When the last season of the Emmy-winning Queer Eye landed on our screens in June 2020 I called it “just the queer tonic for the soul we all need in our lives right now”. I hadn’t anticipated that all these months on we’d still be in such need of that same tonic, but thankfully the reliably uplifting, inspiring, and hopeful show—filled with self-care life hacks, handy grooming, sartorial, culinary, and design tips—delivers once again with its ten-episode sixth season, now streaming globally on Netflix.
The reason we’ve had to wait so long for a new season is one you might expect. As we see during the first episode, not long after the show’s fab five—Antoni Porowski (Food & Wine), Bobby Berk (Interior Design), Jonathan Van Ness (Grooming), Karamo Brown (Culture), and Tan France (Fashion)—set up their HQ in Austin, Texas and began helping their first hero, production was shutdown due to the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Cut to a year later and the hosts are back at the Daisy Duke-wearing grandma Terri White’s honky tonk bar where she works as a dance instructor. A lot changes in a year, including the loss of Terri’s beloved father, and returning to the same hero after so much time has passed adds to the richness of the season opener.
When it comes to fashion, we get some transformative advice such as Tan’s gem that although there’s nothing wrong with a grandma who wears clothes that show off her body, she might want to consider focusing on one area at a time to help direct the eye and modify the overall impression without sacrificing her sexiness. There are also some sensitively handled moments between JVN and Terri as she reveals that she covers up her own hair with a wig. Meanwhile there’s a relationship-changing breakthrough in communication between Terri and her more reserved daughter, thanks to Karamo, whose name becomes a kind of safe word for the two when either feels that they’re not being listened to or being spoken over.
As the season continues the endlessly empathetic queer gurus encounter several heroes whose lives have been impacted by the pandemic in various ways. There’s the beret-wearing business owner Sarah, who opened her bakery—the adorably named OMG Squee—just before the national lockdowns in the early months of COVID and later became a target of the wave of anti-Asian American hate stoked by the former resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
We also meet the prom committee at Navarro Early College High School as they’re Zooming to organize a last-minute outdoor ‘night to remember’. In a school made up of a diverse, largely Latinx immigrant community, with many of the students working to support their families as they study, these young folks are suffering the affects of being isolated for a year and taking classes virtually. Meanwhile the outdoor courtyard at their empty campus isn’t exactly looking party-ready. These teenagers feel like particularly deserving heroes and towards the end of the episode there’s a touching scene where they read the letters that they’ve written about their pandemic experiences and hopes for the future in the school’s time capsule, before an emotional exchange of mutual respect between teachers and students.
Fittingly this season features a dedicated and ambitious healthcare worker, Dr Jereka R Thomas-Hockaday, who has established a busy clinic servicing East Austin with COVID testing and vaccinations, but her full work schedule has meant that she’s been neglecting to put herself first. In fact, alongside the impacts of the pandemic, the heroes sidelining their own well-being is a running theme throughout the season. Perhaps in most urgent need of a visit from team Queer Eye is Jamie who is feeling the pressure of running Safe in Austin, a sanctuary for rescued animals that facilitates healing visits for children, without carving out any time to herself. With a growing number of animals, the project is in desperate need of a barn, leading to what is perhaps Bobby’s most ambitious work on the series yet.
Unsurprisingly if you’ve seen previous seasons, during every episode there’s at least one scene that’s likely to have you in tears. One of the most moving sequences occurs in the second episode where, thanks to Karamo, a charismatic and trophy-winning trans athlete, powerlifter, and coach, Angel, is reunited with her father. The two have been estranged for a year after she told her parents about her gender identity and the episode allows time for some exploration of learning to be an accepting parent of a trans child and her girlfriend Katia’s experience of being in a relationship with her partner as she transitions, as well as Angel’s own experience of embracing herself as a trans woman in her early twenties. The confidence she exudes in the queer women owned and run gym where she works and trains quickly leaves her as she navigates other aspects of her life where she often feels self-conscious or anxious. Fortunately the Fab Five are able help her to start to tapping into that same self-assuredness she has an athlete.
The flexibility within the series’ format keeps things varied with certain hosts getting more time in some episodes than others depending on the hero’s specific circumstances, with plenty of light and fun moments weaved in, there’s scope to go to some dark places too without that feeling jarring. Chris Baker for instance, opens up about the guilt he feels related to the death of his mother as he continues to live in the house where she passed away. It’s powerful to see his progress throughout the week and also great to see the incredible work that he does as an advocate for Austin’s homeless—running The Other Ones Foundation which provides shelter and a living wage—being showcased by Queer Eye, particularly as Baker is attempting to raise funds for the organization.
One satisfying aspect of the series continues to be the way in which each of the hosts encourages the heroes they’re working with to find the answers within themselves to make meaningful improvements to their day-to-day lives that are sustainable long after the cameras stop rolling. Whatever you might be going through in your own life as you watch, throughout this season you’re likely to identify with some of what the heroes are experiencing and take away some valuable advice. For those looking for a little guidance, Queer Eye remains a hugely entertaining self-help series, as well as being an endlessly bingeable fun show with engaging subjects. And that queer joy love bomb that is the excitable energy that the Fab Five radiate when they’re together is addictive and energizing.
Right, I’m off to clear out my closet, call that friend I’ve fallen out of contact with, put on a mud mask, and cook up a storm. Or then again, I might just start bingeing another a show on Netflix…
By James Kleinmann
Coming soon: Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness based on their weekly podcast launches on Netflix on January 28th.