During the first episode of season 3 of “Queer Eye,” in the middle of yet another fabulous “make-better,” fashion expert Tan France looks directly into the camera and addresses the audience.
“Shut up everyone, I’m giving her a French tuck.”
It’s a line that, once again, reaffirms France’s prowess when it comes to matters of the wardrobe variety — and say what you will, the French tuck works! But it’s also a line that proves France, like the rest of the “Fab Five,” has become aware of his own fame.
Seasons 1 and 2 of “Queer Eye” were filmed back to back, before the show debuted on Netflix and before “yes queen!” became a phrase regularly uttered in households across America. After the show was released and subsequently blew up, the Fab Five returned to film season 3 with a new awareness of their pop culture power. And, in typical, fabulous fashion, the third season of “Queer Eye” sees them use this power for good, sticking to the winning formula from past seasons while incorporating a few tear-jerking firsts for the reality series.
For those that are unaware, Netflix’s “Queer Eye” follows five gay men — fashion expert Tan France, culture expert Karamo Brown, grooming expert Jonathan Van Ness, design expert Bobby Berk and food and wine expert Antoni Porowski — as they travel to rural America and help “make over” people who are in need of a life change (and perhaps a good French tuck). A spinoff of the original “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” the title change is intentional — this “Fab Five” aims to help contestants of all genders and sexual orientations learn how to moisturize properly and maybe change their lives in the process.
Season 3 does the most to earn this title change, as the best episodes of the season are the ones that don’t revolve around the “straight guy.”
One such example is episode 3, “Jones Bar-B-Q,” which sees the Fab Five make over their first duo, sisters Mary and Deborah Jones, who run a local restaurant together. This entry is chock-full of tear-jerking moments, not the least of which is when one sister gets choked up after finally receiving the dental surgery that allows her to feel confident in her smile. As a bonus, since the contestants already know how to cook better than Antoni can, Antoni really has nothing to do in this episode other than look pretty and ask questions about sauce. And as a double bonus, this episode also includes Jonathan Van Ness saying he’s “an excellent wood lifter” and then winking at the camera.
Another standout of the season is episode 5, “Black Girl Magic,” wherein the Fab Five meet Jess, a Black lesbian struggling with her identity. This episode allows the two most underrated members of the Fab Five, Karamo and Bobby, to shine beautifully. Karamo’s scenes with Jess examining Black and queer identities feels refreshingly honest, and Bobby’s ability to bond with her over their shared experiences of being rejected by their adopted families will cause even the most steely hearted viewer to sob.
The interlude of complex issues such as politics and identity in between haircuts and shopping sessions is quid pro quo for “Queer Eye” at this point. And while it can work beautifully, it can also appear hamfisted.
“Queer Eye” does give itself the goal, as Jonathan Van Ness said on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”, of “turning red states pink, one makeover at a time.” And some episodes, like Jess’s, make that goal seem possible. But in occasionally skimming over complex political issues only to come to a shallow resolution, “Queer Eye” does its viewers a disservice — sometimes, we can’t resolve everything through lessons about “self-love,” and the show should accept that that’s okay.
But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing — for the right viewer, self-love can be revolutionary. And for those not looking for revolution, there’s plenty of satisfying comedic moments throughout the season — the uncontested best is Antoni actually pronouncing “tomato” like “to-MAH-to” at one point. The maniac.
In short, while the Fab Five may be more famous now, they’re still doing the same fabulous job and they are connecting with a more diverse clientele than ever before. Admittedly, this season mostly sticks to the already-established formula. After all, even Tan is aware that he keeps reusing the same tricks.
But let’s face it: audiences probably won’t even be able to see that all too familiar French tuck through their tears. And if that doesn’t merit a “yes queen!” then what does?
All seasons of “Queer Eye” are now streaming on Netflix.
Contact Grace Orriss at [email protected].