Entertainment

The 20 Best 'Queer Eye' Episodes, Ranked

You know you love the Fab Five.

queer eye
Netflix

Now that we're on the fourth season of Netflix's rebooted Queer Eye, we know one thing is certain: It will make you weep. And not by happenstance. It wants to get your tear ducts pumping. Hell, the tagline for the second season was: "I'm not crying, you're crying." Do you get it? This series will wreck you, but you'll love it.

When the first episodes dropped, skepticism as to whether the format was passé in 2018 slid away as fans became attached to a new crew of gay men that sets out to help "heroes" across Georgia and (in Season 3) the Kansas City area, be they men or women, straight or gay. Everything was fodder for memes, from designer Bobby Berk's seemingly miraculous ability to redo a house from scratch in no to time at all to food "expert" Antoni Porowski's endless uses for avocados. (His dishes have gotten more fanciful as the series has gone on.) Culture guru Karamo Brown gave pep talks, fashion maven Tan France espoused his love of a tailored pant and the French tuck, and hair extraordinaire Jonathan Van Ness was generally hilarious. 

Now that we've had time to absorb all five seasons of Queer Eye available, we've made a primer on the best the series has to offer. 

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Netflix

20. "A Tale of Two Cultures," Season 4, Episode 6

The most topical episode of the season features hero Deanna, who runs a Latinx arts festival in Kansas City, Missouri. It's also one of the most complicated. Deanna loves her Chicano heritage, but grapples with various issues of identity. Among her extended family, she's not Mexican enough; among white her suburban community, she's an outsider. The Fab Five commits not just to improving Deanna's self image, but presenting an image of accepting neighbors in a time of divisiveness that is arguably too optimistic. But even as "A Tale of Two Cultures" tries to deal with racism in America, it also has a tricky relationship with respectability politics, especially when it comes to fashion and physical appearance. While the makeover section does try to maintain core elements of Deanna's style, there's something insidious in the way the show insists she needs to look to be appreciated as a businesswoman.

19. "Saving Sasquatch," Season 1, Episode 2

Jonathan's quip that "Neal's bathroom reminds me a lot of a skin tag" should define this episode, but "Saving Sasquatch" gets into genuinely touching territory when we see how much the awkward app developer truly opens up. Neal doesn't suddenly turn totally effusive, but his body language subtly changes, and he gives a speech about how the week helped pulled him out of a really dark time in his life.

Netflix

18. "Hose Before Bros," Season 1, Episode 8

The firefighter-themed finale of the first season is pretty silly in a lot of places. There's a Magic Mike routine in the middle of it! But there's also a darker thread that runs through the episode. These are men who put their lives on the line, and the show discusses that without belaboring the point. This is a sneaky one, but the thing about Queer Eye is it can also get you misty-eyed when you least expect it.

17. "Camp Rules," Season 1, Episode 5

Queer Eye is predicated on broadening horizons, with varying success rates. (See: "Dega Don't.") Here, though, the Five take on Bobby Camp, an uber-religious Christian with six children. Bobby isn't outwardly hostile or bigoted by any means, but he acknowledges the way he was conditioned to think of gay people in the church. So when he tearfully tells the Fab Five how they've reshaped his views before they send him off to his wedding reception, it fully resonates.

16. "Stoner Skates By," Season 4, Episode 3

I have to give credit to the nominator for this episode, John's 10-year-old daughter Lucy, who both helped out her dad and made out with a sweet deal in the process. Sure, the Fab Five helped John learn to make pancakes and open up about his depression, but Lucy gets a cool new room and a skating lesson from none other than Michelle Kwan. Smart kid. In all seriousness, the fourth season of Queer Eye is best when its breaking down the facades of masculinity, and this installment reaches new heights when John tearfully admits what he's been going through to his ex-wife.
 

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Netflix

15. "Sloth to Slay," Season 3, Episode 7

I truly love this episode about Thomas, a sweet, shy gamer celebrating his 21st birthday. He lives with his sister, Krissy, who just wants him to break out of the shell that he developed after their mother died. Thomas's episode may not produce the most tears -- though it certainly provokes some -- but it's such a pleasure watching him tentatively express himself by declaring Donald Glover his style icon and making friends who also like anime.
 

14. "The Renaissance of Remington," Season 1, Episode 6

This episode belongs to Bobby, who has his work cut out for him with Remington. The hero doesn't really need much help when it comes to his look: He's an attractive guy who could use a slightly upgraded wardrobe. However, his home leaves something to be desired. He lives in his grandmother's house, which hasn't been updated since the '70s and looks like an antique shop. The dominant color scheme is purple and chartreuse. The first impression we get of Remington is that he's a pretty stoic guy, but when he sees what Bobby has done -- updating the space while paying tribute to his family -- he dissolves. 

