Queer as Folk series review

Series ran 2000–2005

Queer as Folk a Showcase original series

Premise: The lives and loves of a group of gay friends, most of whom are in their early thirties. Filmed in Toronto but set in Pittsburgh.

Commentary

Season 1 (mid-point)

4th favourite show

I was hooked on this after one episode, and have continued to be interested in the characters, particularly Brian. (Note that I never saw the British version, so I can’t compare.) It has its plotting problems—notably actions that are surprising simply because they’re too sudden and unmotivated—but otherwise a worthwhile 60 minutes.

Season 1 (end)

3rd favourite show

The most explicit scenes of any TV show I’ve ever seen (including The Sopranos and Sex in the City) didn’t quite hide the fact that some of the plot twists didn’t fully make sense.

Nevertheless, it was hard not to develop an interest in these characters. And I have to say that the season ender was a heartbreaker.

Season 2 (mid-point)

Honourable mention, because it’s only two episodes in—but both were good.

Season 2 (end)

9th favourite show: B-

This series actually still has two episodes to go, but we’ll take a stab at it anyway.

Strengths

  • It’s unabashedly sexy.
  • Has gathered a compelling group of characters, particularly Brian Kinney, played by the talented Gale Harold.
  • Every once in a while, it actually does address important issues in a sensitive and compelling way.

Weaknesses

  • A lot of the storylines, particularly those given to Ted and Emmett, are just ridiculous. Job as a nude maid? Great acclaim through a porn site? Just giving up the $10 million gift your lover wanted you to have? A relationship that begins, progresses, and ends in a single episode? Hello, what?
  • Even if the storylines aren’t insane, they are often presented with a complete lack of subtlety. You got your theme of week, and you get bashed over the head with it.

So all in all, this program is—at least sometimes—the worst-written of the ones I regularly watch. But it’s also the sexiest, so I’m not going anywhere.

Season 3 (mid-point)

Most Improved Show award

For some reason—possibly the addition of gay playwright Brad Fraser to the writing staff—this show has taken a dramatic leap in quality this season, correcting much of season 2’s wrongs.

Ted and Emmett. When we left him last year, Ted had become the owner of a successful Internet porn Web site, a plot that led to a lot of dumb jokes and frankly made this previously sweet character kind of repulsive. This season he’s already lost said porn business in a public scandal, leading to his juicy decline into despair and alcohol. His feelings of failure are only compounded by the fact that lover Emmett, an even sweeter character who last year suffered through a whole series of humiliating situations and plotlines (bottomless waiter, porn star, lover’s death in airplane bathroom…), is become a respected party planner. You go, Emmett.

Michael and Ben. Ben’s HIV-positive status gave Michael and Debbie some good material last season, but didn’t do much for Ben himself. The character was pretty much a nonentity, impossible to care about. This season, he’s actually had stuff to do. I don’t understand everything he’s doing (using steroids?), but he is coming across as a bit of a compulsive personality, which beats having no personality at all. I’m a bit confused about Michael’s reaction to Justin this season—is he still supposed to be jealous?—but maybe that will become clearer as the season progresses.

Melanie and Lindsay. Last year’s marriage plot was OK, but the foray into threesomes seemed to be all about showing us more girl-on-girl action. This year, they are trying to juggle careers and motherhood—a much more believable approach that more of the audience can relate to.

Justin and Brian. Alone among the cast, these two didn’t go through anything too absurd or embarrassing last year. This year, it’s been a lot of fun seeing the two of them slide back to each other. And Brian’s plotline of helping to get a conservative politician elected may be the best work-related plot he’s ever had. Wonder if Mike Harris inspired that idea? (Harris had a number of gay men as political advisors.)

Season 3 (end)

The end was not disappointing, carrying through the set-up plotlines in an interesting and compassionate way. Most exciting, probably, was the rehabilitation of Brian Kinney, largely through the influence of Justin: it’s Spike and Buffy all over again, only this time Spike gets the girl (so to speak).

Not everyone liked the street kid that Michael and Ben took in, but I thought his portrayal was pretty realistic. Those kids aren’t going to be all sweetness and light. I’m not sure what to make of his fleeing from his mother, but it’s certainly another reason to tune in next year.

It was a bit bizarre seeing the stick-thin Melanie push her stomach out to simulate pregnancy, but in general, this is one pregnancy plotline I don’t have a problem with.

And Ted and Emmett—and now Blake. About time we had a new love triangle on this show.

Season 4

Queer as Folk has always been uneven. Certain weaknesses of the series have been picked up on by fans, and rightly so. Notable among these:

  • The bizarre timeline. How much time has passed since the series started? That seems to vary slightly with each character and plot. Don’t try to work it out, it will make you crazy.
  • The “let’s run through gay issues one at a time” structure. While I felt that the addition of more political stories really benefitted the show in Season 3, particularly compared to the somewhat porn-y Season 2, Season 4 almost came off like a checklist: Bug hunters. Check! Closeted athletes. Check! Gay marriage. Check!
  • Related to the above was the way of tackling each issue: a fairly dull setup episode to “introduce” the issue, and conclusions that often seemed too abrupt, in order to make way for the next issue.

Despite all that, the characters kept me coming back each week and generally enjoying the experience. Let’s run through how each was stick-handled through the issues, shall we?

