Queer as Folk list

Originally compiled in August, 2005.

Along with the Buffy spin-off Angel, Queer as Folk is the only long-running television series that I’ve watched from the very first episode, not missing a single episode along the way. While not up to the quality of Joss Whedon programs, or of something like My So-Called Life, I’ve never considered not watching it. While other series may have matched it in compelling characters and addictive, soap plotlines, none are quite as sexy, on such a regular basis, as Queer as Folk.

So as the series reaches the end of its five-year run, I herewith put forth my list of lists of all things QAF. (Note that QAF episodes are not titled; merely numbered. As that’s boring, I’ve decided to add my own titles to any referenced episodes.)

The Best Episodes

While not always great, QAF sometimes did achieve greatness.

1.1 Pilot

Justin and Brian in the pilot

Very much influenced by the British original, this first episode does an amazing job at introducing the major players—Michael, Justin, Lindsay, and Brian—and for making it clear that, contrary to early reports, it was not going to hold back on the explicit sex. Highly quotable, beautifully shot, so many memorable scenes and events (Justin meeting Brian, the birth of Gus, the rooftop, Brian’s loft) great soundtrack… Few television series have ever started with such a bang (pun only partly intended).

Brian [to Justin]: “Are you coming, or going? Or coming, and then going?”

3.14 Election Day

Rainbow flag in crowd

The happiest season finale ever, despite Ted’s predicament and Brian’s poverty, and also a very carefully constructed episode: note the Wizard of Oz switch from black and white to color, the different color coding for each storyline, and the fine acting all around.

Debbie: “Mourn the losses, because they are many. But celebrate the victories, because they are few.”

5.10 Babylon Explodes

Brian whispers to Justin

Yes, the timeline within the episode seems weird, but does that really matter? This exquisitely directed episodes leads us from a fun night at Babylon to the after-explosion horror (note Brian scanning the crowd for blondes), and on to the drama and quiet of the hospital, finally culminating in the three words that we and Justin have been waiting five years to hear.

Brian [to Justin]: “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

1.22 The Prom

Justin and Brian dance

Maybe a gay kid being bashed on the happiest day of his life by a homophobe is kind of a cliche, but that doesn’t stop this episode from being absolutely heart-breaking. Gale’s Brian speaks volumes with his eyes, Michael’s reaction is perfect, and the sudden cut back to the threesome’s happy dash down the same hospital corridors in 1.1 is gut-wrenching.

Michael [to Brian]: “You will always be young and you will always beautiful. You’re Brian Kinney, for fuck’s sake!”

4.13 We’re Going to Toronto and We’re Going to Get Married

Ben and Michael in confetti

A number of people didn’t like this episode, for some damn reason. Whatever. I found all the insider Toronto jokes (given that the series is filmed in Toronto) a real hoot, and who doesn’t love a good wedding? If I’d known then what a great personality (not to mention a hot look) Ben would develop in season five, I’d have been even happier about this. Great fun.

Debbie: “That’s the problem with Canadians. They’re so fucking polite!”

4.6 No Apologies, No Regrets?

Montage from Queer as Folk

A pivotal episode, quite shocking in its scope. Begins with a triumphant Brian toasting Kinnetic’s success (in a cleverly shot sequence) and ends with Brian facing cancer and Vic finally succumbing to AIDS. Ah, Vic. I still miss ya.

1.19 Lost

Hug montage, Queer as Folk

Particularly, of course, for the way it dealt with the death of Brian’s father and the friendship between Brian and Michael. Goes miles in helping you understand why Brian has trouble loving anyone (or believing they love him), why he hides his true feelings and personality, and why Debbie and Michael are so important to him.

Brian: “So long, Jack. You son of a bitch.”

2.2 Justin Remembers

Brian and Justin hug

Although the amateur psychology is a bit much (no one thinks to send the kid to a real therapist?), it’s still nice to see Brian trying to help Justin deal with his post-bashing trauma. Michael also takes steps toward greater independence—though he doesn’t know it yet.

Brian [to Justin]: “Then you turned around and smiled. Then I knew why Debbie calls you Sunshine.”

3.11 Swarming Stockwell

Protest

Though not popular with everyone, QAF’s greater focus on political issues in season 3 was popular with me. And this episode, in Stockwell’s attempt to appease the gay community is undercut by the characters highlighting the many crimes against gays that remain unsolved, is one of the best. And a big step in Brian’s redemption. In another welcome development, Hunter also moves in with Ben and Michael in this episode.

Jennifer: “Justin Taylor, my beautiful gay son. Attacked at his prom, left for dead. Police reported it as a simple assault instead of a hate crime, which it was. His attacker got off with community service.”

1.11 Michael’s 30th Birthday

Brian and Michael

Also largely borrowed from the British series, this episode about Brian dramatically convincing Michael that he needs to move on from his long-time infatuation is unforgettable. Also features the first lovely scene between Brian and Debbie—but it won’t be the last.

Debbie [to Brian]: “You couldn’t have pushed him softly. You had to shove him off a fucking cliff.”

