News - Archives
2001 - January'They're Here, They're Queer, They're On TV'
On Monday, Showcase will being broadcasting the much-hyped American retread of the groundbreaking British series Queer as Folk. Chronicling the intertwining lives of a group of gay men and lesbians living in Pittsburgh, the Toronto-filmed show promises to create the same kind of firestorm in Canada as it has in the United States.
To gauge what general viewer reaction might be to this show, we brought together seven TV watchers of various sexual orientations -- three gay men, two straight women, a straight man and a lesbian -- for a private screening of the show's two-and-a-half hour pilot.
All agreed on one thing: the babe-liciousness of the cast. "Hot," "cute" and "beautiful" were words frequently bandied about during the screening. The gay men in the group -- Tim, 37, Martin, 37 and Ricardo, 33 -- were particularly smitten with Hal Sparks, who plays Michael, the show's geeky but appealing narrator, while heterosexual Carol, 35, preferred Gale Harold, who plays the smouldering gay Lothario, Brian. Jocelyn, 27, one of many straight women who saw and loved the British original (it aired on Showcase last summer) remarked that the American cast, guy for guy, muscle for muscle, body part for -- well, you get the idea -- was more attractive than the British one.
Most concurred that the show was a breakthrough in its often explicit depiction of the love lives of gay men, that nothing like this could have possibly been shown on television 10 or 15 years ago. "It means, yes, we're out there, yes, we're becoming more mainstream, yes, we're becoming more acceptable," said Ricardo.
But a couple of the viewers expressed concern that the show's club-going, bed-hopping, recreational drug-using characters reinforced negative stereotypes about gay men. "You walk away from this [show] going, 'Well, every night of the week you go out and do drugs and you bring someone else home and then you start your day'" remarked Tim, adding that he feared the show "may be a step back rather than a step forward."
That fact that most gay men don't live their lives this way may elude viewers who are already hostile to gays. "If my parents saw this show they'd think that that's what every gay guy does," said Jocelyn. Could homophobes and Christian conservatives watch this show? "Maybe," said Martin. "For ammunition." (It's worth noting that the show's producers seemed to have anticipated this reaction and have decided to end every episode with this disclaimer: "Queer as Folk is a celebration of the lives and passions of a group of gay friends. It is not meant to reflect all of gay society.")
As for the much talked-about sex scenes, not surprisingly, the gay men in th group were enamoured with them, but the straight women were equally laudatory. "There's something very attractive about seeing any two people -- in this case it's two men -- but they're really into each other, and I think that is very sexy," said Carol.
Neil, 36, the token straight man in our group, was cool about the sex scenes. "I thought they'd be a lot racier," he said. But he was critical of the show's almost complete emphasis on sex, as was Alex, 31, a gay woman. "The actual idea of drama in this show...has been for the most part 'And now we go to the club and now we f---- and now we got to the club and now we f----,' and we get 10 to 15 minutes interspersed...of somewhat intelligent, real commentary on what it's like to be gay....But the rest of the time it's just relentless sex, clubs, sex, clubs, sex, clubs, drugs." The show also received criticism for its lack of racial variety -- all the lead characters are white. But most agreed that the show was a refreshing alternative to that other gay show, Will & Grace. "The men in that show are caricatures, whereas the guys in this show seem much more real," said Carol, who also saw potential for crossover between audiences of Queer as Folk and Sex in the City. "The women in Sex and the City grapple with sexuality and the role it plays in their lives, and Queer as Folk definitely covers the same terrain, albeit with gay men."
DRAMATIS PERSONAE OF QUEER AS FOLK
MICHAEL (played by Hal Sparks): Late 20s, comic-book geek, closeted supermarket manager, the show's narrator, secretly in love with his best chum Brian.
BRIAN (played by Gale Harold). Ad executive, 29, smouldering and sexy, shagging champeen of Pittsburgh.
JUSTIN (played by Randy Harrison): 17, fresh out of the closet, hungry for experience, deflowered by Brian.
TED (played by Scott Lowell): Early 30s accountant, unlucky-in-love, the Average Joe in a world of Adonises.
EMMETT (played by Peter Paige): Late 20s flamer, campier than Christmas and completely proud.
LINDSEY and MELANIE (played by Thea Gill and Michelle Clunie): Lesbian couple, parents of Gus (conceived with the help of Brian).
