In many ways, it’s hard to believe that Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot has been around for less than six months. Since the eight-episode first season dropped in February, the new Fab Five have quickly mastered the 21st century’s thriving who-lebrity economy: amassing millions of followers on Instagram, entering into sponsorship deals with Alaska Airlines and Whole Foods, starting podcasts, becoming memes. They’re omnipresent.
Queer Eye instantly established a comforting pattern that holds through its second season, which arrives Friday. (Though “Season 2” is something of a misnomer: The episodes were filmed at the same time as those in Season 1, and the decision to split them up reads like a canny decision on Netflix’s part to keep the show in the conversation.) The Fab Five — Antoni, food and wine; Tan, style; Jonathan, grooming; Bobby, design; Karamo, “culture” — descend on a person’s life, decide on an achievable goal for themselves and their subject, and meet that goal while preaching the virtues of self-care, responsibility, and tolerance.
A great deal of this dynamic is tied up in the relationship between Queer Eye and its location: Georgia, a state that offers generous tax incentives as well as a mix of urban and rural, white and black, liberal and conservative. Excluding a tearjerker in which the Fab Five help a gay man come out to his stepmother, most of the first-season episodes set in the actual city of Atlanta hew to the old-school Queer Eye template of helping a straight, single slob get his life together. It’s in the countryside where the revival made its reputation for bringing cosmopolitan flair into Trump territory. The ensuing culture clash yields enough hugging and learning to temporarily soothe a divided nation where real-life disputes don’t have such a happy ending.
Season 2 includes plenty of both templates. In one episode, the Fab Five make over a woman, a churchgoing mother in the small town of — cue jokes — Gay; in another, they work with a transgender man recovering from top surgery. Both projects are an admirable attempt on Queer Eye’s part to expand its range, but the rest of the season nonetheless feels just the slightest bit repetitive. Watching it, you start to pick up on recurring setups: the bachelor who needs to grow up; the guys’ guy who needs to be encouraged that self-care doesn’t make him less of a man; the caregiver who needs to take time for themselves.
Consistency is hardly a bad thing, especially in the comfort-food realm of unscripted TV. But a third season presents an opportunity for Queer Eye to make a more significant shift than it did between seasons 1 and 2. To make sure that the show stays vital and fresh, I have a proposal: The Fab Five should relocate. Georgia’s fish-out-of-water optics gave the show its initial hook, but there are plenty of other American regions that offer a similar mismatch between helpers and helped. And while losing the Georgia credit ups the price tag, this is Netflix we’re talking about — what’s a slightly higher portion of a multibillion-dollar content budget in the name of some extra creative juice?
So if setting up shop somewhere new is a good idea in the abstract, where should Queer Eye actually go next? Behold, some suggestions:
The Elevator Pitch: Does any major city have a less fashionable reputation than Boston?
The Breakdown: General schlubbiness lives in the Northeast, too. Boston has a less-than-stylish, and sometimes less-than-tolerant, vibe; not everyone who lives in Boston is a Masshole, but there’s still a great deal of promise in unleashing the healing powers of Jonathan Van Ness on the South End. The move would shield Queer Eye from accusations of coastal voyeurism by turning to their own backyard while still making for great TV.
The Dream Scenarios: Antoni goes to Dunkin’ Donuts in an effort to understand why his latest client goes there twice a day. Jonathan shows how to keep your skin hydrated during those harsh New England winters. Tan and a North Shore guy compare accents and agree the American one is harder to understand. Karamo patiently explains why he doesn’t feel comfortable around a bunch of aggro sports fans, but faces his fears and goes to a Red Sox game anyway. Bobby kvells over some vertical-grain clapboard.
The Elevator Pitch: What better backdrop could a show called Queer Eye ask for than the capital of queer culture in America?
The Breakdown: Over the past decade, the Bay Area has undergone a startling transformation driven by the tech boom, introducing a complicated interplay between the area’s radical spirit and its moneyed new occupants. There’s a lot of potential here: educating the Queer Eye audience on gentrification and queer history; documenting the many absurdities of the Silicon Valley lifestyle; field trips to places like Vacaville, Davis, and Modesto for doses of that city-country contrast from the Georgia days.
The Dream Scenarios: Antoni gazes in horror at a tech bro fridge stocked exclusively with Soylent. Jonathan gives an empathetic yet firm lesson to a white guy in dreadlocks, which he promptly shaves off. Karamo teaches some new Oakland homeowners how to be good neighbors. Tan goes shopping at the Folsom Street Fair.
The Elevator Pitch: Forget the South. For true regional weirdness, try the Midwest!
The Breakdown: Steadfastly unhip, largely conservative, and cheerily friendly, or at least polite, the Midwest has a profile similar enough to Georgia to produce the mutual befuddlement-cum-understanding that’s made seasons 1 and 2 such a pleasure to watch. I trust the Queer Eye producers to find some full-on Fargo accents in their prospective subjects, and while a sojourn to Paisley Park is definitely in order, the rest of the season is bound to be every bit as square and mild-mannered as Prince was not.
The Dream Scenarios: Antoni learns how to make a mayo-based “casserole” that somehow involves Gummi bears. Tan can’t decide whether he hates or loves an extensive sweater collection before heading to the Mall of America. Jonathan reminisces about growing up in Illinois and training in Minneapolis, bringing in multiple family members for a cameo. Karamo volunteers for Somali refugees with a client’s church. Bobby overhauls a St. Paul McMansion.
The Elevator Pitch: Come on, it’s Florida.
The Breakdown: If you’ve ever seen the excellent TNT show Claws (second season airing now!), you know the collision between professional tastemakers and proud tastelessness that would surely arise from a Queer Eye expedition to the Sunshine State. The Fab Five could make over Florida Man! Snark aside, though, Florida is an astonishingly diverse place with an astonishing diversity of stories to tell: retirees, immigrants, and yes, assorted human oddities combine in a state that’s full of contradictions. It’s also been the site of horrific tragedies like the Pulse nightclub shooting, which specifically affected the queer community, and as fun as Queer Eye can be, it can also be trusted to treat a subject like Pulse with sensitivity and emotional authenticity.
The Dream Scenarios: Antoni goes to town on some Cuban food during a pit stop in Miami. Tan introduces a client to lightweight fabrics and gifts him a wardrobe custom-made for 85-degree weather with 75 percent humidity. Jonathan gives the definitive rundown on anti-frizz products. Karamo has a heart-to-heart about gun control, then introduces the subject to one of the Parkland student activists. Bobby cracks the code on how to make a home sleek, organized, and also hurricane-proof.
The Elevator Pitch: Say it with me: “Deadliest Catch crossover episode.”
The Breakdown: Alaska is sneakily a font of reality programming, from Ice Road Truckers to the Palin family saga we’ll never speak of again. So why not Queer Eye? Granted, the pool is small enough that there’s probably only enough material for a four-episode half-season, but I’d still love to see what the Fab Five could do in the wilderness.
The Dream Scenarios: Antoni says the phrase “wild Alaskan sockeye” no less than 500 times. Jonathan concocts the ideal skincare regimes for zero- and all-sunlight conditions. Karamo forces everyone to go on a three-day hiking trip, for bonding. Tan struggles to find a flattering parka.