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Queer Eye Germany: Radical positivity makes for good TV
Binge-watching is almost synonymous with thrillers that get their hooks into viewers and never let up: Shocking plot twists. Cliffhanger endings. All very relentless, and intense. Meanwhile, reality shows, whether on streaming or broadcast TV, often invite us to laugh, or shudder, at the travails of strangers forced to cohabitate together, or mating rituals that inevitably seem to involve hot tubs. Empathy and compassion are hardly hallmarks of the genre. Queer Eye Germany offers a very different take on a binge-able series. The show is … nice. Charming. Inspiring, even. The premise is that a crew of host experts, all proudly queer, drops in on a different person each episode and helps them rethink their life, aided and abetted by a new wardrobe and a remodeled pad. But the true makeovers here happen on the psychic and emotional levels.
By Josef Markus
Re-make, re-modelPop culture aficionados may remember that Queer Eye began in 2003 as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on the Bravo network. The groundbreaking show was an overnight sensation, and eventually ran for 100 episodes over five seasons, winning Emmys and GLAAD Media Awards alike. That earlier incarnation was also turned into an international franchise, with a short-lived German version called Schwul macht cool.
Netflix rebooted Queer Eye in 2018, with not just a new Fab 5 (as the hosts and makeover experts are known), but with the inspired idea of relocating the show from New York to Georgia and later Missouri, i.e., ‘red’ states of America, where the acceptance of proudly out LGBTQ+ people and same-sex relationships is hardly guaranteed. But the show traffics not in culture wars but in bridging divides, with the Fab 5 charming and inspiring people who have never met anyone like them before (or just think they haven’t).
The kindness of strangersOn an immediate level, the appeal of Queer Eye lies in letting viewers vicariously participate in the fantasy of an all-expenses-paid shopping spree, where your five new best pals, who really know what they’re talking about when it comes to clothes and hair, first help you build a new wardrobe, and then move on to redesigning your living space, so that it better expresses who you really are. The audience gets inspired to cast off the doldrums and cobwebs that might be holding them back in their own lives.
Die Fab Fünf are well cast, entertaining television in their own right. Friendly Ayan Yuruk is the design expert, thoughtful Aljoscha Muttardi the health and nutrition consultant, and charismatic Avi (formerly David) Jakobs the hair and beauty expert. As he puts it, being “a hair whisperer” is his superpower. Nonbinary Leni Bolt is the empathetic life coach, and Jan-Henrik Scheper-Stuke handles fashion. Jan-Henrik is his own best advertisement for his services: he appears to have culled clothes from the entire span of the 20th century to build not just an elegant wardrobe but a dandy-intellectual persona. (Watching him, you think: surely this is a man with a well-curated bookshelf.)
Queer Eye is based on the premise that benevolent outsiders might be the best people to right the life situation of someone suffering from depression or just a crisis of confidence. Watch any episode of Queer Eye Germany and you appreciate how many skills the German Fab 5 bring to the assignment: within the space of a few days, they have to earn the trust of strangers and propose solutions, without ever sounding like they’re talking down to their new friends. We see how sincerity and genuine curiosity about other people go a long way to establishing trust. And an irrepressible sense of humor doesn’t hurt either.
You make me feel (mighty real)It’s possible to imagine a critique of Queer Eye: picture a dowdy academic fuming that the show glorifies consumerism. But to paraphrase Oscar Wilde (O.G. of queer aesthetics), it is only shallow people who would think that being gifted a complete, expert makeover — a more flattering haircut and/or eyeglasses, a snazzy new wardrobe, an apartment freed of clutter — wouldn’t do wonders for a person’s mood and self-confidence.
Together the Fab Fünf embody radical positivity, and any sentient TV viewer will likely agree that’s a quality the world could use more of. Queer Eye Germany is inspiring, feel-good TV, but also so irreverent it’s never cloying or sentimental. Alas, Netflix doesn’t have another season planned, so we’ll never get an episode where the Fabs travel to deepest Thuringia to give an AfD member a much-needed makeover.
QUEER EYE GERMANY
Streaming on Netflix, worldwide / Five episodes, approx. 50 min. each.
Cast: Leni Bolt, Avi Jakobs, Aljosha Muttardi, Jan-Henrik Scheper-Stuke and Ayan Yuruk
The series is produced by ITV Studios Germany, spearheaded by Christiane Ruff as Producer, Christiane Schiek Tajima as Executive Producer and Britta Maiwald as Senior Producer.
Watch "Queer Eye Germany"