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TV ready to unleash array of LGBT themes, characters

Prominent critics on their most-anticipated new shows

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gay-friendly television shows, gay news, Washington Blade

Several new gay-friendly television shows are on the way.

At the recent television critics press tour, there were many new gay-friendly television shows intriguing critics. The Los Angeles Blade’s Susan Hornik talked with LGBT journalists about their take on the new shows.

Trish Bendix, managing editor at INTO

Most excited about “VIDA,” from queer Latinx playwright-turned-TV writer Tanya Saracho. Not only does the show have an all Latinx writers room and Latinx actors, but the plotline and several major characters are LGBTQ. Rarely do we see Latinx leads on TV, and this is a Starz show which means it will be gritty, sexy and boundary-pushing.
Also, Alan Cumming-starrer “Instinct” will also be of interest, though I’m concerned with CBS’s not-so-great track record on LGBTQ inclusion. Still, having an out bisexual man playing a gay lead on a primetime network show is pretty exciting.

Jim Colucci, author of the 2016 New York Times best-seller ‘Golden Girls Forever’

The depictions of LGBT characters are more plentiful and more well-rounded than the days of “The Golden Girls,” which was a LGBT favorite at that time. Back then, the occasional guest character would be gay or lesbian or there would be a gay-themed joke — and certainly there was a gay sensibility about any show that starred a Broadway legend like Bea Arthur.

FX’s’ “Pose” is a recreation of the late ’80s Harlem drag ball era from the prolific gay TV mogul, Ryan Murphy. Trans portrayals are still in short supply on TV, but “Pose” brings us a wide variety of queer characters and it’s both fun and fearless. 

Even on network TV, the most mainstream you can get in America’s entertainment universe, gay characters are now not just being accepted, but are featured as lead characters. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing more of NBC’s “Champions,” about the philandering owner of a Brooklyn gym who is suddenly presented with the son — half Indian-American and all fabulously gay — he never knew he had. 

Other shows have featured gay teens before — memorably, “Glee,” again from Ryan Murphy — but I love how “Champions” capitalizes on the fabulousness of its funny and appealing teen actor, J.J. Totah. NBC’s drama “Rise,” set in the drama department of a working-class Pennsylvania high school, is worth checking out. Although in adapting their source material, the book, “Drama High” by Michael Sokolove, “Rise’s producers changed Josh Radnor’s lead character of drama teacher Lou to be straight rather than gay, the series does feature several students facing issues with being trans and coming out.

Even though I’m still wary of the change, I realize this series, set in the gayest-friendly of places a high school can offer, its drama department — has the chance to say something really interesting, meaningful and ultimately, entertaining.

John Griffiths, executive director, GALECA: the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics

“Instinct,” with Alan Cumming as network TV’s first gay character to top an hour drama, should be a kick, given the star’s unique charms (and he was more than good on “The Good Wife”). Should be a cheeky kick — he tracks serial killers, teaches at a university and writes books (Whoopi Goldberg plays his editor). He also rides a motorcycle. How butch.

Curious to see how the new Paramount Network’s reboot of the Winona Ryder/Christian Slater cult classic “Heathers” turns out. In this series version of the teen-horror comedy, one of the three titular cliquish high school meanies happens to be gay. The snark is played by out newcomer Brendan Scannell, who, judging by the witty banter he tossed at the show’s TCA panel, has a serious future in comedy. Another potential standout here: Lilli Birdsell, hilarious in clips as the super-pert white mom to a black Heather (Jasmine Mathews). 

It’s not rife with LGBTQ characters, but “American Woman” (also on Paramount, formerly Spike TV) with Alicia Silverstone has lots of allure. Silverstone was adorable in “Clueless,” sure, but also terrifically weird in the recent Colin Farrell/Nicole Kidman thriller, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.”

And her role here — a dutiful wife and mom who ditches her cad of a husband to belatedly join the feminist movement in the early ‘70s — is irresistible. Gay heartthrob Cheyenne Jackson (“30 Rock”) co-stars as the love interest of Silverstone’s BFF, played by Mena Suvari. The show comes with an authentic vibe and cinematic look, surprising considering it’s created by “Real Housewives” fixture, Kyle Richards (it’s based, in fact, on her mom’s own life trajectory).

Steve Gidlow, TV, MediaVillage

In an age where all that is old is new again, it’s refreshing to see the upcoming new installments of ABCs “Roseanne” tackling a sensitive issue like gender fluidity. With Darlene back at home caring for Dan and Roseanne, her parents are faced with Darlene’s young son Mark (Ames McNamara) who his experimenting with his fashion style and outward appearance — all much to grandpa Dan’s chagrin.

Even in its heyday, “Roseanne” was never a show that shied away from big social issues so it’s refreshing this reboot is tackling the issue of letting a young person explore what makes them happy head on, even though it might make those closest to them less than comfortable.

Malcolm Venable, TVGuide.com, senior editor, West Coast

“Pose” — Only Ryan Murphy could sell a network on a story that juxtaposes the New York City ‘80s ballroom scene with the uptown upper crust elite of the Reagan era, while hiring a record number of trans talent in front of and behind the camera. It looks gorgeous and the first footage we saw at TCA included scenes that looked like note-for-note recreations of moments from “Paris Is Burning,” which — no joke — made my heart flutter.

