The Netflix reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is a complex and endearing beast that’s empathy is tempered with its extra-ness. Its Wikipedia page may refer to the makeover subjects of each episode as its “hero”, but the Fab Five of Antoni, Bobby, Jonathan, Karamo, and Tan often get progatonistic arcs of their own. That’s the joy of the new show: we never know who’s getting the makeover and if that reveal will be purely aesthetic or something more deeply transformational.
That means that there’s a big divide in quality between the episodes that embrace the show’s ability to tell a greater story that combines host and “hero” growth, and those that simply tell a lazy straight boy to treat his angelic wife better by putting on some damn chinos every once in a while. But which are great? Which are truly next-level reality TV? And which are simply the filler episodes for the couch potatoes? Not to worry, I’ve got your back.
What follows are all the makeovers of Queer Eye through Season 5 (spoiler warning!), ranked completely objectively and correctly:
Joe the comedian is self-deprecating, sure. But self-deprecation is in total contrast to the entire premise of Queer Eye. It’s only ok if it’s before the Five gets to you and shows you the shining beauty within. With Joe, they just incentivise a scraggly white dude stand-up comic (which we need exactly zero more of) to stay living in his parents’ now-awesome basement. This isn’t a makeover, it’s enabling.
The younger guys that benefit from the Fab Five’s considerable powers, Remington included, never seem as thankful (or as deserving) of the Captain Planet-esque magical combination that just shows up at their doors. But, to be fair, nobody does too much in this episode except for Bobby (who is constantly making the rest of them look like the laziest reality stars on TV). Tearing up a ‘70s house and giving a kid a haircut (while Antoni dinks around and Karamo gives bad dating advice) isn’t awful to watch, but this show can offer so much more.
Tony is the pinnacle of “why do women put up with any man?” His wife is pregnant, his house is in disarray, and Tony just doesn’t seem to give a damn. He even shaves off the beard that Jonathan meticulously fixed for him. If Tony doesn’t care, neither do we.
This one’s just a sexy firefighter calendar, which is nice to look at, but flat and doesn’t tell you anything you couldn’t get from a better source.
Antoni’s sympathetic accents make me want to slap the cute little smirk off his face. Leo is a mess, certainly, but he’s charming in his messiness. Cleaning him up around the edges is certainly satisfying, but the problems are so clear and easily fixed that there’s very little drama. Plus there’s some awkward dancing, botched pasta (a sin greater than gym shorts), and a tuxedo t-shirt.
A running theme of the weaker episodes is the Five simply having to convince men to take responsibility for themselves. That’s where recent college almost-graduate Arian comes in. He’s a bit more interesting because not only is he a mess, he’s a little shit about it too. He’s initially so uncooperative and deceptive (Does he have a job? Why did he really not graduate?) that Karamo slaps his ass down in a polygraph test. Do NOT make Karamo go full Dad Mode, cuz he’ll whoop you. Arian gets a good makeover (a premium beard shave), but his parental confrontation is more harrowing than cathartic and he’s just hard to listen to, both before and after. There’s an actual eighteen-year-old later on in this list, and it’s baffling how Arian manages to be more stereotypically teen.
Ryan the middle-aged DJ is a leathery, youth-grasping mess that literally wears Facebook algorithm-generated tank tops. Is he nice? Sure! Is he shredded like lettuce? You bet. All that really means is that an infatuated Five give him overly-tight clothes and a less-than-overhauled makeover during his tepid journey. Ryan’s got a great family and a successful life, but he’s kind of an embarrassing guy—and that doesn’t change. Ounces of insight and a last-minute “love thyself” message don’t really move the needle and keep the episode’s BPM low.
This episode is SO camp. But no, not like that. Joey the beardy, hippy camp director went through a lot. Addiction, divorce, homelessness—a lot of factors contributed to the spartan lifestyle and almost self-destructive utilitarianism that the Fab Five needed to pull him out of. However, the episode’s premise is that Joey is just a kid in a man’s body that needs to grow up. The Peter Pan reference in the title is as underserved as its subject’s personality. The easy fixes, like cleaning up a raggedy beard and slimming the clothes, aren’t done quickly enough and don’t let us know Joey as well as the complicated guy deserves. Sure, he’s a good dad, but we need to know him much more in order for his catharsis to be as affecting as the other episodes.
The head of a home-building charity for homeless veterans, Brandon is another story of cleaning up a depressed beardy guy with no self-care or, seemingly, respect for his partner. The ex-military man has to learn how to be a dad, and more importantly, an adult. It’s a frustrating episode, like many of the more simple episodes are, because many of the changes are either too obvious or too invisible—neither being fun to watch.
