I’ve been watching gay television since Steven Carrington was a ’mo on “Dynasty.” I cried when a gay son died of AIDS in “An Early Frost,” rejoiced when Jack slipped Ethan the tongue on “Dawson’s Creek” and melted as Patrick married David on that other “Creek” — Schitt’s.
Then there was “Queer as Folk.” I got here of age as a gay man watching two versions: The ten-episode original that first aired in Britain in 1999 and the five-season American remake that premiered a yr afterward Showtime.
I’d never seen anything prefer it. Among the actors were gay and others weren’t, and other people debated whether that was good or bad. (They still do.) The American version was on a serious cable outlet. Each versions had ensembles of gay characters who were of their late 20s like me. We were gay and concrete and went on wonderful dates with terrible guys and had robust sex lives.
A latest “Queer as Folk” made its debut earlier this month on Peacock, however it isn’t a reimagining, because it’s billed. It’s a restart. Set in Recent Orleans, the characters include people who find themselves transgender, nonbinary and disabled, played by out, mostly unknown actors of many colours. Kim Cattrall and Juliette Lewis play mothers. It even has a Pulse-style nightclub massacre in Episode 1, in case you would like more trauma plots in your TV eating regimen.
I couldn’t get into it. Since the creators never fully found out how one can make their characters complex beyond outlines of identity. (A friend couldn’t determine if “Queer as Woke” or “Woke as Folk” would have been a greater title.) The show’s made-for-TV friend group has the emotional depth of strangers at freshman orientation. The actors imagine of their lines, but they don’t all the time act them believably.
In that sense, this latest “Queer as Folk” joins the ranks of other major queer and queer-friendly revivals and reboots that lately have overextended themselves in service of the otherwise admirable goal of diversifying major casts that originally were mostly white and cisgender — people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
Similar criticism has circled “The L Word: Generation Q,” a revival of the hit Showtime series “The L Word.” In a critique of Season 2, The Los Angeles Times wrote that “the optics of representation can only accomplish that much when narratives are one-dimensional, fractured or guided by outdated tropes.” “And Just Like That,” the “Sex and the City” revival, made related mistakes searching for Queer Bushwick’s approval.
“The performance of diversity”: That’s how Julia Himberg, an associate professor of film and media studies at Arizona State University, described what happened with “And Just Like That” and “Generation Q.” (She had not seen the brand new “Queer as Folk.”) Himberg, a lesbian, is the writer of “The Recent Gay for Pay: The Sexual Politics of American Television Production.”
“Representation matters,” she said. “But when it’s disconnected from a deeper story line or a deeper investment within the characters or the standard of the writing isn’t good, that has an impact on audiences’ ability to hook up with the show.”
I agree. I feel we’re at a spot — please, allow us to be at a spot — where it’s now not enough that there’s a queer show with characters who appear like you on it; diversity have to be the baseline, not the finish line. And so, what began as a recent reporting project to Recent Orleans for a taping of the brand new “Queer as Folk” changed into a deeper inquiry, including conversations with friends, academics and others outside the production.
The excellent news is, in the event you are a queer one that finally sees yourself on television in the brand new reboot, it might not matter whether it’s good or bad — being seen means the world. When you don’t just like the show, you have got the posh, a long time within the making, of watching latest and original queer series just like the latest hit Netflix show “Heartstopper,” an example of how diversity and good writing — thoughtful, complex, lived-in — can work together.
Pain vs. puppy love
“Heartstopper” offers an accessible and aspirational story — a mixture that appears to be working. (Amid slowing revenue and layoffs, Netflix has already renewed it for 2 more seasons.) It seems that what a whole lot of folks want immediately isn’t a commemoration of queer pain, but a romance about puppy love.
Based on Alice Oseman’s best-selling graphic novel, it’s a minimalist and escapist series that the entire family can enjoy, depending on the family. It integrates richly drawn characters who’re Black, Asian and transgender, and their identities are matter of fact, not matters of trauma.
Its signature heart-melters are animated butterflies that circle the leading (white) characters, Nick (Kit Connor) and Charlie (Joe Locke). I do know those butterflies — is there any queer one that doesn’t? — because they perched on my shoulder once I fell for my (straight) best friend in highschool. They’re the identical butterflies Will has for Mike on “Stranger Things,” but neither boy fully understands that yet.
Audiences had the same selection when Showtime took a risk with “Queer as Folk,” arriving two years into the 11-season run of one other groundbreaking show: the NBC sitcom “Will and Grace.”
Discuss two gay Americas. The assimilationist “Will and Grace” held America’s hand and whispered: Every little thing shall be fantastic. “Queer as Folk” showed us butt stuff and barked: Look out.
