A New Look at “Queer Eye”

The Fab Five return for a reunion special Sunday, a decade after they brought a gay sensibility to the masses.

By Jere Hester
|  Thursday, Oct 17, 2013  |  Updated 5:20 PM PDT
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Giovanni Rufino/Bravo

Pictured: (l-r) Kyan Douglas, Tom Filicia, Andy Cohen, Carson Kressley, Ted Allen and Jai Rodriguez on the "Queer Eye Reunion: Ten Years Later" set to air on Bravo on Sunday Oct. 20.

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“Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” didn’t makeover television with its debut in 2003. The breakout show's impact was more subtle, akin to what the Fab Five called a “make-better” – suggestions for ways to do things differently, delivered with energy, good will and gentle humor. 

It’s been nearly six years since the program, which fell nearly as quickly as it rose, left the airwaves sadly less fabulous. But now the cast members are coming back for a 10th anniversary reunion special on Bravo Sunday, offering a welcome opportunity to gaze back at  “Queer Eye.”
 
The show's formula, at least at first, was simple: Women with sloppy husbands or boyfriends invited the Fab Five into their homes to get their man into shape. Viewers quickly invited the quintet into their homes, as well, via TV.
 
The Fab Five were like a gay version of the “Super Friends.” If they didn’t have super powers, each came armed with a distinct skill set and winning personality. Ted Allen, a foodie supreme, trained kitchen-phobic guys to whip up a great dinner party. Kyan Douglas, the grooming guru, probably helped boost sales at the men’s counter at Kiehl’s and beyond. Design expert Thom Filicia showed that there’s more to home décor than just creating the ultimate man-cave. Fashion maven Carson Kressley took dudes beyond ratty T-shirts and jeans. Pop culture vulture Jai Rodriguez helped update the soundtrack for guys whose tastes froze somewhere around high school.
 
As benign as the show was – it never got much more heated than Kressley rummaging through closets, declaring “This has got to go!” – “Queer Eye” marked the first program overtly built on gay guys interacting with straight guys. Even if the Fab Five couldn’t turn the Oscar Madisons of us watching into fulltime metrosexuals, we picked up some good tips (like Douglas advising to always shave with a down stroke).
 
The episodes were repetitive – guys meet guy, guys “make-better” guy, guy pleases girl – but they wore well, like the new outfits Kressley picked out for the Elvin Doolittles of the week. The show delivered laughs and smiles in a dollop of sweetness.
 
Vice President Joe Biden famously declared last year that “Will & Grace” helped pave way for the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage. Others have said they same for Cam and Mitch of “Modern Family.”
 
It’s impossible, of course, to know for sure – and who knows if the “Queer Eye” effect went much beyond grooming, décor and entertainment. But it’s worth noting that the show’s title, which seems quaint now, proved controversial in some quarters just a decade ago. In even narrower quarters, the concept rankled, too.
 
Allen, during a Fab Five appearance Wednesday on “The View,” noted that his parents initially opposed him appearing on the show, but quickly came around. “Being on TV makes a lot of things O.K.,” he said.
 
But not everything is O.K. on TV these days, particularly in a Reality TV world that’s mutated in the post-“Queer Eye” era. Too much unscripted television is built on cattiness and competition among non-talents who think they’re celebrities and have fooled too much of the public and the media into believing them.
 
Ted, Kyan, Thom, Carson and Jai, who proved to be great teammates, are plugging away at various solo ventures these days (most notably Allen on “Chopped” and Kressley's stint on “Dancing With the Stars”). They never became superstars, but still shine as examples of TV friends whose queer eye helped straight guys see themselves in a new light.The Fab Five, set to be interviewed Sunday night by Bravo's Andy Cohen, deserve another look as they take a victory lap a decade later. 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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