The spring television season has already gotten off to an inspirational start with “When We Rise” an epic miniseries on ABC about the gay rights movement in the United States. Over four nights, starting last Monday and ending tonight (Friday, March 3), the show tells the interwoven stories of several prominent LGBT activists. Written by Oscar-winning writer Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”), the show stars Guy Pearce, Whoopi Goldberg, Rachel Griffiths, Mary Louise Parker and Michael K. Williams. If you missed any of it, go here.
Although the new CBS legal drama “Doubt” was cancelled after two episodes, it made media history by having a transgender actor play a transgender series regular on a broadcast television show. Actor and activist Laverne Cox played attorney Cameron Wirth; the show’s publicity describes Wirth as a “transgender Ivy League graduate who fights passionately for her clients since she’s experienced injustice first hand.” It’s a shame the network didn’t give the show more time to develop a following.
On the CW, the new series “Riverdale,” based on the Archie comics, includes openly gay high school student Keven Keller (Casey Cott). Keller has a strong relationship with his supportive father, the town sheriff who is investigating the central murder, and has recently acquitted a love interest. It airs Thursdays at 9 p.m.
On Sunday, March 5, whirlwind Ryan Murphy will turn to Hollywood history with “Feud.” For eight episodes on FX, Murphy and company will revisit the famous Hollywood grudge match between legendary stars Joan Crawford (Murphy regular Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon). The series starts with the tumultuous filming of the camp classic “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” (taken as a straight-up thriller in its day) and follows the fight until their deaths.
Series regulars include Judy Davis as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, Alfred Molina as director Robert Aldrich, Stanley Tucci as producer Jack L. Warner and a delightful Jackie Hoffman as Crawford’s maid, Mamacita. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates appear as Olivia de Havilland, Geraldine Page and Joan Blondell respectively to offer hilarious alcohol-fueled barbs about the combatants.
Meanwhile, Murphy is busy on his other television series. He recently announced that season seven of “American Horror Story” will revolve the 2016 presidential election. Fans of “Scream Queens” are anxiously wondering if the show will be renewed or cancelled in the wake of falling ratings.
Later this month Lady Gaga will be the guest judge on the season nine premiere of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” The last queen standing will win the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar” and a cash prize of $100,000; past winners (including Bianca Del Rio, Bob the Drag Queen and Sharon Needles) have turned their titles into fame and fortune on stages and screens across the country. The season moves to VH1 for season nine and will premiere March 24 at 8 p.m.
Meanwhile, World of Wonder Productions has revealed plans for two original unscripted series starring “Drag Race” alums. Justin Johnson and Jay Jackson, aka Alyssa Edwards and Laganja Estranja, will star in “Haus of Edwards,” a mash-up of “Dance Moms” and “Drag Race” featuring “diva dancers” and “deeply involved moms.” Matthew Sanderson, or Detox Icunt, will headline “Detox’s Life Rehab” where Sanderson and celebrity guests offer life advice. Both series a digital release on World of Wonder’s YouTube channel in late April.
On Thursday, April 6, Logo will host the TV debut of “Strike A Pose,” last year’s sequel to “Truth or Dare,” the controversial 1991 documentary that followed the lives of Madonna and her back-up dancers during the “Blond Ambition Tour.” Directed by Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan, the award-winning film catches up with the six surviving dancers 25 years later.
Premiering later this spring on Logo is “Fire Island.” Produced by Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, the miniseries is described as a love letter to the Pines. The docuseries follows a group of young New York City professionals who leave behind the stress of their big city lives and escape to the “magical sun-soaked oasis.”
Margaret Atwood’s landmark dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” is brought to stunning and horrifying life as a Hulu series that premieres on Wednesday, April 26. In an all-too near future marked by environmental disasters and political unrest, an extreme Christian movement has seized control of the United States government. All dissent is brutally silenced; gay men are executed and lesbians are forced to work in secret brothels or toxic clean-up sites.
The few remaining fertile women are forced into sexual slavery as handmaids, concubines for the elite men and their sterile wives. Elisabeth Moss turns in a searing performance as Offred, the handmaid who is forced to serve Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), a former televangelist. The outstanding cast also includes out actor Samira Wiley as Moira, Offred’s lesbian bff from the time “before”; Alexis Bledel as the handmaid Ofglen, who cautiously reveals that she is a lesbian; Nick Minghella as Nick, the Commander’s chauffeur; and Ann Dowd in a chilling performance as Aunt Lydia, one of the “aunts” who break the handmaids into submission.
On Friday, April 28, Netflix will launch a new series based on the brilliant 2014 satire “Dear While People.” Written and directed by Justin Simien, the movie tracked a tension-filled year in the lives of four African-American students on a predominantly white college campus. Openly gay story series creator Simien says the 10-episode television show follows the same four characters and picks up where the film left off.
The groundbreaking character Lionel Higgins is still trying to balance being black and gay. Sam White is still hosting the controversial radio show that gives the series its title. Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell) is still struggling to define himself in the shadow of his father, the Dean. And, Coco Connors is still looking for fame and fortune.
The trailer for the series spurred a flurry of Internet trolling from the alt-right and threats of a Netflix boycott. Simien said he was grateful that the controversy helped promote his show.
Diversity watchdogs continue to praise several continuing series for the inclusion of sexually diverse characters. As a start, the list includes “Modern Family,” “General Hospital,” “Days of Our Lives, “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “Orange Is the New Black,” “Transparent,” “Grace and Frankie” and “The Real O’Neals” which recently won the Dorian Award for Unsung TV Show of the Year from the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association. All are currently airing with no major changes to their queer content.
A few other odds and ends you may have heard about: “The Good Wife” has ended its run but CBS has given pilot orders to “Killer Instinct,” starring and executive produced by Alan Cumming, a “Good Wife” cast member. It’s in development.
A Kickstarter campaign to bring back a fourth season of “Dante’s Cove: the Next Generation” was unsuccessful. Sadly, no news there.
Netflix has acquired the rights from Bravo to do a reboot of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” but no further details have been announced.
Logo’s “Finding Prince Charming” was renewed for a second season. It should return in the fall.