Sometimes the heroes are too deep in their own issues to be fun TV. Abby, recent high school grad and hardcore climate change activist, is a bundle of workaholic nerves. Think Leslie Knope in front of Joe Biden—a nervous, stammering, force of nature that makes YOU think you’ll have heart palpitations. While the episode tackles some exciting issues and gives a younger hero a much-needed makeover (a killer haircut though one of Tan’s weaker wardrobes), Abby’s personality stays buried by problems that never find real solutions.
I love Neal. I loved his long hair and big beard and withering sarcasm. He gained some confidence and let down some barriers (mostly physical, he really didn’t like being hugged on), but mainly Neal was doing ok from the beginning, if he could just be convinced to give a damn. And by making his bachelor pad incredible (with one of the best home redesigns of the series), they do. But they cut off too much of his beard and don’t spend enough time with his adorable dog. It’s another rather rote makeover (Believe in yourself! Wear better pants! Pomade!) that’s lacking in emotion, but overall pleasant.
While Rahanna’s episode contains some minor insight and emotional resolution with its cheating subplot, it’s mostly playing the hits: fixing hair, fixing a bare living situation, and giving a financial boost to someone whose main problem is the unforgiving nature of capitalism. The cringey and extended dog fashion show at the episode’s finale doesn’t help a makeover where its dog stylist hero only needed a few simple changes.
Drill instructor Wanda Winters has a similar trajectory to her season’s opener. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the personal connection of Jonathan’s orchestra teacher, so following so closely behind another destructively selfless extracurricular leader feels a little repetitive.
Deanna is embracing her roots as the head of the Latino Arts Festival, but in a very white world, how can she rock her culture on her sleeve while still conforming somewhat to “professional” standards? By Antoni laying his embarrassing Spanish accent on thick as salsa, that’s how. As much as it’s nice seeing a Latinx hero in the spotlight, the film’s limited engagement with racism—unlike some of the show’s more confrontational episodes—doesn’t bring its points home.
While William is a bit of an introverted quiet guy (which means not a ton of good interaction with the hosts), he clearly loves his wife and offers a few teary moments thanks to the utter sweetness of their relationship (even if the proposal video is…interesting). Plus, MAN does this guy look better with a haircut and a shave. The boys have some fun with his ratty old t-shirts, then “ooh” and “aw” over the saccharine affection plastered all over their home (even if Bobby is downright aghast at the pair sleeping in a bed William’s girlfriend used to share with her ex). So yes, it is an utterly decent episode as we approach our list’s midpoint.
One of the show’s older candidates, lonely bartender Kenny is a sweetheart that loves family and community…but not himself. Sound familiar? He’s mourning his parents, mourning his dog—he’s a little trapped. These common problems hit so much harder from Kenny, everyone’s grandpa. But as heartbreaking as some of it is, the episode is still a little sleepy simply because Kenny doesn’t seem to have much of an opinion on…anything. Except for dogs. Though who doesn’t love dogs?
Matt, an actual farmer, gives flashbacks to the very first episode of nu-Queer Eye. He’s conservative but open-minded, and on the precipice of major life change. He got divorced a week before the episode and also had never talked with a gay person before. That’s drama right there. Aside from some blue collar fetishism from the Fab Five, the episode has plenty of interesting and unique factors (like Karamo’s absolute hatred of all things rural) to make it more entertaining than your average trim-and-slim treatment.
Let’s not bury the lede here: Nate, gym owner, is Macy Gray’s brother! Ok, that’s not what the episode’s about at all, but it’s crazy that it just comes up one time. Nate, like many of the middle-aged men needing Queer Eye attention, is living like a broke college student. Why? Same ol’, same ol’: lack of self-respect, inadequacy issues, misaligned priorities. While the makeover is one of Jonathan’s most interesting challenges (as Nate has started losing his hair), and Bobby helps him with his business, the episode is middle-of-the-road. It brushes over topics that could have really added to the affair (like gentrification) and tackles his problems with one of Karamo’s reliably terrible metaphors. At least he gets some slick hats.
