Lost among the flurry of new series pick-ups from the broadcast networks this week was the news that HBO has picked up a new, currently untitled series that will “revolve around three friends in San Francisco who explore the fun and sometimes overwhelming options available to a new generation of gay men.” The series is based on Michael Lannan’s feature script Lorimer and will feature Glee star Jonathan Groff and be helmed by Andrew Haigh, the director of the acclaimed independent film Weekend. Could this be the gay Girls or the gay Sex and the City — a possible successor to Queer as Folk that I’ve long been waiting for?
I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that since Queer as Folk ended it’s five-season run in 2005 there hasn’t been another show, with the exception of the short lived Noah’s Arc on Logo, that has put the lives of gay men at the center of the story. Sure, there have been an influx of gay characters on shows ranging from Scandal to Southland to Glee, but a show specifically about gay men, and the lives they lead? Hasn’t happened.
When the American adaptation of the British series Queer as Folk debuted on Showtime in the winter of 2000, it was groundbreaking in the truest sense of the word. Never hailed as a beacon of great drama, even by its most staunch supporters, it initially gained notoriety for its frank depiction of gay sex. And the sex was frank, often used to shock and, as the narrative deepened over the years, to provide insight into the characters and their relationships. But, as Caryn James wrote in The New York Times before the show premiered, “It’s not the sex but the gay point of view that makes Queer as Folk so radical. The series is like nothing else on television because never before has a mainstream American series assumed the perspective of gay characters, making no concessions to straight viewers.”
Unlike recent shows like The New Normal or Smash, or even Glee, where gay characters are central in what is still an essentially heterosexual world, there was no straight character in Queer as Folk to provide non-gay audiences an entree into this exotic existence. Brian, Justin, Michael, Ted, Emmitt, Lindsay and Melanie were all very gay, and as an audience you either got on board, or you didn’t watch. (Debbie, Michael’s mother and the only heterosexual regular character on the show, might as well have been gay considering her sensibilities.) Aside from the previously mentioned Noah’s Arc and Showtime’s lesbian themed The L Word, no other show has followed suit.
Lest it seem I am declaring Queer as Folk the best dramatic series of all time, it is important to recognize the show had its major deficiencies — the acting, writing and direction were all wildly inconsistent, and at times downright bad, through the years. It also did a terrible job of depicting gay men of color. But it also had its moving, beautiful and shocking moments, and as the only show in its genre, it still deserves major, major props.
Which brings me back to HBO’s new series. Of course, I know nothing about this show other than its description and artistic team, but I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. Haigh’s film Weekend, which depicts 48 hours in the lives of two men as they talk, have sex, get to know each other and say goodbye each other, was a total triumph — along with Ira Sachs’ Keep the Lights On, its my favorite gay film of the last decade. Groff, having gotten his start on Broadway in Spring Awakening, is an out gay actor, representing a new breed of performer viewed as a sex symbol both in spite of and because of his sexuality. And HBO, of course, has never shied away from honest, sometimes ugly depictions of real life.
And though I’m crossing my fingers for the new show’s creative and commercial success, I’m just happy it’s happening. It’s been almost 13 years since Queer as Folk debuted. Gay men have lives worth exploring in a medium that has proven itself capable of doing so. Let’s see what happens.
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