DEBBIE (played by Sharon Gless): Michael's mother, a waitress at a gay diner, gregariously gay-friendly, a dead ringer for Sharon Gless-made-up-to-look-like-Tyne Daly.
'Queer Folk Falter in American Remake'
The Halifax Herald
by Pat Lee
January 19, 2001
Refreshingly erotic male sexuality only saving grace
I think we can all agree that remakes, as a rule, are a bad idea, since a carbon copy can rarely hit the same emotional chords or strike the same dramatic notes as an original work.
This is particularly evident in the TV series Queer as Folk, mainly because the original version of the British drama just aired here a few months ago, so the shortcomings of the American copycat are easily spotted.
Showcase, which first brought us the out-there series about a group of gay pals drugging and clubbing in Manchester, England, is now debuting the muted new version of the show in a three-hour instalment this Monday starting at 11 p.m., with its regular home on Mondays at 11.
Already being broadcast on Showtime south of the border, the series is pretty much a shot-by-shot remake of its British cousin and focusing on the same core group of gay pals, including leader Brian (Gale Harold), an outrageous, hedonistic advertising executive who's seen and done it all; his best friend Michael (Hal Sparks), the moral conscience of the group who hasn't gotten lucky in some time; Emmett (Peter Paige), the flamer and fashionista of the crowd; and baby-faced Justin (Randy Harrison), a high school student who is learning all about the - ahem - ins and outs of his sexuality, thanks to Brian. Sharon Gless also appears as Michael's oh-so-supportive and flakey mother.
The high-school-student-getting-it-on character raised eyebrows in the British version, since that character was 15 years old. The U.S. version plays it a little safer and raises his age to 17, which doesn't really take away from the central premise (especially since Harrison looks about 15 anyway); which is that this fuzzy-cheeked pretty boy is on the brink of becoming a man in every sense of the word.
This time the action is set in Pittsburgh (with Toronto filling in for the real city), which I guess would be the U.S. version of industrial Manchester.
When the series opens, the boys are out at their regular nighttime hot spot, dancing, drinking and looking for a little action. As usual, Brian is getting it on with anything that moves, while Michael and the others can only stand by and watch.
Hovering in the periphery of the action is newcomer Justin, who soon falls within sight of Brian, who will also become a father that night to a child to be raised by a lesbian couple.
The British series also irked some viewers for its quite graphic displays of homosexual sex, which are surprisingly - and thankfully - left pretty much intact in the American show. If this version of the series has one redeeming value it's the refreshingly erotic displays of male sexuality. You go, boys!
Having said that, the downside, of course, is the lack of originality in the U.S. version, not to mention just so-so performances.
In the U.K. version you couldn't take your eyes off the outrageously self-centred Brian character, and you just wanted to take Michael home and fix him a meal. Here, these guys are just part of the scenery.
If you've already enjoyed the crackling, campy British Queer as Folk, only tune in to see Gless gone to seed.
If you didn't see the first version, this one is better than nothing.
'Gays Suck: QAFolk Doesn't Quite Make the Hype'
The Montreal Mirror
by Matthew Hays
January 18, 2001
As it turns out, there was good reason to be nervous about an American version of a British TV miniseries. Queer as Folk, the mega-hyped, no-holds-barred gay-soaper remake featuring hunky actors, copious subplots and titillating sex scenes, will finally hit Canadian airwaves this week.
And the news, while not entirely bad, can hardly be considered good either. The trio return, somewhat recognizable in their American versions, with main plot points intact. Boy-next-door type (Hal Sparks) has ongoing crush on best friend (Gale Harold), who's white-hot and unforgivably self-obsessed; 17-year-old Randy Harrison becomes fixated on Harold after a one-night stand. Moving in and out of the storyline are concerned parents, queenie roommates, an overdosing insecure type and a lesbian couple who've just given birth (the self-obsessed stud donated the sperm).
So sensitive were the creators of this series to the potential charge of diluting the sexual extremity of the British series, they've actually upped the ante here. There are straightforward depictions of rimming and fucking, taking TV (albeit cable TV) to greater limits than its British predecessor did.
But something strange happens in the Yankee Queer as Folk. So concerned about the steaminess of the show (and we wouldn't want to forget about that, seeing as that's what's going to bait people into writing extensively about the show, allowing for tons of free publicity), the folks behind Queer as Folk seem to have forgotten about the actual script.