Mayor Ted’s highs are high and his lows are in the same cringe gutter where we keep old Minions gifs and clips of Senators using internet slang. The hipster mayor loves his town and he does a great job channeling his inner Leslie Knope as he passionately advocates for its merits. He and his mayoress (their word) have a great life, like each other a lot, and are perfectly prepared for a makeover to take their politics to primetime. But then Jonathan gets a little clip-happy, chopping too much of Ted’s great hair and overcorrecting his Resistance Beard. This leaves the mayor looking more skeletal than hip, especially when Karamo makes him rap battle the Georgia speech state champion. No man has ever been brought so low under the guise of reality TV.
This one’s weepy. Let’s be very clear right out of the gate. You’re going to cry. But it’s still not one of the better Queer Eye episodes. Yes, our hero has a heartbreaking story. Yes, there’s a lot of sweetness to be had in his relationship with his late wife. That said, the makeover itself simply didn’t have much to do because Rob isn’t that bad to begin with. He just faced a tragedy. There’s only so much the Fab Five can do to hurry up the grieving process. Add in a cringey, shoehorned focus on music (showing Karamo at his most overbearing) and an uninspiring finale, and you have an episode that simply doesn’t do enough to bear its drama.
Burning Man enthusiast Jason is one of the most charming (polite, older, crunchy as all hell) of the Fab Five’s subjects, so no matter how the makeover turned out, it was going to be a fun time. However, this is an episode focused hard on directing its hero’s life. It feels a little more invasive than it does in other episodes where, say, the Five attempt to get their subject to make a move on someone they’re close to already. Jason learns a little about monetizing his passion, dressing like a cool skinny dude and aerial acrobatics. I’m not sure why on the last one, because it’s one of Karamo’s notoriously silly event-metaphors. Jason’s neo-hippie is a lot of fun (and when they shave his beard!!) but the shining part of this episode is how it forces a black man to learn about Burning Man for the first time. Priceless.
A wedding episode, “When Robert Met Jamie” avoids many of the FAQ fixes that make many of the show’s scraggly subjects blur together thanks to its subject’s gregariousness. Not needing to pry this self-deprecating oyster open allows us far more time to enjoy the pearly personality throughout the episode. There’s also a lot of gym porn as Antoni goes full Instagay. Robert easily cracks through to some prescient points without needing much of a push and without much pushback. All in all, a simple and solid baseline for Queer Eye beginners.
Tooth replacements are always surefire tear-jerkers in a makeover, but especially so when it’s a divorced dad learning to love himself before his daughter’s wedding. Kevin, the self-deprecating lovable standby that Queer Eye’s older men often are, is a pleasant sweetie who gets a major aesthetic upgrade. However, a weird and under-addressed topic (a VERY close relationship between him, his ex-wife, and her new boyfriend) looms over the proceedings and even colors the Five’s post-makeover commentary.
The first episode in our list to touch on religion is the least strong in its handling of it. Not because it’s weak, but because the religion episodes are invariably good. This lighthearted episode is stifled a bit by how obviously attractive hero Bobby is before the father of, if I remember correctly, 20 undergoes his routine shave and trim. The episode’s strongest component, as one of those focusing on how Christianity deals with homosexuality in different, wildly varying ways, is that it allows host Bobby a rare turn in the spotlight as someone who lifts heavy emotions as well as lumber and paint cans.
One of the most charged episodes (with an intro that seems alternatively cruel and hokily staged), “Dega Don’t” lets Karamo work some real shit out and find civility between himself and Trump voter/cop Cory—if not wholesale evangelical progressive change. It’s a little hard to believe that the Five will find a receptive audience in any one of its hero’s descriptors, but that doubt is just one of the assumptions that the episode undermines and overcomes. However, Bobby totally takes over this poor house, which looked very nice before and sequestered all the Nascar nonsense in the basement. Just let the wives live, guys.
Marcos is another workaholic whose intense devotion to his family manifests in the wrong ways. It makes total sense that he, a personification of the American Dream, is as obsessed with business success as he is with Benjamin Franklin quotes. Did I mention that the Mexican immigrant is 100% adorable in his love of all things Philly? While everyone tries out their Spanish on him and his family—ranging from admirably passable to utterly embarrassing—Karamo manages to organize a touching emotional breakthrough between Marcos and his oldest daughter. The makeover is minor for this fishmonger/restaurateur, but the love and vulnerability is powerful throughout.
Fratty man-child John and his precocious daughter need help. What initially seems like another of the series’ basic beard-trimming episodes with a few ostentatious subjects becomes something much deeper due to John’s open struggles with drinking and depression. However, Jonathan gets to ice skate with Michelle Kwan, which is a great positive boost on the other side of things, especially if you’ve been following his ice journey on Instagram. Overall: very high highs in this one.