Brian. This was the year of Brian’s increasingly vulnerability—financial, emotional, and physical. Nothing was more compelling this year than watching Brian struggle with testicular cancer, a disease that strikes at the very heart of his sense of self. Seeing this man really learn to open up to so many in his life was really rather stunning.

So it’s really unfortunate that the dénoument was so disappointing. His inability to get an erection? That should have been monumental, not a near-joke. (Though it was admittedly impossible not to smile the “God”-induced gift of blood flow.) The bike race? Some nice moments, but insufficiently motivated, and a bit too cheesy.

Justin. Justin’s flirtation with the Pink Posse, while somewhat distributing, was probably yet another necessary corrective to Season 2, which suggested that he was emotionally “cured” of his bashing once he was able have sex with Brian again. Maybe not so much. But in this case, I’m fine that we just moved on from that story, without mentioning it again, once the confrontation with Hobbs was over.

Now Justin has a big cliffhanger: does he move in with Brian, or does he move to LA? Or does he pick a third option, and try to have it all via long-distance relationship? All in all, a fairly tame ending to the season, with nothing of the emotional depths of the first and third season finales.

Michael and Ben. Since almost all their stories this year were couple ones, I’ll cover these two together. First of all, I don’t think Ben’s unattractive jealousy about Michael’s success was resolved to my satisfaction (what, we’re all good now because Ben didn’t sleep with the icky student?). But I have to say I still loved how the wedding was handled. The ceremony in Toronto, the party on the road, the problem at the border, Debbie’s decision, even the final swirl onto their ringed fingers—just all seemed a nice dramatization of the issue. And Michael’s increasing maturity looks good on him.

Hunter. Doesn’t this kid get all the good lines, huh? The “Hunter isn’t gay after all” story was good. Michael’s stunned reaction was a bit obvious, but funny nonetheless. And that the girl’s parents weren’t freaked by Hunter having two Dads was good also; certainly the appropriate setup to their definitely becoming freaked at knowing Hunter is HIV positive after life as a gay prostitute. But my dears, talk about cutting off a dramatic plotline prematurely. Hunter really does have an epic problem here. Given his status, he actually would be better off being gay. Why is he so smiley and happy for the last three episodes?

Emmett. Four years in and it still seems tough to find good stuff for Emmett to do. The pink fairy stuff was just pointless. The big affair with the football player was somewhat confusing, though the guy did have a nice body. But it really seemed more about the issue than about Emmett. The best storyline was his initial hostility toward Ted, their gradual reconciliation, and renewed friendship (but only friendship). Still, even there it seems we missed a step, as one week they were making tentative overtures, and the next they appeared to be best of buds.

Ted. Got to give them some kudos for accomplishing what was seeming to be near impossible: getting us to like Ted again. Certainly helped to have in frequent proximity to Brian, as any character who does immediately benefits in getting much more interesting scenes. So now that Ted has little dignity again, maybe he could, just once, have a decent relationship that he doesn’t mess up?

Lindsay. Well, if any character was suitable for exploring the issue of bisexuality (not to mention, perhaps, some unrequited feelings for Brian?), Lindsay is it. Except that it didn’t really get explored. Lindsay has the affair with the artist guy—something that would have been more understandable had the guy been better looking and less of an ass, but maybe they wanted to make sure we wouldn’t be encouraging Linds to leave Mel—but that just seems to be a fancy reason to once again have Lindsay and Mel break up just as a new baby comes along. Is the affair the issue? Or is Lindsay just not gay enough for Mel? Maybe these two should try counseling instead of breaking up each time the going gets tough.

Mel. Poor Mel didn’t have much to do this year, did she? Her one case she has to compromise on, then she’s off being pregnant while Lindsay flirts with artist boy. Maybe she’ll get her own story next year.

Debbie. In her fight with Vic and subsequent treatment of Brian, Debbie flirted with dislikability this year. And did I blink and miss exactly how she got back together with Horvath? Oh well. It is good to see Debbie move on from her intense focus on brother and son.

Vic. Damn, Vic. Despite the illness hanging over the past four years, his death was still an absolute stunner. Especially happening in that one episode, where so much other stuff also happened. Wow. I’m not sure what to make of his subsequent appearances in Brian’s dreams, however…

Season 5

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

Five years and 81 episodes later, the departure of Queer as Folk has left me in a bigger funk than the departure of Buffy or Angel did, which I was not expecting. I think some of the blame lies with the last 10 minutes of the last episode. A good episode overall, one which satisfyingly focused mostly on redefining Justin and Brian’s relationship. But the imagery at the end—with the disappearing Justin and the Brian dancing alone—was so strong and affecting, it became easy to forget everything that came before. They hadn’t broken up; in fact, they seemed closer and more in love than ever. They just weren’t together physically. But with it being the last time and all, it just felt that they weren’t together, period.

A bit of a mistake, I think, as I believe they were going for the triumphant ending.

Anyway. I’m sure I’ll get out of my funk eventually.

Cast

Stars Hal Sparks as Michael Novotny and Gale Harold as Brian Kinney.

Co-stars Michelle Clunie as Melanie Marcus; Robert Gant as Ben Bruckner (S2–S3); Thea Gill as Lindsay Peterson; Sharon Gless as Debbie Novotny; Randy Harrison as Justin Taylor; Scott Lowell as Ted Schmidt; Peter Paige as Emmett Honeycutt; Jack Wetherhall as Uncle Vic Grassi; and Chris Cooper as Dr. David (S1).