Taking on the mantel of the 'Fab Five' is a daunting task, and not one that fashion expert and Queer Eye reboot star Tan France took lightly.
Not only did the original crew of the Emmy-winning show become instant pop culture icons, they also played a part in groundbreaking representation of the LGBTQ community on television in the mid-aughts, despite later criticism that the original show relied on stereotypes.
It's because of all this that France, a designer in his own right, was rightfully nervous when he was approached by Netflix to serve as the fashion expert in the reboot of Queer Eye, he told PopCulture.com exclusively. (The show first premiered on Netflix Feb. 7.)
“It was nerve-racking," France admitted. "With a legacy show like this, you have to pray that fans of the original show like it.”
And they do. The show has been met not only with critical acclaim since its premiere, but overwhelming fan favor as well, which France said helped calm his nerves.
“I was nervous, actually a bit neurotic," he continued, "but now it’s out. We can breathe a sigh of relief.”
Part of Queer Eye's appeal this time around is the increased diversity of the Fab Five themselves. While the original cast was made up mostly of white men, the new cast has found diversity not only in their racial makeup, but in family structure, backgrounds and belief. France, a Pakistani British man, was pleased to see every aspect of gay life, from the single life to living as a married parent, represented in his reboot.
"[We represent] all facets of the gay community," he said. “We the Fab Five are very different than the original Fab Five.”
Fans are also given more insight into the men transforming the lives of men both externally and internally.
“The original show, you don’t really learn much about the Fab Five except they fit in the five categories," France said of the fashion, culture, interior design, grooming, and food aspects of the show. “What we do is secondary to who we are.”
He added that the men decided to present themselves as individuals as opposed to the united front of the original Fab Five early in pre-production, saying he refused to "agree what a gay life should be like," adding, "I'm not willing to do it."
Another thing setting the reboot apart from its predecessor is the setting. Instead of making over men living in metropolitan New York City, the Fab Five ventured into the much more conservative deep south to seek out their makeover recipients, which ended up creating a number of moments that Netflix viewers have said left them in tears, including one man who was ready to come out as gay himself with the help of the Fab Five.
“[The change of location] in itself is a reason to tune in and watch, because watching us very liberal five dealing with conservatives is more appealing," France told PopCulture.com exclusively.
Coming from a small conservative village himself, France said the southern U.S. wasn't much of a culture shock for him, calling it a "much hotter version of home," but watching one of the men he helped make over there come out as a gay man also felt very "important."
“No one understands that it is really hard to come out in most of the U.S.," he added.
And the importance of the moments in the show haven't been lost on viewers, who have taken to social media saying that every episode of the reboot has led to some pretty extreme emotional reactions.
France wasn't expecting that either, he told PopCulture.com.
"The response is incredibly surprising," he said, adding that he has found the amount and kind of messages he's been receiving from viewers both "profound and overwhelming."
Within a week, his relatively small Instagram following had grown to more than 100,000, and he receives hundreds of messages a day from people reaching out with their own experience.
As a Pakistani Brit, he's gotten several messages from people who finally feel represented by a television show, saying, “I’ve never seen a version of me on TV before.”
And he wants people of all sexualities, ideologies and backgrounds to know that it's a show for them as well.
“I want people to understand that this is not a gay niche show, it’s a show for everyone," he said. "It’s not a show where we’re trying to convert you, it’s a show where we’re trying to bridge gaps."
Queer Eye is available now exclusively on Netflix.
Photo credit: Instagram / @TanFrance