13. "Body Rock or Bust," Season 5, Episode 10

There's a rather surprising and delightful celebrity connection to this episode's "hero," Nate. Turns out, this personal trainer with some hygiene problems at his gym and his life is the brother of singer Macy Gray. Huh! But his famous sister isn't the focus of the hour. Rather, it's Nate's need to embrace his ambition and rid himself from shame that's the center of the narrative. His style transformation may be some of Tan's best work, though it seems like Nate already had those instincts. He basically seems like the best coach ever. 

12. "Disabled but Not Really," Season 4, Episode 2

Wes Hamilton's story is extraordinary, which means the episode around him is both beautiful and a little messy. In establishing the narrative of the reformed "bad boy," as he's called in the episode description, who turned his life around after a shooting paralyzed him from the waist down, the producers can't help but lean into trite platitudes. The episode builds to the crucial moment in which Karamo arranges a meeting for Wes with the man who attacked him, which is striking but frustratingly abbreviated, leaving room for the all the Queer Eye hallmarks, including Bobby's remarkable home renovation and Jonathan's traditional revitalizing haircut. But the best part of this episode is that the hosts feel almost ancillary, brief side notes in Wes' journey.

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Netflix

11. "Jones Bar-B-Q," Season 3, Episode 3

You have to have a heart and stomach of stone not to be completely won over by the story of Deborah and Mary Jones, the female pitmasters who reopened their tiny shop to help put Deborah's daughter through college. This is one of the most thoroughly joyful installments of the series, as the guys not only help Little and Shorty, as they are called, grow their business, but also allow them to take some time off for the purpose of pampering. Your eyes are bound to start watering when Jonathan and Tan take Mary to get her teeth fixed, finally allowing her to embrace her smile after years of covering her face with her hands. Is there something a little queasy about watching the Fab Five turn the humble shack -- which certainly didn't seem hard-pressed for business -- into an Instagrammable destination? Sure. But you can't argue with the results. Since the episode debuted, the Jones women have been overrun with orders for their sauce.

10. "You Can't Fix Ugly," Season 1, Episode 1

The way viewers first fell in love with the new Queer Eye was by falling in love with Tom, a man of simple pleasures who enjoys "redneck margaritas," old cars, and his ex-wife Abby. But Tom is very down on himself, claiming "you can't fix ugly." His week with the Fab Five changes that! By the end he's crying, and so are we. His sweetness paired with the genuine love he has for the Fab Five is the perfect introduction to this updated era of the franchise.

9. "Without Further Ado," Season 4, Episode 1

The Fab Five often gets personal while helping out their heroes. (At times the connections to their own lives can be a bit labored, if we're being honest.) But in the premiere of the fourth season, they set their sights on someone to whom one of the members of the gang does have an actual, real-life connection. The results make for Queer Eye at its sweetest. Jonathan returns to his high school in Quincy, Illinois, to cut the mullet off of beloved band leader, Kathi. As with any episode of this show, it's not just about a much-needed physical makeover. Kathi's dedicated her life to her students, and has neglected her own care in the process, remaining stuck in time. (She still shops on QVC.) Come for JVN's sweet heart-to-hearts, stay for Karamo asking a group of teenagers to define "culture."

Netflix

8. "Sky's The Limit," Season 2, Episode 5

"Sky's The Limit" opens on a raw, but groundbreaking, note. Rather than cutting right to the Fab Five driving and joking, we see them sitting on the couch in their loft watching footage of their trans hero Skyler's top surgery. Later, Skyler explains he doesn't remember much of those first post-op moments, but it's nevertheless profound to see him glance at his chest and take it all in. The episode in full is undeniably moving as Skyler shares his story and takes steps like changing the gender marker on his license. Taking all that into account, it also features a number of uneasy scenes, as the Fab Five come to terms with their own ignorance about the trans experience. You wish they had actually featured the voices of other trans people on screen so Skyler didn't have to bear the whole burden of doing the explanation. Still, nothing beats the sequence of pure joy when Skyler is surprised at his home by his idol Todrick Hall.

7. "A Decent Proposal," Season 2, Episode 2

"A Decent Proposal" hinges on a very traditional, downright heteronormative moment: The Fab Five help William devise a way to propose to his girlfriend Shannan. But William -- a vegetarian who considers Frasier Crane a style icon -- is such an open wellspring of gushing love that you just have to get on his level. During the pivotal scene, Shannan starts sobbing as she watches the short film he makes for her and unveils at a local outdoor screening. Watch this, and you'll be doing the same. 