“9-1-1”— Angela Bassett’s husband coming out to her as gay (in the first episode) but the high camp that Murphy’s team, Brad Falcuck, Tim Minear and the uber fierce Alexis Martin Woodhall (seriously Google her) put together. That translates to seeing the emergency response team, which includes Peter Krause, Aisha Hinds and Kenneth Choi.

“Versace” is essential television. Lush, vivid, intensely terrifying and relevant for its messages. Great performances from Judith Light, Penelope Cruz and Edgar Ramirez but Darren Criss is life-changing. And, surprise: don’t expect much Versace. It’s about Andrew Cunanan.
“2 Dope Queens” — Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson take their podcast to the stage for a limited-episode run on HBO. They’re authentic and revelatory to their experience as black women, but as the packed multi-cultural New York City audiences show, their stories are universal covering nerd life, boy troubles and of course Beyonce. It’s hilarious and they represent hard for their LGBTQ fam.

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Out & About

The Rare Book Fair is coming to D.C.

Over 35 antiquarian booksellers from across the country to attend

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The Capital Rare Book Fair arrives in May. (Photo by aramanda/Bigstock)

The Capital Rare Book Fair will bring more than 35 antiquarian booksellers from across the country to D.C. from Friday, May 3 to Sunday, May 5 at the historic University Club at 1135 16th St., N.W.

This year, the fair will take over two floors in the illustrious mansion on 16th Street and showcase thousands of beautiful, notable, and rare books, maps, and historic documents from around the globe. Exceptional examples that will be offered include leaf 27 of a 40-leaf xylographic Biblia pauperum, a picture Bible from 1465 for $85,000 from Bruce McKittrick Rare Books, among many other intriguing selections. 

Tickets are $50 and more information is available on the event’s website.

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Calendar

Calendar: April 19-25

LGBTQ events in the days to come

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Friday, April 19

Center Aging Friday Tea Time will be at 2 p.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of choice. For more information, email [email protected]

Go Gay DC will host “Drag Pageant” at 8 p.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant. Net proceeds from this event will benefit EQUALITY NoVa, the local nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing equality in Northern Virginia. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Saturday, April 20

LGBTQ People of Color Support Group will be at 1 p.m. on Zoom. This peer support group is an outlet for LGBTQ People of Color to come together and talk about anything affecting them in a space that strives to be safe and judgment free. For more details, ​​visit thedccenter.org/poc or facebook.com/centerpoc.

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Brunch” at 11 a.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant. This fun weekly event brings the DMV area LGBTQ community, including allies, together for delicious food and conversation. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Sunday, April 21

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Dinner” at 7 p.m. at Federico Ristorante Italiano. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

AfroCode DC will be at 4 p.m. at Decades DC. This event will be an experience of non-stop music, dancing, and good vibes and a crossover of genres and a fusion of cultures. Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased on Eventbrite

Monday, April 22

Center Aging: Monday Coffee & Conversation will be at 10 a.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of their choice. For more details, email [email protected]

Tuesday, April 23

Pride on the Patio Events will host “LGBTQ Social Mixer” at 5:30 p.m. at Showroom. Dress is casual, fancy, or comfortable. Guests are encouraged to bring their most authentic self to chat, laugh, and get a little crazy. Admission is free and more details are on Eventbrite.

Genderqueer DC will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a support group for people who identify outside of the gender binary. Whether you’re bigender, agender, genderfluid, or just know that you’re not 100% cis. For more details, visit genderqueerdc.org or Facebook. 

Wednesday, April 24

Job Club will be at 6 p.m. on Zoom. This is a weekly job support program to help job entrants and seekers, including the long-term unemployed, improve self-confidence, motivation, resilience and productivity for effective job searches and networking — allowing participants to move away from being merely “applicants” toward being “candidates.” For more information, email [email protected] or visit [email protected].

Asexual and Aromantic Group will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a space where people who are questioning this aspect of their identity or those who identify as asexual and/or aromantic can come together, share stories and experiences, and discuss various topics. For more details, email [email protected]

Thursday, April 25

The DC Center’s Fresh Produce Program will be held all day at the DC Center for the LGBT Community. People will be informed on Wednesday at 5:00 pm if they are picked to receive a produce box. No proof of residency or income is required. For more information, email [email protected] or call 202-682-2245. 

Virtual Yoga with Charles M. will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a free weekly class focusing on yoga, breath work, and meditation. For more details, visit the DC Center for the LGBT Community’s website.

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Movies

After 25 years, a forgotten queer classic reemerges in 4K glory

Screwball rom-com ‘I Think I Do’ finds new appreciation

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Alexis Arquette and Christian Maelen in ‘I Think I Do.’ (Photo courtesy of Strand Releasing)

In 2024, with queer-themed entertainment available on demand via any number of streaming services, it’s sometimes easy to forget that such content was once very hard to find.

