There are very few shows on television, even in the age of "Peak TV," that are designed purely to make you feel good. That's part of what makes Netflix's Queer Eye so special. Each and every makeover is to make someone, and the audience, feel better about themselves.
The streaming service recently introduced us to the newest set of "heroes" made over during their third season by the Fab 5 — grooming expert Jonathan Van Ness, design expert Bobby Berk, fashion expert Tan France, food & wine expert Antoni Porowski and culture expert Karamo Brown. The new crew included a set of sisters trying to take their barbecue restaurant to the next level, a young black lesbian trying to find her place in the world, and a man trying to create the best life for his sons after losing his wife to cancer, among others.
While the Fab 5 and the show's producers work together to create these life-changing makeovers, it's often Brown who is tasked with finding out how that episode's hero became stuck in the first place. A lot of the emotional heft of the series comes from the one-on-one discussions Brown has with these people to try and help them live their best lives. According to Brown, the beginning of that process is about observation and listening.
"I don't really have as quick a process as the other guys... As you see on the show, we get the dossier, where we get the information and then we walk inside the house. But for me, it's more the discovery. So on the show, I listen more than I'm talking, because I have to figure out what is the core issue of why this person hasn't changed in 20 years or 10 years," Brown told TV Guide over the phone.
While Brown is labeled the culture expert, his background is much more aligned with psychology and social work, which is what allows him to connect with each of the heroes on such a deep level right before the audience's eyes. The connection he makes and the activity he uses to help them break out of whatever rut they are in varies based on who the person is and what Brown determines they need in that moment.
"You listen to someone's issues and then you figure it out. It depends on the person. So for instance, Jody [Season 3, Episode 1], she said, 'When my brother died and I worked in a beauty salon, that was the last time I was around people I trusted and I believed. And since then, I've only been around men.' And I was like, 'Oh, so you're battling with all of these things that happened to you then and so you need a group of women,'" Brown explained.
The mission for Jody's episode was to help her connect with her femininity. Brown's portion of that objective meant taking her to a support group with other women who shared similar struggles of finding female friends when constantly finding themselves in male-dominated environments. He used a similar technique for Jess in Episode 5, "Black Girl Magic," by introducing her to black dancers to talk about how they've embraced themselves as beautiful black women. However, for Robert in Episode 4 and Thomas in Episode 7, Brown created emotional exercises they did one on one together to help break down their self-esteem issues and defense mechanisms that were preventing them from growing.
"It depends on the person. There's not like some strategic, like, 'You get a group. You don't. You get a mirror. You don't,'' Brown said. "It just depends on what the person needs in that moment, and then I figure out what's the best way to give some type of visual for them, so that way, the audience and them can figure it out and use it in their own lives."
Over the course of the series, Brown's work has blended more and more with that of his cast mates. It was not uncommon in Season 3 to see Berk, Porowski, or Van Ness accompany Brown on his emotional missions with the heroes or vice versa. However, when the crossover in talents does happen, it's not without careful planning by the Fab 5 and the producers.
"[The Fab 5] have a lot of control, but we also are on a television show where there's producers, and they will tell us, 'Hey, we think that it would be great if you two came together or you two worked together today.' We then have a conversation about how we're gonna go forward and whose specialty would help this person more in the moment, and we kind of let that person lead," Brown explained. "I love doing field trips with the guys. It's just fun. The thing is that it's great for me when I'm doing one-on-ones, because I really help somebody have a cathartic emotional breakthrough, but it's also a lot of fun when I'm with my brothers and we are joking around and playing. I think it makes for a better show."
The show is not the complete picture of what goes into these internal and external makeovers, though. While Queer Eye wants to give a complete story for each of these heroes, many of them have issues that prolong after the week they spend with the Fab 5. Behind the scenes, Brown, the rest of the guys, and the producers have worked out a system of following up and securing resources to ensure the heroes have a way to keep productively working some of the deeper issues explored on the show.
"One of the things that our producers are so amazing with, that I didn't even have to suggest, was the after-care. They keep up with our heroes in a way that is exceptional, in making sure that they have support afterwards. I think all of our heroes are followed by our executive producers, who send updates, who speak to them on a regular, just to check in on them," Brown elaborated. "On top of the amazing work the producers do, I follow up. Jonathan's also big on following up. We always make sure that they have resources and support, so that way, they can continuously get what they need."
Queer Eye Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.