When I hear reality TV my mind usually goes straight to shows like Survivor, The Amazing Race, and Real World. But the genre of reality television has become so much more than shows like these. Today reality TV covers more interests than I have room to list, utilizing a wide variety of formats. While the early days of reality TV were solely dedicated to entertainment it quickly spread to entertainment with benefits (who wouldn’t want to win a million dollars on Survivor) and then to educational entertainment as demonstrated on The Food Network. Like most television today, reality TV has subgenres spanning from educational to docusoaps. With their popularity and evident staying power, Netflix has decided to join the reality TV realm. Two of Netflix ‘s reality series finding early success are Nailed It and Queer Eye. Both are patterned after earlier successful models from reality TV. But, that isn’t to say that there aren’t original aspects to each show.
Nailed It is making its mark with Netflix viewers. Good humor (appropriate for family viewing) and culinary expertise join together to challenge somewhat unrealistic home bakers in three good-natured competitions each episode. This would just be another cooking competition show if it weren’t for the comedic voice of Nicole Byer. Together with head judge Jacques Torres, Byer keeps guest judges, contestants, and even the production crew in high spirits throughout each episode. Departing from other cooking competition shows Nicole and the judges always find something positive in each contestants piece. With the purposeful levity, this lessens the sting of each loss. While each episode makes it clear that the bakers likely won’t ever be experts you get the idea that they leave the show feeling good about their effort and that their effort is the achievement or success they were looking for. Nailed It has found a way to bring the right mix of humor and competition to leave the audience with a sense of positivity from each baker taking a chance, and this is something that is often lacking in American television.
As a reboot of the similarly named series from Bravo, Queer Eye debuted to an audience with high expectations; and it delivered. While it is categorized as “lifestyle television” I feel like Queer Eye provides more for it’s viewing audience. With the level of divisiveness in the United States today highlighting our common core humanity is of utmost importance. Queer Eye also challenges stereotypes and our preconceived ideas about masculinity. While conforming to the formats of shows like Fixer Upper there is a deeper meaning in Queer Eye. “The original show was fighting for tolerance, our fight is for acceptance,” -Tan. “My goal is to find out how we’re similar as opposed to how different we are,” – Antoni. “We all got to come together in a way where we can understand each other,” -Karamo. For me, these three statements say it all. When challenging peoples views, opinions, outlooks, and even fear it is far easier to sit on your high horse, particularly when you are a part of the oppressed group. The person or group who takes the first step towards understanding allows their vulnerability to show. And I believe that is what these Fab Five are doing. By taking the show from New York to Georgia they are bringing their mission to seek acceptance straight to the heart of what most would consider the good ole boys club. This challenges the audience to not only reevaluate how they see gay men but also how they see and have stereotyped straight southern men. It was beautiful to watch Tom and his friends interact with the Fab Five. When I saw the Fab Five walk into the restaurant to meet Tom as he had breakfast with the Romeo’s I held my breath wondering how all of the older southerners would react to a group of proud gay men. Their reactions were priceless in the best possible way. It certainly challenged my view of how the southern man’s man acts. Both the Fab Five and Tom seemed very open to one another. Each of the Fab Five seemed to take a deeper interest in understanding why Tom is the way he is so that they could try to implement changes in his life that could address the core of his fears and doubts. They celebrate how strong a man needs to be in order to address the pain in his life. By offering the audience a more positive view of masculinity, one that is accepted by both gay and straight men, Queer Eye is helping to demonstrate that we are all more similar than we think. Because the Fab Five go deeper than the surface they have laid a foundation from which Tom can continue to grow and improve as a person, if that is really what he wants.
For me shows like Nailed It and Queer Eye tell me that Netflix is finding ways to bring quality television to their service while simultaneously growing their audience base and staying relevant in the television world.