If you were a child of the 90s, you probably grew up watching shock shows like Jerry Springer, The Steve Wilkos Show, and Maury. Maury was viewed as a classier version of these other shows, as fistfights didn’t regularly break out (or weren’t encouraged) on The Maury Show. Filled with cheating, paternity drama, and out-of-control kids, these shows allowed average Americans to gawk at what was perceived as lower-income people and families hash out their drama on live TV.
The 90s and early 2000s had a wealth of these kinds of shows, but today’s reality and talk shows focus on feeding us facts about celebrities or showing us the dating lives of desperately horny singles. With his new show, Karamo, Karamo Brown of The Real World and Queer Eye fame dips his toe into the pool of these kinds of shows.
Karamo presents a really dressed-up version of shows like Maury. In fact, Karamo is the successor of The Maury Show, filling the popular program’s time slot and shoes. Real issues are addressed on TV over a few hours of shooting and condensed into less than an hour of content per episode.
Now, I can’t find a source that says so explicitly, but I believe Brown is to some degree a mental health professional. With that information, one would think his rendition of the show would really lean into the healing element. But I don’t think anyone is healing on Karamo. Unless participants are being offered therapy off-screen, this show is just a preliminary step in the process of healing from trauma.
Brown is incredibly charming, handsome, and talented. I’m not here to shit on him or his show, just here to tell you what I think about the content of the series. I’ll be talking about a few things in this piece, including verbal and psychological abuse within relationships and transphobia.
One feature of the Karamo show is the “unlock your phone” portion of the program. In this segment, people who believe their spouse or partner is cheating bring them on the show to have their phone unlocked by Brown’s crack team of investigators. It’s about 50/50 on whether or not they do find evidence of cheating, and sometimes the script is flipped and the accuser becomes the accused!
I’m currently watching a clip where a man, Jeremiah, has brought his girlfriend Nancy on the show to unlock her phone. He accuses her of cheating and questions the paternity of the kids they share together. He goes through her phone, harasses her at work, and more. At one point he says he has PTSD, which he says stands for Post-Traumatic Slut Disorder. After rolling my eyes at the misogyny of it all, the show continues, and we learn that Nancy isn’t cheating and that Jeremiah is, unsurprisingly, verbally and psychologically abusive to her.
I’ll give Brown his props for coaching Nancy through some affirmative self talk where he assures her she does not deserve this kind of treatment, but then the clip ends, and you as a viewer are left wondering: Is she gonna leave him? Is he really going to change? Brown says he will give Nancy his phone number in case she needs assurance in the future, but that’s the extent of what we see.
I didn’t know about Karamo until I was browsing YouTube one day and came across a video of something I had passive knowledge of through Twitter. A Tiktok “chef” named Chef Pii had created a viral “pink sauce” that was bright bubblegum pink and touted as sort of an everything sauce. People that have tasted it say it tastes kind of like ranch.
The sauce quickly became popular, Tiktok users buying bottles and tasting it for their audiences. To make a long story short, the sauce was not shelf-stable and was being shipped around the world without meeting FDA regulations for milk-based sauces like it. One woman who ordered a bottle said it had basically spoiled the next day, and another found a piece of craft or cosmetic glitter in her bottle of sauce.
Chef Pii appeared on Karamo with Allie, the woman who found glitter in her bottle. The video of the appearance was taken down, and Brown hasn’t said a thing about it since, but in the video, Brown sides with Chef Pii, stating that Allie just posted her concerns about the sauce for attention.
People were understandably confused and upset, and now you can’t watch a single clip of Karamo without seeing comments about the now-deleted video flooding unrelated content.
I’m sure the show’s team has just relied on the internet’s short attention span and thought that moving on with no comment was the best course of action, but the controversy has cast a dark cloud over the show.
After watching a clip explaining the pink sauce fiasco, I went to the show’s YouTube channel, and an “unlock your phone” clip immediately caught my attention. This time, a woman was accusing her partner of cheating. In the preamble to her accusations, she says “yeah I admit I slept with his brother…” and I said pump the breaks honey, you did what??
Grade A heterosexual mess.
Now, I will give Brown credit for featuring members of the LGBTQ community on his show. He doesn’t do it in the way these old shows used to. He’s very compassionate to their stories, which often include family members being homophobic and transphobic.
In one episode, a trans man named Jaymar talks about his experience with his ex-boyfriend who he met before he had fully transitioned. They had a child together, and the whole time the ex boyfriend knew that Jaymar was transitioning and on testosterone, but the ex-boyfriend continues to misgender Jaymar and insists that he doesn’t want two men raising their daughter.
Dealing with the transphobia of his ex definitely takes a toll on Jaymar. Then, the tables turn when we learn that Jaymar’s ex identifies as a gay man. Both members of the LGBTQ community, it seems really hypocritical for the ex-boyfriend to not accept Jaymar, but we all know not every gay person is a trans ally.
Brown does a good job of correcting the ex when he deadnames Jaymar repeatedly and uses language like “I created [deadname].” He also handles the transphobic ex with care when addressing how the ex’s mom forced him to be tough and hard because he was gay.
I think Karamo appears as an initial step for people struggling with really big things. Sometimes telling the truth and being heard gets the ball rolling on healing for everyone. I only watched one clip where Brown encourages his guest to get some therapy after their appearance on the show. Therapy isn’t a bandaid and isn’t the end all-be all, but I think it can help in giving people the power and opportunity to talk about the things that have hurt them.
We can debate whether or not Queer Eye actually changes people’s lives, but I think spending days with someone who is struggling is better than sitting down for a couple of hours and giving them some affirmations to practice at home. I also want to be clear that Karamo doesn’t have any messaging in the program that says “let’s heal together!” or “come here to heal from your trauma!” but Brown’s reputation makes people come to the show thinking they will resolve the issues they have.
The show’s social media platforms are filled with pictures of Brown smiling on a green background with platitudes like “you can’t build a house without a foundation” superimposed over the images. These types of shows are, in part, made for entertainment purposes. Even if people show up and feel like they leave better than they came, at the end of the day audience members and viewers are leaving comments as if they are watching an MMA fight. People love other people’s mess; it gives us the opportunity to not dwell on the dysfunction in our own lives.
Even me, watching as this woman confesses to sleeping with her boyfriend’s brother. I can laugh and say “straight people are the worst!” but that is someone else’s misfortune and pain. I’m watching clips to write this piece, but I won’t be watching any more of the ones that I feel are just feeding off of other people’s misfortune. The clips that are good feature Brown defending members of the LGBTQ community from people in their lives who aren’t accepting. I like those clips and will probably continue to watch them.
I also don’t want to shame anyone who enjoys this show. If you watch it, continue to without feeling like I’m guilting you into stopping. Everyone has content they enjoy and as long as that content isn’t actively harming someone, I think it’s okay to consume. But for me, I just can’t help but think about the repercussions of watching real people go through bad things on TV. What do you think of Karamo? Let me know!