2.7 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Lindsay and Brian on a bed

Though most definitely undercut by the Ted and Emmett web porn scenes (which I recommend fast-forwarding), and not especially strengthened by the tale of Lindsay’s parents crashing her debauched party, the story of Michael, Debbie, and Michael’s friends attempting and failing to come to terms with Ben’s HIV status is a highlight of Season 2.

Debbie [to Michael]: “You wanted a normal mother; well, you got one. I don’t want you seeing that man!”

Dumbest storylines

Even the biggest fans of QAF are able to admit that some of the stories just didn’t work: they were too implausible, too out-of-character—or just plain irritating. Here are the storylines that I had to just and grin while waiting for the good stuff to come around again. My focus here is on stories that continued for multiple episodes, as it seems a greater sin to invest long-term in wayward plotline.

Season 2: Ted’s web porn business. One of the worst plots in a quality show ever. And it went on for so long! It took years for Ted’s character (who had, you may recall, actually seemed sweet in season 1) to recover. When Ted lost boyfriends and respect due to his work—it was hard to symphathize. Because you kind of agreed he deserved it. That was the major crime. But add to that its being the source of multiple lame sex jokes, the fact that it forced Peter Paige into a porn role he hated, and simply showed no understand of how Internet business worked (forgivable only if the story is good), this plot was the worst thing about Queer as Folk’s worst season.

Brian on a bike

Season 4: Brian’s Liberty Ride. Perhaps I’ll feel differently after rewatching Season 4, but at first viewing, this story didn’t work for me. There wasn’t quite enough build-up to this being the culmination of Brian’s battle with cancer. Even though I realize it’s a hazard of filming this series during Toronto winters, it was still insane that they were riding in the snow. And with the Brian coming in last, with a broken rib and Michael at his side, spurred on by thoughts of Justin—they were just trying too hard to tug at the heartstrings.

Justin and Ethan

Season 2: Justin leaves Brian for Ethan. I’ve whined about this one before. Even though I didn’t mind it at the time, on rewatch, it just didn’t work. Too rushed, the only way to make this happen was to suddenly render Justin’s character less mature than he’d ever been. A plot that would have been fine had they given it a bit more time, and not made Brian and Justin so close right before this began.

Season 2: Death of Bickle and its aftermath. I was OK with Emmett having the relationship with Bickle. It got him out of the porn business, for one thing, and set up a recurring pattern for Emmett, of him being attracted to men who are struggling with accepting their own homosexuality. But having Bickle die during airplane sex was just kind of appalling. And then the whole thing about the inheritance—little drama, since we suspect they won’t keep Emmett wealthy. But the fact is, he had complete rights to that money. There was no evidence that Bickle wasn’t of sound mind; his wishes were clear. So for them to just cave and us to think of that as a victory? Not so much.

Season 1: Emmett’s “See the Light” foray. I appreciate the sentiment—give Peter Paige a real story, a real chance to act. And if the arc had been a little shorter, I might even have appreciated the story: Emmett gets AIDS scare, flirts briefly with a “get straight” organization before realizing it’s insane. But it going as far as it did, for as long as it did, just didn’t seem to work for that character. I could have seen Ted falling into this much more realistically than Emmett. But Ted’s speech to him was nice—a lovely moment in Season 1.

Characters I especially love

“People came for the queer, but they stayed for the folk.”—Peter Paige

In other words, we love the characters. I’ve said before that I love them all. And that’s basically true. But there are some I especially love.

1. Brian Kinney

Gale Harold as Brian Kinney

As though there was ever any doubt. Never mind what People magazine says—this is the sexiest man alive. But Gale Harold brought more to the character than animal magnetism. He retained a sense of dignity, even in somewhat silly scenes. He retained sympathy even when acting like an ass. Any character who got a scene with Brian instantly seemed more interesting, more exciting. Much like James Marsters, Gale seemed to have chemistry with everyone on the show, and a large reason it remained a cut above the average through its entire run.

2. Emmett Honeycutt

Emmett happens to figure in a large number of my least favourite storylines, yet remains perched atop my favourite characters list. In his own way, Emmett is as strong a character as Brian, and possibly even more confident. And he is so comfortable with himself, he just smashes the stereotype of the pitiful, effeminate queer. Played by a man who appears to be a genuinely wonderful person, Emmett’s big heart shines through every scene, however ridiculous. Paige brings great depth to a character that could so easily have been nothing but comic relief. We love Emmett. We want him to be happy. But we’re not worried about him. We know that no matter who he’s with, what problems he’s dealing with, he’ll be fine. Because he’s fine within himself.

3. Hunter

Allan Harris as Hunter

Ah, Hunter. They could build a whole show around Hunter. What do I love? I love that they didn’t make him soft and sappy in season 3, but pretty much the big pain in the ass (no pun intended) that a street kid most likely would be. I love that he turned out to not be gay. And how that just further complicated life, as an HIV-positive ex-prostitute would find a much more comfortable home in the gay world than in the straight one. And that his reaction to that was to take off once again. And that he came back. Damn. As I said, there are so many more stories here…