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'Queer as Folk' above average soap

Sunday, January 06, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Once it got past its "Look at us! Look at us! Two guys going at it over here!" attention-grabbing, sexed-up premiere, the Pittsburgh-set Showtime series "Queer as Folk" settled in to become an above average soap in its first season.

But instead of leaving viewers to wonder if Amanda will get back together with Jake, the big question was whether arrogant Brian (Gale Harold) would once again hook up with sassy, boyish Justin (Randy Harrison).

On the surface, little has changed in the show's second season premiere. The sex scenes remain graphic and too many of the characters are shallow. Viewers uncomfortable with a show about gay characters that are defined almost solely by their sexual orientation will continue to ignore "Queer as Folk."

The new season picks up where the old one ended - a predictable cliffhanger. Justin was the victim of a gay hate crime, hit in the head with a baseball bat as Brian looked on, unable to run to help him in time.

 
 
TV REVIEW

"Queer as Folk"

When: 10 tonight on Showtime.

Starring: Gale Harrold, Randy Harrison

   
 

TV shows, regardless of their agenda, often play to the fears of their target audience. If this was a Lifetime women's series, the cliffhanger would have been rape. If there was a show about an NRA member, a character would have been unable to defend himself during a break-in due to gun control laws.

Regardless of the obviousness of the "Queer as Folk" season-ender, the repercussions resonate with a dramatic believability that's eluded the show thus far. It's a significant improvement. Some of the characters and their relationships feel more real.

Brian, in particular, becomes more human. Previously an emotionally constipated jerk who reveled in hurting the feelings of others, Brian has been forced to grow and feel during Justin's recovery. He's actually willing to allow Justin past his hipper-than-thou, unfeeling facade.

Likewise, once Brian allows Justin to see this softer side of him, Justin becomes a lot less needy, and Brian finds he's not in control of the relationship as much as he once was.

Justin's conservative mother (Sherry Miller) also remains one of the show's more complex characters. The way she deals with her son, his sexual orientation and with Brian shows the depths of her love for Justin despite her misgivings about the life he leads.

But it wouldn't be "Queer as Folk" without someone pulling out a soap box and putting it to grandstanding use.

In tonight's premiere, lesbian couple Melanie (Michelle Clunie) and Lindsay (Thea Gill) attend the wedding of Lindsay's sister, who requests they both come with guys as dates to avoid "an undignified display of my private life," as Lindsay says.

It's hard to believe two characters so out and proud of their lifestyle would agree to this, and it's no more believable that Lindsay would ask Melanie to marry her while toasting her sister. Writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman may think a scene of Lindsay "getting back" at her sister is great drama, but it only makes Lindsay look like a nose-thumbing child.

The alleged Pittsburgh setting for "Queer as Folk" feels as much like Pittsburgh as, say, Toronto, where the show is actually filmed. Producers still make no effort to graft on the character of Pittsburgh, save for references in a few lines of dialogue.

"Some people may say the Grand Canyon or Big Sur, but I think some of the finest vistas to be found anywhere in the United States are right here in Pittsburgh," says Emmett (Peter Paige) as he surveys the shirtless, sweaty torsos writhing on the dance floor at the gay club Babylon.

"I'm the most fabulous fag in Pittsburgh," Brian says. "That is if it's possible to be fabulous in Pittsburgh."

Probably not. But "Queer as Folk" certainly wants to be fabulous in its depiction of carefree libidinous characters for whom sex is as meaningless and impersonal as a handshake.

When it explores the psychological underpinnings of its characters and their relationships, "Queer as Folk" succeeds. Too often that's sacrificed for a tawdry joke and gratuitous glimpses of flesh.


You can reach Rob Owen at emailaddress rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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