Queer Eye is a viral sensation. The reboot of the ‘90s makeover show has been one of Netflix’s greatest successes, spawning six seasons, a Japanese special, and making figures like Jonathan Van Ness and Tan France household names. The show has been praised for its positive depictions of the queer community, its relentless optimism, and the magnetic chemistry among the Fab 5 members.
As television becomes a global affair, it’s no surprise that Netflix looks to turn one of its biggest hits into a worldwide franchise. Enter Queer Eye: Germany, the first spinoff of the Netflix reboot. It introduces us to a new Fab 5 (Leni for Lifestyle, David for Beauty, Ayan for Design, Aljosha for Health, and Jan-Henrik for Fashion) as they set out across Germany. The format will be familiar to anyone who has seen Queer Eye, complete with a new Fab 5 loft and even the same graphics.
But Queer Eye: Germany is not just an international spinoff in the latest installment of Netflix’s goal for obtain world domination. While constrained to the format of the original, the show has a shocking amount of originality. It understands its predecessor so well that it knows exactly what not to do. Queer Eye: Germany is not just another Queer Eye, it’s a better Queer Eye.
Some changes are small but great. Reimagining the Food and Wine category as Health solves Queer Eye’s Antoni problem: namely that his work often pales in comparison to that of the rest of the Fab 5. Aljosha will still recommend a quick and easy recipe, but he also promotes a general improvement of well being. It’s a more well-rounded approach that allows Aljosha’s impact to feel balanced alongside the other Fab 5 members.
Jan-Henrik is also a heartwarming improvement over Tan France. Tan’s styling has always been in the legacy of early 2000s shows like What Not To Wear that focus on what looks “good” on bodies rather than promoting the cultivation of personal style. The end result in Queer Eye are a lot of boring outfits that, while often flattering, remove a lot of the personality from the subjects’ wardrobes. Enter Jan-Henrik: a self proclaimed “dandy” who wears bright colored suits and glasses to match. He allows the heroes to improve the quality of their closest rather than start from scratch. When a woman loves headbands and colorful prints, Jan-Henrik finds fun skirts and headbands to match. A Star Wars-obsessed man with an outdated wardrobe gets a new suit, with a Star Wars pocket square and lining. It removes the intensity from the transformations, becoming more of an evolution than styling a completely new person.
That has always been Queer Eye’s hidden problem: its harsh nature. Queer Eye focuses on the TV part of reality TV. Big transformations, exaggerated reactions to the subjects’ clothes and living situations—they’re part of the core of Queer Eye’s entertainment. The show is about becoming a new person and leaving a broken identity behind.
Queer Eye: Germany just wants to help people. It’s less concerned with making exciting TV. There are no orchestrated surprise arrivals by the Fab 5. The people of Queer Eye: Germany are tangibly real, and the German Fab 5 act as facilitators of improvement rather than architects of a new life.
In Episode 3, a young man who lives with his parents decides he needs to come out to them, something he has been dreading. Leni works to build his confidence and the whole Fab 5 rally around him. They ask if he wants them to come with him but he declines, preferring to do it alone. And… he does. It isn’t filmed. We’re told later that it went great. There is no dramatic coming out moment. The Fab 5, and the show itself, helps him choose the path that works best, even if it’s not as traditionally entertaining.
Queer Eye has an issue with seeing its subjects as sources of entertainment. At its worst, it comes off as exploitative of these people’s trauma all in the name of a makeover. The most noteworthy example was when Karamo brought together a wheelchair user and the man who shot and paralyzed him. It’s an incredibly intimate and heavy conversation that feels intensely voyeuristic to watch from the comfort of my home. Sometimes personal lives should stay personal.
The standout episode of Queer Eye: Germany is Episode 4. The subject is an 18-year-old girl who has lost both her parents and both her brothers to disease. She survives with a heart transplant, living in her once-family home. In the American Queer Eye you could imagine Karamo has her confront the guilt she has over being the only person in her family able to avoid death. Maybe she confronts her mortality, the heavy feelings she doesn’t know how to live with.
Instead, Leni takes the girl out for a day of fun. They walk along a boardwalk and balance on a short ledge. Leni gives her a chance to be a kid since she never got to live freely. It’s so beautiful and gorgeous I couldn’t help but tear up a little. Queer Eye: Germany was able to capture the moments of pure emotion the American version always tried to manufacture.
Maybe getting away from America is the best thing for a Queer Eye spinoff. American reality TV is defined by its intensity and exaggerations so much that even a show like Queer Eye, which embraces a more “authentic” identity, can’t shake the idea that drama equals quality reality TV.
Queer Eye: Germany has seemingly passed by with few noticing, and that’s a shame. Queer Eye was such a great sensation and its first international version deserves just as much attention, and even more praise. As television becomes more global, we are getting the chance to see how different cultures can expand on the genres that American television has monopolized for so long.
While there’s no word about a Season 2 yet, I would love to see the German Fab 5 again. People crave heartwarming TV, and Queer Eye: Germany pulls it off marvelously. It’s ironic that a show that focuses less on being entertaining TV is a better watch than its predecessor. And maybe there are even some lessons Queer Eye can learn from its global counterpart to put less emphasis on reveals and more importance on the inherent joy of seeing good people receive the attention they deserve. Despite its slogan, Queer Eye cares most about being a bingeable hit where normal people are given dramatic overhauls in every aspect of their lives. For Queer Eye: Germany, it really is “more than a makeover.”
Leila Jordan is a writer and former jigsaw puzzle world record holder. To talk about all things movies, TV, and useless trivia you can find her @galaxyleila
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