So, back in 2019 word got out that Netflix's reboot of Queer Eye was coming to my hometown, Austin, Texas. I've seen most of the original series from the early 00's and all of the reboot series. Given Austin's unique physical and political location, I thought - yeah, that'll work.
Austin sits on the edge of the Texas Hill Country, and while the eastern portion of town is mostly flat to rolling fields, the further west you head through town, the higher the hills. It's a mix of lovely green trees and white limestone, and in the more densely populated areas, people do try to make the most and beautify through art and color. Most of the new skyline defining architecture I find intensely boring, but there are a few stand-outs (the new Google building is amazing). All of which looks swell on camera.
Texas, as you may have gleaned, is a politically conservative state. The cities are a mix of all sorts of folks, and the large cities tend to skew more purple and blue, but there's a lot of Texas that still has loud echoes of 1980's Bible Beltism. Since the 1960's, Austin has been the town that just shrugged and said "you do you" to folks, and a hub of music, art and whatnot in comparison to DFW and Houston (outside the 610 loop. Inside the loop, Houston is kind of rad).
The days of a more laid-back, boho vibe are increasingly replaced by spiraling rent, boring people who moved in to catch the financial wave fueled by our booming tech industry, and a general downturn in the sort of culture that I think Austin once held in its heart that people new to town can maybe catch in glimpses. It's hard to imagine Leslie Cochran in today's Austin. Hell, I can't imagine what Molly Ivins would say about today's Texas and an unrecognizable Austin. Chuy's has become corporatized and now seems like a Tex-Mex Bennigan's instead of indicative of a mood of a time and place.
But Austin remains the sort of town where I kind of suspected the folks who'd put their hat in the ring to participate in Queer Eye were not going to have much to overcome in regards to five gay guys walking into their home. Of the participants, I think maybe one of them mentioned they were in company they weren't used to, and that guy was Texas gentleman enough to roll with it and - by episode's end - obviously over it.
The weirdest part of the show was that it was beginning to film the week that ended with March 13th, 2020. So, essentially, the show recorded all of the "make-over" part, and before they could record the "party after the Fab 5 leaves" section, the city was shut down. It's about a year between the taping and when the Fab 5 came back to town (to Austin landmark The Broken Spoke) to check in. And it's heartbreaking to hear about "the hero's" year. Man, that hit like a sledgehammer.
I don't want to get too much into episodic recaps of a 10 episode show, but the take on Austin was fairly kind. Of course they indulged in "yee-haw, we're in Texas" a bit, but even that seemed pretty tamed down compared to most stuff that decides to film here. It's possible they were here long enough and having to come back to film a year later that they realized that was kind of incongruous with the town.
|this sits on a major road in Austin tucked between condos and very close to a Red Lobster. Don't be fooled by the dirt parking lot. The city came to The Broken Spoke decades ago.|
There was a wide range of subjects and their stories, many of which felt like people you absolutely would know from being around town. In 1998, I actually spent one day substitute teaching at the school featured in the prom episode before deciding "I am not an educator". And the first episode features someone who is so deeply old-Austin that I could feel it in my bones.
It was interesting to see how they came at some of the gaps in Austin, like equality in healthcare or that the kids at Navarro just don't have everything kids in Westlake might, from material goods to experiences.
It was a little disorienting to see where the shopping and dining was done. Even before the pandemic, Austin's retail areas had expanded well beyond my stomping grounds, and I flat out avoid places like The Domain (it's transplant chowderhead nirvana, and the place is a prefab hellscape and literally every drinking or dining experience I've had out there has gone badly), and can't afford to shop around Second Street.
But, man, everyone is having a tough year. And it showed on the participants - so triple kudos to the hosts for both being open but also hanging in there for what had to have been complicated (I did note the shopping took place in empty stores, so they were closing places down for the shoots). But, man, is it a reminder how exhausted everyone is, so having five high energy dudes swoop in and hang out with you and help out seemed like a genuine relief.
Anyway, it's not all fluff and getting someone into jeans that fit. There's a lot of actual help that the original series didn't have the tools to do. Heck, man, Karamo reconciled a father and daughter and a daughter and mother. That's yeoman's work, sir.
There are parts of Austin I wish could have been better explored, but that's always going to be the case. You can't show everything - especially in a pandemic, and especially when you're looking for lovely restaurant kitchens, high end boutiques and fancy salons. But they did go to Bird's for styling!
Like Ted Lasso in it's way, Queer Eye is about kindness, what we have in common and how we can lift people up. We marathoned it over 2 days, and it was a fine way to enter 2022.