Openly gay characters had already been on television as far back as 1971, when on “All within the Family,” Archie Bunker learned his friend Steve (Philip Carey) was gay. On YouTube I’ve been catching up with “Brothers,” an neglected Showtime comedy (1984-89) with out gay characters — a brave display of gayness in a previous era of spiteful attitudes and a cruel virus.
I don’t keep in mind that show but I remember growing up closeted within the ’80s and out within the ’90s. Back then, I’d watch any show with a gay character. Even when the choices were paltry, I watched. In fact I watched.
Stephen Dunn, the brand new “Queer as Folk” creator (and an executive producer, author and director), watched, too. He recalled being 12 and squinting at scrambled broadcasts of the British “Queer as Folk” that got here through Canadian television late at night at his family’s home in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
“It was electric to see these bodies and these people kissing,” said Dunn, who directed the gay coming-of-age film “Closet Monster” (2016). “It was my first exposure to a queer person.”
Dunn told me this during a tour of the “Queer as Folk” set in March. Earlier, I watched the actress Jesse James Keitel shoot a scene wearing a T-shirt that said, “A Woman With out a Penis Is Like an Angel Without Wings” — except the word wasn’t “penis” but a vulgar understudy.
“Badass,” I believed: a transgender actress starring with other transgender and nonbinary actors playing transgender characters in a trans-inclusive show within the hands of Jaclyn Moore, a transgender woman and an executive producer and author.
That flexing of transgender might was a welcome sign that this wasn’t going to be the “Queer as Folk” I got here of age with. Dunn told me he didn’t and couldn’t make the show be every thing to each queer person, but that he and his writers were “sick of seeing glossy, perfect, protected depictions of queer people.”
It was exciting that a latest generation was going to have a “Queer as Folk” to call its own that didn’t appear like what the queer TV landscape looked like circa Y2K: white, cisgender, male, gay. Keitel later told me her character, Ruthie — a former party girl and latest mom — gave her the prospect to play a transgender woman with a full-frontal nude scene that she described as “empowering and sexy, and a vulnerable moment.”
“That is the body I walk around in day-after-day,” she later said by phone. “Too often, narratives around trans bodies are rooted in shame and the negative. It was thrilling.”
Devin Way, who plays the jock heartbreaker Brodie, told me there “was no way we could solid people of color and the attitude not have shifted.”
“I don’t know what you appear like, Erik,” said Way, who’s gay. “But in the event you’re not a biracial guy from the South, then our lives are going to look totally different. Once you’re not focused on one group of individuals, it radically shifts every thing.”
I called Russell T. Davies, the out creator of the British “Queer as Folk,” to ask why he had given his blessing to this version. (He’s an executive producer.) He said it was partly since the show was so politically minded at a time when “every thing we established is under an lively and intelligent threat,” citing America’s “Don’t Say Gay” bills.
“No person talks about an excessive amount of straight content or measures the straight material on TV,” he added. “Queer stories might be as varied as queer people.”
A great form of privilege
I wish I liked this “Queer as Folk” greater than I do, because I used to be rooting for it. The creators asked themselves “What hasn’t ‘Queer as Folk’ done yet?” after which made that show. But to my eyes, it’s burdened by an “unseemliness of trying too hard,” to borrow a phrase from the essayist Chuck Klosterman in his latest book “The Nineties.”
Still, I hope “Queer as Folk” changes the lifetime of a 12-year-old boy in St. John’s. If it doesn’t, possibly “Heartstopper” will. Or “Orange Is the Recent Black,” or “Looking,” or another of the numerous nuanced, easily streamable portraits of queer characters and stories which have cropped up previously decade.
Or whatever’s next. I’m looking forward to “Uncoupled,” coming to Netflix on July 29, with Neil Patrick Harris as a wealthy Recent Yorker in his 40s who navigates single life after being dumped by his longtime partner.
It won’t change my life, and I’m over stories about wealthy white guys, gay or straight. Nevertheless it’s nice to see that Netflix hasn’t forgotten that gay men over 30 exist.
Discuss privilege: To have access to so many queer shows and never enough hours. To observe anytime and anywhere, not on a bootleg VHS tape, which is how I watched the British “Queer as Folk.” To attach with other queer fans of all colours and genders on social media.
To observe with friends at home, not within the hospital, which is where many young gay men spent their nights not way back. “It’s a Sin,” Davies’s heartbreaking AIDS-themed series, reminded us last yr that there are missing friends and lovers who would have wanted nothing greater than an evening at home with an excessive amount of queer television.
How different their lives, and mine, would have been if we’d had the posh of adjusting the channel.