roles. Tan breathlessly defends his love of French tucks into the camera, Karamo has clearly accepted his real role as the heroes’ social worker and zen guru, and Antoni largely stays out of the way and looks cute (most of the heroes need hardly any help in the kitchen anymore). And Jonathan…. well, Jonathan will never change (nor does he need to,
Perhaps Queer Eye is the victim of its own success – as gender norms start to change and shift largely as the result of shows like this, and people grow more used to fashionable cis gay men, where’s the challenge? Where’s the drama? The show’s tagline is “More Than a Makeover,” but with season three, the show’s growing ever closer to being just that – a stylish, winning, but blandly comforting makeover. It’s still enjoyable, mind you
SIDENOTE: Maybe it’s time to start shaking up the roster with other branches of the rainbow umbrella – trans fashion experts, nonbinary stylists, lesbian, bisexual, ace and demi members of the crew. It’s one thing for a Trump supporter to accept the comfortability of an approachable, attractive cis gay man; in a realm where trans people will soon no longer be allowed to serve in the m