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‘Queer Eye’ Star on Reboot: ‘Helping People is Never Going to Get Old’

An iconic TV series known for its eye-popping makeovers just got one of its own.

On Feb. 7, Netflix will unveil eight new one-hour episodes of “Queer Eye” — a freshening up of the groundbreaking 2003-07 Bravo Emmy winner in which five outspoken gay men beautified the lives of hapless city slickers. In its heyday, nearly 3.5 million viewers from all demographics embraced the highbrow superheroes each week. It spawned 13 international editions and one CD soundtrack. Alas, stylist Carson Kressley’s exasperated one-liners are now part of the early-aughts time capsule, along with studded Nokia flip phones and hot pink Juicy Couture sweats.

Enter the Fab Five 2.0: culture expert Karamo Brown, spitfire hairdresser Jonathan Van Ness, no-nonsense decorator Bobby Berk, cosmopolitan fashion pro Tan France and soft-spoken chef Antoni Porowski. They’ve ditched the bustling New York City streets for rural Georgia, focusing on grizzled men of the Red State Deep South. (They’ve also dropped the “…For the Straight Guy” part: in one episode, the guys help a closeted man come out.) An introduction to button-down shirts is only the start of the top-to-bottom renovation, as this woke crew is taking on race and other cultural divides as well.

“The original show was fighting for tolerance,” France, a Brit of Pakistani descent, declares at the outset of each episode. “Our fight is for acceptance.”

France believes that “back in the day” with the original incarnation of the series, viewers were able to see the surface aspect of a lot of gay men, which helped strides towards that tolerance about which France speaks. However, he notes “you didn’t get an insight.” And that is one way the new version of the show will differ from the original.

“They couldn’t talk about their private lives. This time we’ve got the bandwidth to talk about ourselves. You’re ready to learn the ins and outs of real gay life. We’re your peers, not just accessories,” France says.

The most resonant example is built around police officer (and proud Donald Trump supporter) Cory Waldrop in the third episode. While driving home from a suit shopping trip, Brown — the only black member of the cast — tells Waldrop that his own son didn’t want to get a driver’s license for fear of being pulled over and shot by a cop. In turn, Waldrop says he’s stereotyped as a prejudiced white officer and reassures him that black lives matter.

“That conversation was about me being a black man and a father to black children before I’m talking about being a gay man,” Brown explains. “We are not checking our other identities at the door.”

“Right now we need to have a conversation,” Berk adds. “The second the news comes on TV, people turn it off or tune it out. People don’t want to hear the other side. This show addresses that. We’re in a lot of towns where people have very different views from our own. We get to find a middle ground.”

The guys had never met each other before showing up at a massive and intense two-day casting audition in Los Angeles last year.

“It was like speed-dating,” Berk says. “We’d go in groups of five from table to table with various executives and just rotate until they found who they were looking for.”

Together, they are a mix of charismatic personalities with impressive backgrounds: Brown was the first openly gay black male on MTV’s “The Real World” and a full-time social worker for ten years; France is the creator of women’s clothing line Kingdom & State; Van Ness stars in the viral web series “Gay of Thrones;” Berk has a home furnishings line; and Porowski, a Canadian, is the protégé and former personal chef of original “Queer Eye” foodie Ted Allen.

“The original Fab Five were trailblazers,” Brown says. “They have all reached out to us and say they can’t wait to see the show. And that feels good for us because even though we’re creating our own legacy, it’s good to know that that the guys whose shoulders we’re standing on are supporting us.”

They do admit, however, that the series benefits from changes.

The new gang had five full days to spend with each client (dubbed “heroes” in the show). Thanks to the commercial-free Netflix, “we had more time, logistically and literally, to go deeper than what they did in the first round,” Berk notes.

The Georgia uproot also led to more interesting challenges. “Those guys had the luxury of having different markets and stores off Fifth Avenue,” Porowski says. “That’s not the reality in the South. We couldn’t just head into Prada or Armani. That forced us to explore the person’s needs.”

The group raves about their success stories — from Tom, a self-proclaimed “dumb old country boy from Kentucky,” to Neal, an introvert who had hidden his decade-long battle with depression. “When we saw Neal, he didn’t want us to look at him or talk to him or touch him,” Van Ness says. “He was very insecure. I was shocked at the change. We do a lot of outside makeovers but we’re there for the inside too.”

“He just told me he bought a charcuterie platter to entertain!” Porowski says.

At its heart, the show remains as hopeful as ever. “The universality of wanting to show up for yourself is the same,” Porowski says. “Helping people is never going to get old.”

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