New episodes now streaming on Netflix
ATLANTA >> Although “The Real World” debuted in 1992, the reality show revolution really came of age in the early 2000s with groundbreaking shows such as “Trading Spaces,” “Fear Factor” and, in 2003, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”
Many of those shows eventually went away, but alas, many have made comebacks. MTV resurrected “Fear Factor” last year. TLC’s “Trading Spaces” is returning soon. And Wednesday, “Queer Eye” released new episodes for the first time in a decade, this time on Netflix.
Netflix — already a monster in scripted shows, stand-up specials and documentaries — is officially entering the world of unscripted TV for the first time with original programming. It’s using a brand that helped nudge this world into greater acceptance of gays by “making over” straight dudes in the areas of fashion, culture, cooking, grooming and design.
While the basic bones of the show are the same, there is a brand-new Fab Five, as well as a deeper dive into bringing the best out of men. Plus, all eight episodes were shot in metro Atlanta instead of New York.
“We wanted to get into a red state,” said David Collins, creator of the original “Queer Eye” and the revamped version as well. “While we were based in Atlanta, we went to different tiny towns around Georgia.”
He’s also excited by the mass distribution Netflix offers in 190 countries, accessing millions of younger viewers who may have never seen the original version and don’t watch broadcast or cable TV anymore.
Hunting for the new cast was a massive affair. Collins trimmed thousands of candidates down to 100, then 40 who came to Los Angeles for what became a three-day “most hysterical fun round-robin speed dating.” They were naturally seeking chemistry, and he felt he found it with the final five, which is more diverse than the original crew:
>> Design specialist Bobby Berk.
>> Culture maven and former “Real World: Philadelphia” cast mate Karamo Brown.
>> Food and wine expert Antoni Porowski.
>> Grooming guru Jonathan Van Ness.
>> Fashion czar Tan France.
Collins said unlike the original, this Fab Five will be shown as more well-rounded individuals. “They do actual direct-to-camera interviews, and we learn their back stories and journeys,” he said.
He said the show feels different, partly because he no longer has to worry about commercial breaks. There is no need for teases. “You get a better flow,” he said. “You get these tight 35 to 46 minutes. Each episode is a different length.”
And while the show is in the “makeover” category, Collins considers it more like a “make better” show.
“We touch on social issues,” Berk said in an interview. “We are helping fix them from the inside. We aren’t focusing on the negative. We want to show them what’s great about themselves.”
Porowski even found a way to spin Atlanta traffic into a positive, noting that long transit times in vehicles gave them more time to get to know their subjects better.
The quintet is given some difficult projects, each dubbed “heroes” for their courage to even show up on camera for a show like this. At the outset of the second episode, for instance, tech guy Neal Reddy of Atlanta is a closed-off man who wears an unattractive beard and a boring T-shirt, recoils at physical contact and lives in a disheveled, dog hair-ridden home. He hasn’t entertained anyone in his residence for a decade.
The guys joke that he looks like a Yeti or Sasquatch. Reddy practically runs away from the Fab Five when they approach and looks horrified when they hug him. He is deeply insecure about his appearance and covers up his awkwardness with humor like Chandler from “Friends.”
“Being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness,” instructed Brown on the show. “It’s a sign of strength.” He takes Reddy to a boxing ring, a metaphor to expose himself.
France and Reddy go to Bonobos in Buckhead for a clothing makeover, showing him cool prints and jackets to wear over his perennial gray T-shirt. Van Ness trims his long tresses and makes him look fashionable. (“I’m making you a gorgeous Indian Jake Gyllenhaal,” he cooed.) Porowski takes him to Cooks & Soldiers on the Westside to create easy-to-make hors d’oeuvres for an app launch party he’s planning. Berk helps Reddy finish a planter project on his deck.
After the changes, Reddy said they showed him how good his life could be if he cared.
“It gave me a glimmer of hope,” he said. “It’s the nicest thing anyone has done for me.”
And by episode’s end, he gave the crew hugs — for real. His speech at the party, producer Collins said, was “the one of most pivotal and beautiful moments of any of our shows.”
France said six months after taping, Reddy still sends them texts every week. “We saw him a couple of months ago, and he said it was life-changing. That’s what we hope you notice, that this is so much more than fluff.”