An important note should be brought up here before we go any further: I hate reality television. I find it to be canned and not very similar to reality at all. It feels like a scripted show trying to act unscripted; everyone’s reactions are overdone and they are often drawn out far too long with commercials killing the flow of the show entirely. With that in mind watching the first episode of Queer Eye was an enjoyable experience and I would definitely be interested in watching more. Nailed It fell a little more into the overly processed reality television, although through no real fault of its own; Queer Eye takes place in the real world in a regular man’s dingy basement apartment whereas Nailed It takes place on a soundstage set up so that contestants each have their own little kitchen to create
monstrosities cakes. Nailed It wasn’t without its charm as watching the sassy older woman (and cake baking legend) tease the contestants was entertaining, as was listening to the French chocolate master Jacques Torres critique one contestant’s odd choice of footwear. I believe the difference in “reality” between these two programs can be explained by their difference in subgenre.
A large part of reality television can be subdivided into different genres; the shows we watched were no different. Queer Eye was a makeover program about 5 gay men who spend time with a straight man who isn’t living the kind of life he wants and needs some help getting out of his rut. What made the first episode of Queer Eye so compelling was the powerful culture clash between the very openly (even stereotypically) gay men of the “Fab Five” and the conservative southern culture that subject Tom was a part of. What ensued was not the Five acting condescending towards the seemingly backwards rednecks, nor was it Tom and his fellows disparaging the Five for their alternative lifestyle; rather it was a uplifting tale of openness and acceptance as Tom freely discussed his thoughts, feelings, and fears with the men and they gave him great advice and genuine, caring support. The show ending with the rugged Tom openly crying after his newfound friends had to leave was extremely touching; despite the relatively short time we got to see their friendship grow, the outpouring of emotion felt earned, far different from the dramatic, ham-fisted emotional plugs like the golden buzzer on America’s Got Talent or the chair spinning on The Voice.
These types of emotional plugs are seen most often on the talent show subgenre of reality television, and that is exactly what Nailed It is. It has a competition, prizes, expert judges, even a little video backstory of each contestant. However, Nailed It does depart to an extent from the talent show formula to an extent; their contestants are all bad bakers on a baking talent show. So the audience gets to watch merely who screws up their cake the least, as opposed to who makes the best cake. It is an entertaining departure that makes the show feel a little fresher than some other shows like American Idol, although it’s hard to say if Nailed It will create a lasting impression like I believe Queer Eye can.
Critics of reality television say that it lacks staying power. The Hollywood Reporter said that “in 2015, [Netflix] chief content officer Ted Sarandos told Netflix investors ‘the disposable nature of reality’ made it less interesting for streamers.” While the Reporter says that Nailed It “finds the funny in home baking disasters, rather than celebrating near-professional amateurs,” the format is still largely the same as the innumerable baking shows that came before it and I can see the argument of it lacking staying power. Queer Eye on the other hand is “a woke celebration of LGBTQ rights.” It has staying power because it battles for acceptance that, while slowly making headway, is still not near where it needs to be. It shows the talent and the humanity of all these men and, perhaps even more importantly, that people from wildly different walks of life like Tom and the Fab Five can become friends and share a real connection. This is the kind of show that gives people hope and can maybe open the mind of those who do not want to accept the LGBTQ community. That is what makes shows like Queer Eye non-disposable.