Lest you ever find yourself questioning the credentials of the Fab Five, know that designer Bobby Berk immediately noticed an issue with the furniture of the green room at the Netflix FYSee space. “Be careful on that chair; that back left leg is really loose,” he told Brown, who had just sat down in a stylish armchair.
Indeed, it seemed a little wobbly. Jonathan Van Ness, from his perch beside Berk on the opposite couch, was impressed. “How did you know that?”
“I noticed it the moment I walked in. I’m in furniture, it’s what I do,” Berk replied.
“That’s like if I notice a weirdly placed highlight or something,” Van Ness said. “That is so cute that you noticed that.”
Facing Berk (Design), Van Ness (Grooming), Karamo Brown (Culture), Tan France (Fashion), and Antoni Porowski (Food) altogether, especially as they’ve just been reunited for a press event, bears some resemblance to trying to interview a box of puppies; super-intelligent, genuinely kind and interesting puppies, to be clear, but the energy was a bit chaotic — and nearly identical to what you actually see on screen, as the guys invade a new house or apartment at the beginning of each episode.
But that’s part of the natural charm the new Fab Five has developed over the course of their first two seasons together, the first of which is eligible for Emmys consideration this year and the second of which premieres Friday on Netflix.
The unscripted reality series updates the Bravo format of five gay men, all experts in various fields, delivering “make-better” experiences (as opposed to makeovers) to a wide array of folks. Having dropped the “for the Straight Guy” element of the original title, the subjects (referred to as “heroes”) in the first 16 episodes include a woman, a gay man, and a trans man.
One quirk of the production process is that the 16 episodes shot last summer in Atlanta were shot out of order from the way they were released on Netflix, with the exception of the very first episode featuring lovable grandfather Tom Jackson. (The last episode filmed is the first episode of Season 2, featuring the show’s first female client.)
“We knew that there were going to be eight and eight,” France said.
“But we didn’t know if people would see them,” Brown added. “It was very clear with us that if it might come out, it might not.”
But come out it has. Since the show’s February premiere, it’s been a whirlwind experience for all five of the guys, whose lives have changed dramatically. “I think that it’s kind of impossible for me and a little delusional not to change because everything is changing,” Porowski said. “Our whole lives have been completely uprooted. I’ve been living at hotels for the past two months, but we can take that and we can kind of apply that to what we’re going through.”
While they’ve been surrounded by fame, Brown noted that “none of us have interacted with the people who enjoy the show or the people who support our careers in the show differently. We still show the same love and support. We are still the same people.”
That’s why Brown thinks that should “Queer Eye” continue beyond the first two seasons (Netflix has yet to officially announce plans for more episodes), their new level of fame won’t necessarily affect how they engage with the show’s “heroes.” “My hope is that they will not feel uncomfortable. I hope that they won’t look at us as celebrities coming into their home. I hope that we can still have the same type of one-on-one interaction that we were able to have with them before. And them not be scared of us.”
“I think that they would have the reassurance, maybe they didn’t know, maybe they didn’t understand what our share was. Hopefully, they’ll feel more comfortable knowing what we are and that we are truly that way,” France agreed.
Van Ness felt sure, in his own very specific way, that future heroes would continue to have a great experience with him. “I’m like, the warmest, fuzziest, babyiest, gaybiest ever, so they’re gonna feel so comfortable,” he said. “And the other great thing that they’re gonna look forward to, honey, is in Seasons 1 and 2 because no one knew, I was like, fighting tooth and nail for every single product that was in every one of those shots. Honey, we’re gonna have so much cuter hair products and so much more stuff to play with. They better be excited for that makeover, honey.”
One interruption during the interview was a welcome one, as one of Season 1’s most notable heroes entered the green room and was immediately swept up in hugs. A.J., as featured in Episode 4, “To Gay or Not Too Gay,” was the first gay man to get the “make-better” experience and shocked the Fab Five in that moment by revealing that he and his boyfriend had recently married.
“How’s the life of a celebrity in Atlanta?” France asked him.
“I’m not built for it,” A.J. said. “It’s a lot for me. Before I was able to go out and have a drink and nobody, you know, could care less. Now I get a bunch of hugs,” A.J. continued. “You know, but everybody’s been great. It’s not that bad but you guys, you know.”
“Don’t we know,” Berk said.
In general, the guys do keep up with the heroes, even after filming ends. “I’ve literally been sitting here the whole time remembering that I forgot to get back to Neil about what color to paint his bathroom and that’s why I keep gazing off,” Berk said. “We talk to them a lot.”
Social media has played a factor in this. “The fact that people love this show are able to follow up with our heroes, has meant the world to its success,” Brown said. “Because the fact is, before, you just see that we do it and it’s just like, it’s done and now people are like, ‘Oh my Gosh, not only are they continuing on our journey, they’re continuing on the journey of our heroes.'”