I, like many others, have always looked upon reality TV with some degree of disdain. From the moment I was introduced to shows like American Idol, Survivor, and any of the dozens of home makeover shows on HGTV, I knew that the reality television genre was not for me. That is not to say that there are no reality TV shows that I have watched and enjoyed. There was a time in which I would catch an episode or two of Pawn Stars daily, as I enjoyed seeing what strange and interesting antiques and collectibles would find their way onto the show. However, even as I watched the few reality shows I liked, I could never shake the feeling that everything I was seeing on screen was ironically extremely fake. I cringed (and still do cringe) whenever I saw the plastered on smiles and heard the canned, dull jokes people on reality TV shows always wielded. Now I have seen the first episodes of two of Netflix’s attempts at re-imagining the reality TV genre, Queer Eye, and Nailed It!, and, I have to say, it has not changed my opinion so much as it has slightly adjusted it.
If there’s one thing good I can say about the two shows mentioned above, it is that they manage to remove a lot of the ‘trashiness’ that was often inherently involved in a lot of reality programming. And when I say ‘trashiness’, what I mean is mean-spirited or low-brow attempts at entertaining viewers. In other words, an appeal to the lowest common denominator that ends up making the show, at best, a guilty pleasure for many people. Now, not all reality shows always relied on this kind of content, but many of them forced a competitive edge into their shows in order to create fake conflict and drama. In contrast, Queer Eye does not promote any kind of conflict, instead focusing on life improvement and actual home design in a positive manner. Nailed It!, on the other hand, does have a competitive aspect to it, but tones down the conflict between the cooks to focus more on what they are actually cooking.
I still have to say that I did not enjoy watching these shows, however. While Queer Eye did leave me with positive vibes, I simply am not very interested in the “makeover program” (Roxborough) genre to the extent where I am willing to sit through a full episode of it. Similarly, I am not very interested in the “talent contest” style of show either, and I had some problems with the way that Nailed It! occasionally seemed to take a mocking tone towards its contestants. Despite this, I do believe that in changing the places where these shows hold their entertainment value, Netflix has succeeded in removing a lot of the “disposable nature” (Roxborough) present in a lot of reality television. Furthermore, I think that Netflix has even been able to bring in some aspects to these shows that hold value above and beyond entertainment. Queer Eye in particular held, I believe, intelligent lessons on open-mindedness and concepts of masculinity. While I do not believe that the show manages to say anything ground-breaking or revolutionary, and the morals it provides is somewhat lessened by the fact that Tom’s (The subject of the first episode) struggle is being aired publicly, it does challenge the viewer to think and apply lessons from the show in their real lives. They have, in other words, brought some reality to reality television.