The sitcom days of campy gay sidekicks and Jack Tripper of Three’s Company pretending to be gay so that he can have two female roommates have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Clichéd gay television is quickly becoming a distant memory. Leading this new age of fresh and groundbreaking gay-themed television is Queer as Folk, its brutal realism and
family of characters making it Sex and the City for the homosexual
Queer As Folk, the North American version, is based on Britain’s controversial series of the same name. The latest version, filmed in Toronto, Canada, is about the lives of a group of gay men and women living in Pittsburgh focusing on their careers, relationships, loves and ambitions. QAF is a provocative, profound, occasionally preachy, realistic, hilarious, heartbreaking and sometimes graphic portrayal of society that hasn't been seen on North American television since the original British version. The show is frank about sexuality and not judgmental about its characters’ morals.
The 22 episode series, now having completed its second season, kicked off the first season with music pulsating and go-go boys gyrating. Following a storyline similar to the one of the original QAF series, the North American reincarnation, mid-way through the first season, developed into its own as characters took on their own characteristics and subsequently storylines independent from those of the original British version.
Adapted for North American TV by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman with the show’s British creator, Russell Davies, acting as a consultant, Queer as Folk has everything you’d want in a well-oiled — in every sense of the word — serial. The show’s tangled plotlines are instantly addictive, the cast of mostly unknowns is pretty damn fabulous and the show has wit, wisdom and heartache to spare.
And yes, it's about sex but the series is not just about gay sex; it's about the bond gay sex creates. What makes the show provocative is it’s distinct society created by gay desire. But the bonds between these men and women resemble their relationships with their parents in all sorts of refracted ways. So what ultimately comes across is that gay life is the template for a new kind of family: a lot more flexible than the traditional model, but no less painful or binding.
Brian Kinney (Gale Harold), is a sexual animal, always on the prowl for his next conquest. Michael Novotny (Hal Sparks) is his best friend. Justin Taylor (Randy Harrison) is an 18-year-old boy whose life is changed one night when he experiences sex and what he thinks is love, for the first time. Ted Schmidt (Scott Lowell) is an accountant whose fatal flaw is a lust for 20-somethings who don’t return his interest. Emmett Honeycutt (Peter Paige) is the resident Queen' of the group who wears it with pride. Debbie Novotny (Sharon Gless) is Michael’s eccentric mother – vehemently proud of her gay son with a dash of quirkiness. Lindsay Peterson (Thea Gill), an art teacher and Melanie Marcus (Michelle Clunie), a lawyer, are a loving lesbian couple who decide to have a child fathered by Brian (whom Melanie despises), not realizing exactly how complicated and entwined their lives will become.
At the center of the show’s universe, is the unabashedly narcissistic Brian Kinney — cruel, irresponsible and irresistible. Played by Gale Harold, Brian is all boyish full-lipped beauty, with an almost predatory sexuality. When he’s on the screen, you can’t look at anyone else. Brian could easily have been a stereotypical slut. But Harold doesn’t overplay Brian’s shamelessly seductive antics or his moodiness; he gives an exquisitely nuanced and layered performance that gives you a glimpse and sense of Brian’s better nature and his deepest insecurities.
An advertising executive, Brian is a master of the come-on and the disposable desire. When he’s on the make, Brian drops his studied aloofness and gazes at his prey as if he’s the most fascinating person on earth. The word on Brian is that he never has the same guy twice. And he is most definitely a top. Brian represents tantalizing sexual freedom; he does exactly as he pleases and has gotten away with it until he spots the most delicious prey of all — a blond, cherry-ripe, suburban newbie teenager named Justin Taylor (Randy Harrison), who adores him at first sight.
The Brian-Justin story line is the show’s riskiest, and its most compelling. (The openly gay Harrison, who plays Justin, may look 17, but he’s 23.) You fear for the innocent boy, wandering into Brian’s clutches, especially when the older man takes him home and makes love to him, feeding him that favourite line of polished seductors everywhere: From now on, whenever you do this, you’ll think of me. Brian tries to unload Justin after their first tryst: “I don’t believe in love, I believe in fucking. It’s honest, it’s efficient, you get in and out with a maximum of pleasure and a minimum of bullshit,” he tells the love-struck kid. Michael, of course, ends up taking Justin under his wing and trying to convince him that he’s in over his head. But Justin keeps coming back to Babylon, enduring Brian’s snotty put-downs (“Hello, Dawson. How are things back at the creek?”) or, worse, his indifference.
It soon becomes apparent, though, that the bratty Justin can give as good as he gets, and Brian is intrigued. These two are locked in a dance of wills, and when Brian flashes a sleepy smile of sudden tenderness and breaks his rule about having the same guy twice, you wonder, does here ally care, or is he playing with Justin in a self-centered attempt to hold onto his own fleeting youth? This is the stuff of great soaps, not to mention great romance novels. Which isn’t to imply that “Queer as Folk” is a bodice-ripper; it’s just that it deals with heavy issues in a nimble way as our heroes variously come out, experience homophobia, struggle with the love/sex dichotomy, develop mad crushes, have their hearts broken, cope with aging and the loss of physical perfection and get over themselves – basically live the lives most homosexuals go through.
Then there's the endearing relationship between Michael and Brian. A friendship without limits. Michael going through life and relationship after relationship while still harbouring an unrequited childhood love for Brain. And let's not forget about Melanie and Lindsay, who shed a different light on the stereotypical lesbian relationship a loving relationship that is anything but. And then there's Emmett and of course Ted (everybody’s mercy ‘lay’) .
Queer as Folk doesn’t sugar coat these messy emotions, just as it doesn’t pass judgment on Brian’s recklessness or on what any of the characters do with their personal liberty, which is a very brave position for a TV series to take in a predominantly homophobic society. Instead of repeating the same well-meaning but vague TV-movie ideal that, gay or straight, we are all exactly the same, “Queer as Folk” shows us the many ways that we are not the same. And it expects heterosexual viewers to respect the difference.
It just doesn't celebrate gay life, it is life.