While Queer Eye and Nailed It! don’t break the reality TV mold, both offer something a little different in the landscape of unscripted Television. Queer Eye is a blatant makeover program, yet tackles issues of masculinity and gender expression when it comes to every man the “Fab Five” meet. And while anyone who has seen the Great British Baking Show will feel right at home with Nailed It! the Nicole Byers led-vehicle offers gentle feedback to amateur bakers for laughs. Both shows fit under their respective genres but use their standard forms to coax different reactions from the viewer.
I want to start with Queer Eye here, not just because I am a massive fan, but because the show’s genre-specific approach has more going for it than meets the eye (wink, wink). On the surface, we have five men, Antoni, Tan, Karamo, Bobby and Jonathan who are all experts in their respective fields that range from cooking to hair and, of course, fashion. Like any other makeover show, concerned friends or family members contact the hosts about the poor state of the episodes’ subjects who are in desperate need of Fab Five’s help in order to become who they really are under their shoddy exteriors. While the concept sounds shallow and the viewer might be puzzled how Antoni’s simple guacamole mix is going to turn someone’s life around, the real magic of the show resides in the conversations the men have with the subject regarding masculinity. It didn’t take me long to notice it was the only show in recent memory where I saw men actually cry together on screen. In the first episode, “You Can’t Fix Ugly,” the show starts with Tom who is about as manly as they come. He’s got an unkempt beard, a rattily voice, wears practically the same outfit every day and absolutely loves cars. The idea of five queer men remaking a guy like this made me nervous, to say the least and I didn’t feel any better once I saw what his house was like. While Tom may be a bachelor, his house is anything but a pad. So, when I saw Tom open up to Antoni about wanting to get his former lover back, I was shocked. And once Tom talked to Karamo, I was practically in tears as he encouraged him to invite his ex-wife to his car show. I noticed that I genuinely rooted for another man to succeed in his emotional endeavors on television and reach self-actualization. But when it came to watching Tom cry at the end of his makeover, I lost it and began crying too. What I was watched went far beyond just a simple makeover show. It gave me hope that a better future for men exists in which we’re not afraid to be open towards our feelings and can communicate our emotional needs. To see a guy as rugged as Tom succeed in this endeavor filled me with that hope.
While I certainly didn’t cry watching Nailed It!, I was certainly charmed by the show’s “just go with it” attitude. The production quality of the show is kitschy to say the least but in a way that seems pretty aware of itself as Nicole Byers makes tongue in cheek jokes to the contestants. Watching people fail miserably is something people are probably no stranger to witnessing on television, but this baking show doesn’t just offer cheap laughs at the demise of baked goods made by nervous amateurs. In fact, there’s a real genuineness that arises from watching average people try their best, knowing full well nothing they touch will ever become a masterpiece. This comes out in the judges’ critiques too as Jacques Torres and Sylvia Weinstock, along with Byers, are quick to make jokes at the expense of the bakers but are just as sure to offer some encouragement. If this where Hell’s Kitchen none of these bakers would last a minute, but like a polite friend, the judges seem to acknowledge what the contestants were going for with their often flawed creations. It’s not television that will necessarily make you think, but it might encourage you to have a little more patience for those