Sean. Where do I even begin on this baby Bieber boy? The charming, homeschooled teen piano player who’s only been around old folks is cute as a Benjamin Button—and it helps that he’s as receptive to the Fab Five’s help as they are excited to help him blossom. Doe-eyed and enthusiastic, Sean gets to break free from the stifling wing of his godmother to dress cool (and ditch the multiple [MULTIPLE] blazers embroidered with his name) while relearning to socialize with people his age. However, regardless of the soon-to-be pop sensation’s excellent haircut, Karamo and Bobby still make him go talk to strangers at a paintball park. Small talk is the worst, but it’s the double worst when your dads make you talk to teens and your first ice breaker is “I like your haircut.” Please be more careful with Sean in the future!
Dr. Lilly Yi, one of Queer Eye’s bread-and-butter confidence cases and a major win for Tan and Jonathan, is a working mom and treasure for the Fab Five to polish. Sometimes with diamonds in the self-imposed rough, there’s resistance, but Lilly takes no time at all before she’s really feeling herself. It’s solid, simple, firing-on-all-cylinders Queer Eye: a beautiful person that doesn’t know it gets a healthy dose of self-love (and then self-esteem) from a handful of pros. It even features her adorable daughter and an exciting end twist.
Thomas hits a little close for home for me, and I bet hits close to home for a lot of people that know any shy, techy young folk. It’s easy to live behind a screen but so dreadfully hard to leave that comfort zone. Thankfully Thomas is a sweet, willing participant whose nerdiness allows Tan to express his Pokémon love. We stan a Pokémon jacket. The issues at stake here—which involve an older sister taking over parental responsibilities and the comforting ruts we all find ourselves in—are well-scaled: the overarching tragedy of losing a parent is boiled down to its relatable consequences. Thomas gets a therapeutic makeover and we all get a good self-reflecting cry.
Wheelchair-bound (and musclebound) Wesley is looking to step up his game to match his stepped-up attitude towards life. This episode is nice for its flipped script when it comes to expanding horizons. Usually it’s the crew explaining PC terms, correct pronouns or common misconceptions. Here, Wesley’s open personality and gregarious outlook help educate them (and us) about the different considerations needed when life is lived sitting down. And holy shit, Wesley reconciles with the man who shot him.
Jennifer might hold the record for craziest accent of any hero so far. She also has one of the toughest personal stories. A mother of three who takes care of everyone in her life (including a husband with ALS), Jennifer is also the primary income source for the family. Her intensely loving, guilty, proud husband is already moving, but the Five do a good job following the intentions of the episode: making it all about Jennifer. They’re especially energetic during this episode, finding a playful match with this bold mom—who actually gets called on her excuses and faces some real growth over the course of the makeover. And the silver-streaked haircut!
Jody, the camo-loving prison guard that opened up Season Three, started things off sweet and only got sweeter. The tomboy with a doting husband and self-esteem issues allowed the Five to explore femininity and what that means…if anything. In the end, the boys end up letting her define her own vibe—bringing in more women to help in a tear-jerking scene—that decides to trash traditional labels of gender-specific elements while breaking down barriers between a lotta-bit country and a little high-end appeal. A small and unexpected sidebar about gun control only makes her lovely makeover even better.
A woman gets madeover for the first time as Tammye and her gay son return to their local church (which has a LOT of family history) for its homecoming. Another episode that breaks Bob the Builder down from being his more distanced, practical construction/design legend, “God Bless Gay” reveals the diverse opinions on religion from the Five while letting Miss Tammye completely steal the show. Her hair gets incredible, her outfits get incredible, her son gets to sing with a huge choir – it’s quite a season opener. Antoni continues to be around, hanging with moms and Antoni-splaining stuff as simple and obvious as Nilla Wafers and banana pudding. But it’s so deeply earnest, so invested in providing self-care for someone who comes off as truly selfless, that its weak points are glossed over and its highlights (presenting Tammye as the model of a born-again homophobe who found a way to reconcile religion and tolerance) shine brightly.
Jess loves Paramore and we love Jess. We also love Paramore. A perfect storm of deep, connecting issues allow this punky college kid find common ground with all the Five while opening up at a perfectly dramatic pace. But this isn’t an episode that gets hung up on its struggles, as some can. There’s a lot of joy here, filtered through an experience far more complex than most featured on the show. A specific black lesbian personality and identity also finds her footing and her confidence—and looks great doing it.