This is, without a doubt, one of the most uneven bits of writing I've witnessed, ever. When a sensitive and well-handled scene occurs (and there are a few, including the overdose scene, which is undeniably moving), it is invariably followed within a minute or so by a stupid, thoughtless scene, littered with idiotic one-liners and cardboard stereotypes (yeah, yeah, I know Richard Dyer's argument about stereotypes being used in positive ways--that ain't what's happening here).
Thus we are left with a mishmash of empty, vapid gay types, stumbling their way through a barrage of bad dialogue and often-clumsy setups. After 30-odd years of the gay liberation movement, this is the progress we've been waiting for? American warmed-up leftovers, all of which were shot in Hollywood's fave banana republic (otherwise known as Canada)? Good Christ, just stuff me back in the closet and I'll vote for Stockwell Day in the next election.
'QAFolk: Looking for a Breakthrough? You'll Have
by Anthony Tommasini
January 14, 2001
Like many gay people, my partner and I added Showtime to our cable service last month just so that we could see "Queer as Folk." How could we miss out on it, given all the advance fuss?
For months, a multimillion-dollar promotional campaign touted the program — an Americanized version of a provocative British series about an extended group of gay and lesbian friends dealing with sex, self-acceptance and each other — as a breakthrough for mainstream television. The sex scenes were said to be so hot that it had been hard to get actors to audition. To reach the target audience, Showtime sponsored floats at gay pride parades and hosted "coming out" parties in gay nightclubs.
Given my line of work, I am usually resistant to such hype. But despite the advances of recent years — award-winning comedies like "Will and Grace," the subplot about the soulful gay teenager Jack on the hugely popular drama "Dawson's Creek" — gay people are still starved for gay programming. We'll tune in to almost anything, hoping for the best.
"Queer as Folk" finally arrived on Dec. 3, and there have been a lot of muddled reactions to it from both gay and straight perspectives. Now, my partner and I — a busy doctor and a middle-aged music critic who do not exactly travel in the fast lane of New York gay life — may not be representative. But so far we have found the show a huge disappointment, with its retro depiction of gay cruising and its obsessions with youth, abs and drugs. A breakthrough? It seems more a setback.
What Showtime promised was an in-your-face drama told from the perspectives of gay people, no apologies, no straight characters serving as go-betweens. "Queer as Folk" would take mainstream America through the closed door of the real gay community.
That door turns out to be the entrance to Babylon, an invitation-only gay disco on an alluring strip of hot spots, a veritable Shangri-La of gay sex that we are expected to believe is in downtown Pittsburgh. Once inside, as laser lights scan the hall, we see the inevitable shirtless, sweaty hunks gyrating on the dance floor. Up on platforms go-go boys dressed only in glitter and G- strings bump and grind. In back rooms, pills and sex are rampant. Then we hear the voice of the character who will become our guide, our Everyman, say: "The thing you need to know is, it's all about sex." This is the main theme of "Queer as Folk": being gay is all about sex. And on this trip you will see it all: gay images, exploits, pinings and positions.
But as portrayed here, the characters seem the same familiar roster of exasperating stereotypes. Take our narrator, Michael Novotny, played by Hal Sparks, a self-described "semi-cute-boy-next-door type," an assistant manager at a Kmart-type chain store. Michael, meant to be earnest and disarmingly insecure, seems to spend almost every night at Babylon with Emmett, his flamboyant, tart-tongued roommate, who works at a designer clothing store, and Ted, his self-deprecating friend, who has an accounting job he hates. On most nights the three huddle together at the bar, rating the physiques of the guys that pass them by, and watching the seduction rituals on the dance floor, especially as practiced by the master, Brian, their narcissistic, sex- fiend friend.
Brian, played by Gale Harold, gets away with being completely awful to everyone because he is so completely hot and knows it. Michael has secretly ached for Brian ever since they had an unconsummated fondling session while looking at a picture of Patrick Swayze when they were 14. Not long into the first episode, Brian, nearly 30 and bitter about it, spots Justin, a winsome 17-year-old, and in no time hustles him home. Soon we see the first of the much-hyped breakthrough sex scenes.
True, the acts, anal and oral, have never been so casually presented on mainstream television. But, this being mainstream television, any glimpse of genitalia is assidulously avoided, and the promised shock is further undercut by the soft-porn quality of the directing. And Brian's point-by-point instructions to Justin, the adolescent newcomer played by Randy Harrison, come across as a stilted primer to straight Americans about what gay men do.
