Even a trip to Japan can’t keep ‘Queer Eye’ fresh
At this point the “Queer Eye” formula, while still charming, is extremely well-trodden and slightly less engaging than when the 2018 reboot of the series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” first appeared on Netflix. You get the impression that the parts of the show that cry out for some more substance (looking at you, Karamo and Antoni) than the ones focusing on style have anything but real substance, relying on little more than superficial platitudes and advice that is meant to be simple but is ultimately bafflingly useless. The fear of that goes into overdrive when the “Fab Five” venture out to Japan and try to apply their “methods” to a vastly different culture.
Nonetheless (thankfully), to their credit, cultural sensitivity was pretty high. The subject of the first episode of this mini-series is an older nurse named Yoko who works in hospice care and who society views as having “given up on being a woman” due to her lack of extensive grooming. As usual, the interactions between her and the Fab Five do take some time to develop chemistry. But they do eventually, and while it’s something we’ve seen a million times before, it’s heartwarming nonetheless.
The Fab Five are joined intermittently by American-Japanese model Kiko Mizuhara, a valuable addition who adds a good amount of cultural context and fits in well with the crew. For the most part, the Fab Five are incredibly respectful with the people they encounter and make sure to clear up some of the finer points of, for example, how to address someone in Japanese. In addition, the featured locales are diverse and provide a breath of fresh air from many of the locations presented in the United States.
Yet the producers did miss several opportunities for novelty. For starters, I could’ve done without wanting to gag every time one of the Fab Five sputtered out a “kawaii” from their Anime 101 education. Moreover, (and to be honest I don’t really know if this is really just a problem with the series as a whole) I really don’t understand what Antoni’s point was here. Cultural exchange with apple pie is acceptable I suppose, but given that the skills the contestants learn are supposed to eventually help in their own day-to-day life, maybe it would be more useful to bring on a Japanese chef to help cook simple Japanese food? In general, I would have loved to have seen more Japanese “counterparts” to the Fab Five, as they would have intimate knowledge of the nuances of their culture and provide learning opportunities for the Fab Five and presumably mostly American audience.
At this rate, the producers of “Queer Eye” seem to know what makes a hit, and they’re content with recycling it over and over. Luckily for them, even the recycled formula does produce some comforting TV.