6. "Preaching Out Loud," Season 5, Episode 1

Queer Eye knows how to start its seasons off strong, and Season 5 is no exception. The premiere focuses on Pastor Noah, who runs the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Atonement, an accepting and eccentric congregation in Philadelphia, the show's new home. Noah came out late in life and wants to make his church a place where everyone can feel comfortable, but the space is in desperate need of renovation and he's in need of a confidence boost. In earlier seasons when the Fab Five confronted Christianity, it was often about overcoming homophobia in faith. Some of those themes are here in Noah's own experience, but it's largely about a religious community where all identities are embraced. Bobby turns the decrepit building into a gorgeous space that celebrates this.

5. "On Golden Kenny," Season 4, Episode 5

Oh, Kenny just killed me. On the surface, this is one of the most traditional Queer Eye scenarios: Kenny's a lifelong bachelor who lived with his parents until they died, while the rest of his large Croatian brood started their own families. He stayed in his childhood home, but let it fall into disarray with ancient newspapers, dust, and mouse droppings coating everything. He's also desperately lonely, still keeping around dog food for a pup that is also no longer with him. Our hosts draw Kenny out of his shell, appealing to his love of Croatian culture, getting him out of sports apparel, and, most crucially, taking him to a shelter to find a new furry friend. The sequence in which JVN and Antoni accompany Kenny to his local shelter is one of the best the show has to offer. Not only are there adorable dogs aplenty, Kenny finds teary-eyed catharsis when he encounters one that reminds him of his dearly departed pal and subsequently adopts and names his new companion after the Fab Five. Kenny's a simple mark but his episode gets to the heart of the series.

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Netflix

4. "Elrod and Sons," Season 3, Episode 6

Rob Elrod's story is tinged with tragedy from the outset. He was nominated by the best friend of his wife, Allison, who died of breast cancer. She learned of her diagnosis shortly after giving birth to her and Rob's second son. Allison's memory courses through this episode, as it paints a picture of a man still grappling with grief even he appears to be a naturally happy person. By the time he gets the tour of his refurbished new home and finds the special cabinet Bobby installed for Allison's memories, embellished with her own handwriting, it's impossible not to be moved.

3. "Black Girl Magic," Season 3, Episode 5

Easily one of the highlights of this season finds the Fab Five with their first lesbian hero: Jess, a self-identified "lumberjack lesbian" who was kicked out of her adoptive home after coming out when she was a teenager. Having dropped out of college because of mounting debt, she works as a waitress, and, given her tumultuous past, Jess is reluctant to build ties, even resisting reaching out to her biological sister. Her week on the show is all about encouraging her to create connections. After hearing she doesn't feel comfortable within the black community, Karamo takes her to the friends of Alvin Ailey dance studio. With Bobby, she tracks down pieces of her family tree. And then there's the physical side: Tan helps her find a personal style that's a little more attuned to her Paramore and Janelle Monaé-loving soul; Jonathan encourages her to embrace her natural curls with a short cut. Jess' felt like a truly nourishing episode, and it's beautiful to watch her transform into the "fierce gay kween" (her words) that she is.

Netflix

2. "To Gay or Not Too Gay," Season 1, Episode 4

It's a toss-up between these last two picks. "To Gay or Not Too Gay" was the episode that showed us what this reboot really could do to our ducts. The gang is ostensibly tasked with helping AJ out of his oversized button-downs and into some more flattering clothes, but they also make their mission something far more meaningful. They're going to encourage AJ -- who regrets not coming out to his dad while he was alive -- to tell his stepmother Haide that he's gay. As AJ and Haide sit on his bed, he reads her a letter he wrote to his father. He gets to those two words, "I'm gay," and he pauses. She smiles. When he's all done, AJ breaks down. They embrace. It's devastating. 

1. "God Bless Gay," Season 2, Episode 1

"To Gay or Not Too Gay" featured a burst of heart-wrenching content, but "God Bless Gay," the Season 2 premiere, is a sustained tearful experience. It's something of a double job for the Fab Five. Their main target is the devoutly selfless Mama Tammye Hicks from Gay, Georgia. (Yes, "Gay, Georgia.")  She's a leader, volunteer, and teacher, who requests that they redo the community center at her church instead of her own house. Her story is inherently moving: She's a cancer survivor along with her sister, but they lost their mother to the same disease. Our hosts, however, aren't just focused on her. Tammye's son Myles has recently moved back home. He's gay and out to his mom, but still concerned about how he'll be received in the tiny town's religious environment. What unfolds are dual mother-and-child makeovers, and an exploration of what true support looks like. Tammye's warmth is effusive and generous, and during the climactic homecoming service she speaks about a God that's loving of all people. Simply put, it's beautiful, cathartic, and, yes, cry-inducing. 

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.