Everyone in my circle of gay friends is watching the series. We have to find out where's it going, what it's saying to Middle America about gay people and what it's impact may be. But the message so far is distressing.
No one seemed to go on dates in "Queer as Folk," at least until the most recent episode, last Sunday, when Michael had a strained dinner date with an older chiropractor. There is no courtship, no romance, no mystery. Just fantasy, come-ons, blunt advances, quick acceptance or rejection, and even quicker sex.
Michael's mother, Debbie, played by Sharon Gless, is an utter caricature. A chunky, raggedy-haired waitress at a local diner, she is an all-accepting earth mother to Michael and his friends, and chortles every time she dishes them a winking jibe about their randy sexual states. Debbie wears a vest festooned with gay rights buttons and cares at home for a stricken brother, who seems to be in the story just so "Queer as Folk" can nod dutifully to the topic of AIDS.
Yet, even with Debbie as a mother-defender, Michael is not "out" at work for fear of being fired. That's a potentially interesting complication. Perhaps his mother's aggressive acceptance is actually hard to take. Perhaps her activism makes him feel weak in comparison. But has the series explored his conflict?
No. Instead, the writers milk it for cheap laughs at the expense of straight people. Marlee, a bossy, homophobic middle-aged sales clerk at the store, who knows that a new employee, a pretty young woman named Tracy, finds Michael attractive, decides to play matchmaker. With a mock-effeminate voice and bent wrists, she asks the secretive Michael, "You do like girls, don't you?" Panicked, Michael is bamboozled into joining Marlee, her beer-bellied pals Stan and Harv and the smitten Tracy at a local sports bar. There, this supposedly nice guy feigns interest in the Steelers and in Tracy, whom we are invited to laugh at for being so clueless and pathetic.
True to stereotype, the only two lesbian characters are in a committed relationship. Melanie, a hot-tempered lawyer, lives with sweet, flaxen-haired Lindsay, who has just had a baby boy, thanks to a sperm donation from Brian. The father wants little to do with raising his child. A baby is just a "wrinkled little time clock ticking away reminding you you are getting older by the minute, by the second," he says.
A rabbi comes to the lesbian household to perform a bris. When Michael arrives for the ceremony, he is touched by all the devoted lesbian couples there. "Makes me want to be a lesbian," he says to himself. But when, in a voiceover, he thinks about what he would have to engage in were he a lesbian, Michael, grossed out, cracks another crude (and unprintable) joke. It's an awful moment. Mr. Sparks seems at his most uncomfortable when he has to mouth the gratuitously coarse sex jokes that run through the script.
Anyway, you have to wonder about the relationship of the supposedly model lesbian couple. Melanie, who can't stand Brian, had argued vigorously against choosing him to father the child. Why did Lindsay insist? That Brian has an abundance of cute genes seems to matter more to Lindsay than coming to an agreement with her partner about the most important decision of their lives. At one point, the writers make Lindsay seem just another of Brian's enablers. "Brian does exactly as he wants, no apologies, no excuses," she says. "I've always admired that in him."
Brian, played with smug self-regard by Mr. Harold, is presented as a gay demigod who lords his rapacious sex life over his envious friends. "I have seen the face of God," young Justin tells his soul mate Daphne after his first night of sex, "and his name is Brian Kinney." Another time, as Brian whispers come-ons to a sexy guy on the dance floor and lures him quickly under his spell, an awestruck Emmett asks Michael: "How does he do it? What does he say?" Speaking with reverence, Michael responds: "We'll never know. But whatever it is, he says it for all of us." Come now.
If Michael, Emmett or Ted ever take a night off from the clubs to go to a flick or to dinner with a straight male or female friend, we never see it. Nothing in "Queer as Folk" bothers me more than the absence of straight people, of either sex, from this gay circle. It seems so unnatural, so at odds with the issues of inclusiveness and commonality that concern the gay community right now. And just when things are getting better. The suburban high school that my niece attends is one of thousands across the country where gay and straight student alliances are growing.
In a recent interview in Next magazine, Mr. Harrison was asked if "Queer as Folk" has a message. Not really, he said. "It is entertainment, but it hasn't been seen before, so it is a big deal in some ways."
So the big deal comes down to this: showing carefully cropped scenes of gay sex on national television. It was a more important breakthrough, and more moving to me, when Jack on "Dawson's Creek" finally conquered his shame and shyness and lovingly kissed the gay student he had been aching for, only to be tenderly rejected, just like heartsick adolescents of all persuasions.