Like many of the best episodes of Queer Eye, the tale of Tyreek hits hard because it allows members of the Fab Five to tap into previously unexplored areas. Sure, Tyreek’s an eager, insightful, self-aware hero, but his shared experience with Bobby (overcoming homelessness) and his interest in fashion-forward clothing (Tan is enamored) make for a compelling episode of TV where everyone’s showing new sides of themselves. It’s rare that a conversation about credit and bank accounts can be as emotional as a heartfelt familial reunion.
While the series’ first trans hero suffers from being a subject of fascination (his top surgery is the centering event of the episode), Skyler is game for anything, patient and endearing. Sometimes the people most in need of a makeover are the hosts themselves. Tan majorly puts himself out there, revealing his utter ignorance and relative isolation from the queer community at large—which has got to be scary as a host of a huge queer reality show—but finds only growth (thanks to Skyler) along the episode’s teary path. It’s a thorny episode because there are no trans hosts, and it has a hard time moving away from Skyler’s operation as a gimmick, but the makeover is still outstanding and it allows the hero his chance to develop the Five, which makes it refreshing in its honest imperfection.
Barbeque mavens Deborah and Mary have the bonus of being the show’s first duo and the bonus of big personalities. There’s joy watching the boys struggle with restaurant work; there’s much more in seeing these women’s abilities, talents and love come full circle back to them. From tooth replacement to incredible haircuts, Shorty and Little get some major changes after some majorly winning segments. Their inherent charisma makes for good TV, but their transformations make for a bleary, teary, perfectly queer-y episode.
The fifth season of Queer Eye starts off with a transformation drastic and impactful enough to convert nonbelievers and turn those on the fence into the truly devout. Gay pastor Noah—who came out later in life (divorcing his wife!) and suffers from plenty of self-loathing thanks to the intersection of queerness and religion in his life—becomes the perfect gateway to Philadelphia as a whole and to the new formal devices added to the season. Heroes now dance with the Five during the final photoshoot-style interstitial, serving one last celebratory look at their makeover before the end. Everyone shines in the episode, from Bobby (whose shared background with the church results in a moving resolution for both men) to the camerapeople (who highlight not only the events and community members, but the intensely representative gestures Noah makes with his face and hands). Praise the gays.
One of the most dramatic segments of the show, this was the game-changer from “empathy-filled makeover show” to something truly invested in nurturing change in environments hetero, gay, and every queer space in between. AJ not only got a bona fide hot-as-hell makeover (Damn, AJ! Damn!!!!), he got to let his freak flag fly a little before baring his soul to his mom and the world. The least-staged moment of all the series’ “moments,” his stammering, sobbing conversation is harsh to watch and thrilling to endure. AJ’s courage is bolstering, his pecs thirst-trapping, and his mom Antoni-justifying. If your eyes stay dry all episode, it’s a hate crime.
Jonathan returns home to Quincy, Illinois to give the haircut of the decade to his former orchestra teacher, Kathi. A sweet old lady, who loves her community, getting her own pampering ahead of a parade in her honor will make you cry like cutting an onion at a puppy’s funeral that features a loop of the first five minutes of Up. Yes, there’s plenty of embarrassing “Fellow Kids” stuff with the high schoolers. But seeing one of the Fab Five reckon with their own past in a very tangible way makes the episode (and all the ideology they’ve dispensed over four seasons) hit so much harder.
The episode that (re)started it all, the charming tale of Tom—the now-notorious late-50s lupus-stricken dump-truck driver with the heart of gold—is its absolute best. That’s because Tom is a saint sent down from heaven, even when he’s being an ignorant, hick-cocktail-drinking man of his time. His episode allows the Five to debut their new approach to makeovers, prioritizing the man at the core and not barbed takedowns, while unveiling their new mission: bridging the knowledge gap between gay and straight like never before. Bobby gives a killer speech (firm but kind) about gay relationships while Tom remains open to anything and everything, even Jonathan’s seductive invitations to bed at the mattress store. Tom’s episode is Queer Eye’s best because it distills its power to its core: by finding open-minded folks in stereotypically close-minded locales and professions, the Fab Five can push their cooperative, beautiful utopia of smooth skin and infrequently-washed hair upon the world at large, eradicating hate and misunderstandings all the while. And hey, if they get a charming trailer park Santa back with his ex-wife, well all the better.
Jacob Oller is a film and TV critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair, Interview Magazine, Playboy, SYFY WIRE, Forbes, them, and other publications. He lives in Chicago with his two cats and a never-ending to-do list of things to watch. He likes them (the cats and the list) most of the time. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.
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