The long-anticipated fifth season sees the Fab Five (that’s Antoni Porowski, Tan France, Karamo Brown, Bobby Berk, and Jonathan Van Ness) head to Philadelphia with just two goals in mind: to turn people’s lives around and help them feel better, both on the inside and out. And, as ever, they do so spectacularly well.
If you don’t have time to binge-watch all 10 episodes of the tear-jerking TV series, though, don’t fret: take your time, savour them, allow all of that joyful, positive, JVN-approved energy to wash over you as and when you can. And, you know, make a point of starting with the fourth episode, because that’s the one everyone’s going to be talking about.
In ‘The North Philadelphia Story’, the Fab Five meet Tyreek, a “humble hero who’s survived homelessness.” And, while we sometimes worry the word ‘hero’ is thrown around a lot nowadays, this time it’s well and truly deserved.
Throughout the course of the episode, we learn that the 27-year-old – nominated to take part in the show by his boss and longtime mentor, Christina – works with an initiative called Mighty Writers in West Philly, where he “teaches children writing not only as a tool to learn but as a tool for personal development”. He volunteers with ‘The Block Gives Back’, in a bid to clean up neighbourhoods and create a strong sense of community. He has gotten himself off the streets.
“Your first gorgeous apartment!” trills JVN excitedly.
“Home,” corrects Tyreek, his voice warm with quiet pride.
And reader, I confess: I blubbed.
Despite all of this, though, it quickly becomes clear that Tyreek is struggling to reconcile himself with his past.
“I was raised by a family friend, Ruth,” he tells the QE guys, revealing that he was with Ruth from babyhood until he was 11. “It was amazing. It felt like home. [But] one day we had an argument and it changed my life.”
Tyreek goes on to explain that the argument resulted in him moving back with his biological mum.
“It wasn’t an easy transition,” he says. “And then my brother killed someone. My mum was afraid that people were going to come and retaliate. So my family kind of dispersed and I was out on the streets.”
Tyreek slept in cars, doorways, sheds. His friends, though, helped him stay afloat, providing him with clothes and food. “Poverty can make you do a lot of negative things,” notes one of these pals, “but Tyreek kept his head straight.”
Or, to recite the Maya Angelou quote that flashes across the screen: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
It is Tyreek’s matter-of-fact tone that makes his story so resonant. He recalls how, growing up, “every other house was a crack house”. Inspired by Ruth, though, he decided to “stop complaining and do the work”: he and his friends joined forces to clean up the neighbourhood, make it feel like a community again.
This same tone seeps throughout the episode, which, of course, hits all the usual beats we’ve come to expect from Queer Eye. Bobby transforms Tyreek’s apartment from bare walls and scrubby carpets to dazzling and functional perfection. Tan encourages our hero to get playful with fashion, easing him into bold bright colours. Antoni shows him how to boil up fresh crab, a dish Tyreek strongly associates with feelings of belonging and safety. JVN oversees a hair makeover to die for. Karamo offers some careful counselling.
If you think QE is just a series of beats, though, you’re 100% wrong. Because, in fulfilling their individual roles, the Fab Five learn a great deal about the ever-sunny Tyreek. That he prefers not to sleep in a bed, because he gets “too comfortable”. That he only eats at work because he has no home routine (“The only thing in my mind is, ‘How can this possibly fall apart, and what can I do to make sure it doesn’t?”). That he doesn’t have a bank account, because “they told me there’s something wrong with my social security card.” That he misses Ruth, misses her so much, doesn’t understand why they fell apart, and is too afraid of what she might think of him if he reaches out to reconcile.
“We were always one moment away from being someone else that got killed. [Or going bad]. My brother and I are the same person. He’s just as smart. His thing was just not having the right people… [and for me,] Ruth was a huge, huge resource.”
As Karamo watches, Tyreek adds: “I don’t hear her voice… I miss that. I miss that a lot.”
I won’t tell you how Tyreek’s story ends. I won’t tell you what the Fab Five do for him. And I won’t tell you which scene made me cry the hardest (although I will give you a hint: it involves Bobby and a DIY surprise). What I will tell you is this: Tyreek’s episode is incredibly powerful. It makes you address your own privilege, urges you to be kinder, urges you to do more for your community, to be more understanding of the people around you.
And that, right now, is exactly the kind of TV show we all need right now.
Which Queer Eye season 5 episode should I watch after ‘The North Philadelphia Story’?
I recommend ‘Paging Dr Yi’, all about a young mum who’s striving to balance her home life and career as a paediatrician, if you fancy being filled with joy from head to toe. Or, if you fancy weeping uncontrollably for an hour, try ‘Silver Lining Sweeney’, which sees the QE team help a woman slow down to make time for herself as she cares for her husband through a life-shattering health diagnosis.
Is Queer Eye season 5 worth the watch?
Abso-bloody-lutely, and it’s all available to stream on Netflix UK now. So what are you waiting for? Go forth and binge, stat!
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.
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