In the pilot episode of the much-discussed Netflix reality series, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, the organizational guru happily scans the unkempt living room of the Friend family. There's a twinkle in her eye as she examines every nook and cranny of her newest project. After careful scrutiny, and without so much as batting an eyelash, she excitedly states, "I love mess!" much to the surprise of her client, as well as me, the impressionable viewer.
Kondo says it without even a hint of irony. I think, "wow, clutter really does put her in a jovial mood." As an organizational guru, seeing all that chaos would presumably have her seething with anger; maybe even compel her to demand you toss every personal item you have (as Twitter memes suggest) in the trash. But it's actually the complete opposite. Instead, she exudes an aura of warmth and earnestness that's so visceral, so palpable across the room. Her clients can feel it; I can feel it. Watching her is equivalent to receiving a warm hug, and I can only assume everyone else streaming the show feels the same sense of calm. This soothing effect is why I gladly parked myself in front of the television to watch the eight-episode series. I binged it with the same fervor as I do with, say, Game of Thrones.
Instead of putting on a face mask or submerging myself in the tub like I have when I was stressed in the past, I find watching this comforting show offers the relief I need. It’s basically ASMR for the soul. While everyone else is infusing themselves with IV drips, gulping celery juice, or reveling in whatever else the self-care industry is peddling, I'm logging hours of couch time. For me, watching is a form of self-care, and as of late, it's become my favorite.
Kondo’s supportive excitement in the pilot episode is a precursor for the entire series, as well as the rest of the Netflix reality shows I’ve come to love. I found solace in these programs because I thrive off their unfaltering good vibes, the absence of drama, and the emotional support they offer viewers.
But best of all, circling back to what Kondo said in the pilot episode, these shows embrace — and even celebrate — mess, which is something I appreciate so much because I, too, consider myself a complete mess.
For example, the Queer Eye guys (five perennially jaunty gay men I now consider my virtual best friends), refuse to let you spend one second being down on yourself. "You can't fix the ugly," Tom, their first makeover subject, says in the first episode of Season 1. As if the sad remark is a cue, the quintet shouts a resounding "NO!" in unison, sprinkling compliments and words of affirmation around the room.
While they assess your home and lifestyle, the Fab Five might acknowledge your faults, but they will never shame you for them. Sure, your closet needs a tweak, your bedroom calls for a complete overhaul, and you're way overdue for a haircut, but they won't make you feel like you're a slob. They recognize your imperfections and devise a plan that works for you so you can work toward treating, and in turn, loving yourself better.
Antoni won't teach you how to make a Michelin restaurant-approved dish if he knows you can't do it. Instead, he'll show you how to prepare something more manageable (even if it's as simple as a hotdog), because he knows you can pull it off (shame on you, Antoni haters). Jonathan does away with the whole 10-step skin care shebang and introduces you to a fuss-free regimen. He reminds you you're a true #kween while he demonstrates the proper way to apply concealer. Meanwhile, Bobby transforms your home into an oasis you love coming home to. Tan shops with you in stores he’s confident will fit your budget, all while imparting the art of the French tuck. Meanwhile, Karamo gives you the pep talk you need, but he won't influence you to do something you're not comfortable doing. On Queer Eye, it's never just about what the Fab Five brings to the table. They share their expertise to help you become the best version of yourself.
And hey, don't even get me started on Nailed It!, which to me is the friendlier, less intense, and definitely kinder version of Masterchef. In it, amateur home cooks who can't ice a cake to save their lives try to replicate Instagrammable confectionery projects. They give the projects their best effort with certainty that the end result will be a monumental failure. But that's okay because they're doing something they love. They have fun kneading, mixing, and frosting, and they're not getting judged for it — not in the literal sense, at least. The "judges" on the show — the ever-delightful Nicole Byer and pastry extraordinaire Jacques Torres — laugh alongside you, not at you, when your multi-tier cake tower deteriorates. Unlike Gordon Ramsay, who screams his head off when you forget a sprinkle of salt, Byer and Torres remind you the success is in trying. The fact that you're making an enormous effort means you've already won — maybe not the show's $10,000 cash prize, but certainly the intimidating challenge of baking a complex treat.
These shows are not exactly what you'd call revolutionary. Tidying Up is as much a home makeover show as its HGTV counterparts, Queer Eye was rebooted from the '03 original, and Nailed It! isn't so different from other cooking contests. But what separates these programs from the horde is they actively spotlight the good. In the current reality TV landscape, which is ravaged by shows with hosts and contestants snarking at each other and where producers blatantly manufacture drama, this new crop of comfort-food viewing sure feels like a breath of fresh air.
Kondo, Byer, and the Fab Five welcome their participants' or contestants' messes with open arms. That acceptance emanates from the screen, and as a viewer, I've learned to love my mess, too. These shows have played a role in helping me recognize that, even though I am a mess, I'm a work in progress. When I'm feeling like my life is in shambles, I have Kondo to tell me to get my shit together in the nicest, most delightful way possible. On days when looking in the mirror makes me want to crumple in shame, the Fab Five is there to make me do a little pirouette and yell out "Yass, Queen!" When I feel like I'm damaged beyond repair, I have Byer to remind me that trying to improve myself — even in the face of potential failure — is itself a step toward nailing it.
It might be silly to some, but Netflix has become my preferred form of self-care. In one Queer Eye episode, there's a scene when Jonathan explains the magic of a green cover stick. "Can you believe?" he asks their subject. The line is now an iconic catchphrase, but it's also the ethos of these feel-good reality shows.
Can you believe that you can become your best self with a lot of effort and willingness to try?
Why yes, Jonathan, I can believe.