It wasn’t all that long ago, really. Even in the post-Stonewall ‘70s and ‘80s, movies or shows – especially those in the mainstream – that dared to feature queer characters, much less tell their stories, were branded from the outset as “controversial.” It has been a difficult, winding road to bring on-screen queer storytelling into the light of day – despite the outrage and protest from bigots that, depressingly, still continues to rear its ugly head against any effort to normalize queer existence in the wider culture.

There’s still a long way to go, of course, but it’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come – and to recognize the efforts of those who have fought against the tide to pave the way. After all, progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and if not for the queer artists who have hustled to bring their projects to fruition over the years, we would still be getting queer-coded characters as comedy relief or tragic victims from an industry bent on protecting its bottom line by playing to the middle, instead of the (mostly) authentic queer-friendly narratives that grace our screens today.

The list of such queer storytellers includes names that have become familiar over the years, pioneers of the “Queer New Wave” of the ‘90s like Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, Gregg Araki, or Bruce LaBruce, whose work at various levels of the indie and “underground” queer cinema movement attracted enough attention  – and, inevitably, notoriety – to make them known, at least by reputation, to most audiences within the community today.

But for every “Poison” or “The Living End” or “Hustler White,” there are dozens of other not-so-well-remembered queer films from the era; mostly screened at LGBTQ film festivals like LA’s Outfest or San Francisco’s Frameline, they might have experienced a flurry of interest and the occasional accolade, or even a brief commercial release on a handful of screens, before slipping away into fading memory. In the days before streaming, the options were limited for such titles; home video distribution was a costly proposition, especially when there was no guarantee of a built-in audience, so most of them disappeared into a kind of cinematic limbo – from which, thankfully, they are beginning to be rediscovered.

Consider, for instance, “I Think I Do,” the 1998 screwball romantic comedy by writer/director Brian Sloan that was screened last week – in a newly restored 4K print undertaken by Strand Releasing – in Brooklyn as the Closing Night Selection of NewFest’s “Queering the Canon” series. It’s a film that features the late trans actor and activist Alexis Arquette in a starring, pre-transition role, as well as now-mature gay heartthrob Tuc Watkins and out queer actor Guillermo Diaz in supporting turns, but for over two decades has been considered as little more than a footnote in the filmographies of these and the other performers in its ensemble cast. It deserves to be seen as much more than that, and thanks to a resurgence of interest in the queer cinema renaissance from younger film buffs in the community, it’s finally getting that chance.

Set among a circle of friends and classmates at Washington, D.C.’s George Washington University, it’s a comedic – yet heartfelt and nuanced – story of love left unrequited and unresolved between two roommates, openly gay Bob (Arquette) and seemingly straight Brendan (Christian Maelen), whose relationship in college comes to an ugly and humiliating end at a Valentine’s Day party before graduation. A few years later, the gang is reunited for the wedding of Carol (Luna Lauren Vélez) and Matt (Jamie Harrold), who have been a couple since the old days. Bob, now a TV writer engaged to a handsome soap opera star (Watkins), is the “maid” of honor, while old gal pals Beth (Maddie Corman) and Sarah (Marianne Hagan), show up to fill out the bridal party and pursue their own romantic interests. When another old friend, Eric (Diaz), shows up with Brendan unexpectedly in tow, it sparks a behind-the-scenes scenario for the events of the wedding, in which Bob is once again thrust into his old crush’s orbit and confronted with lingering feelings that might put his current romance into question – especially since the years between appear to have led Brendan to a new understanding about his own sexuality.

In many ways, it’s a film with the unmistakable stamp of its time and provenance, a low-budget affair shot at least partly under borderline “guerilla filmmaking” conditions and marked by a certain “collegiate” sensibility that results in more than a few instances of aggressively clever dialogue and a storytelling agenda that is perhaps a bit too heavily packed. Yet at the same time, these rough edges give it a raw, DIY quality that not only makes any perceived sloppiness forgivable, but provides a kind of “outsider” vibe that it wears like a badge of honor. Add to this a collection of likable performances – including Arquette, in a winning turn that gets us easily invested in the story, and Maelen, whose DeNiro-ish looks and barely concealed sensitivity make him swoon-worthy while cementing the palpable chemistry between them  – and Sloan’s 25-year-old blend of classic Hollywood rom-com and raunchy ‘90s sex farce reveals itself to be a charming, wiser-than-expected piece of entertainment, with an admirable amount of compassion and empathy for even its most stereotypical characters – like Watkins’ soap star, a walking trope of vainglorious celebrity made more fully human than appearances would suggest by the actor’s honest, emotionally intelligent performance – that leaves no doubt its heart is in the right place.

Sloan, remarking about it today, confirms that his intention was always to make a movie that was more than just frothy fluff. “While the film seems like a glossy rom-com, I always intended an underlying message about the gay couple being seen as equals to the straight couple getting married,” he says. “ And the movie is also set in Washington to underline the point.”

He also feels a sense of gratitude for what he calls an “increased interest from millennials and Gen Z in these [classic queer indie] films, many of which they are surprised to hear about from that time, especially the comedies.” Indeed, it was a pair of screenings with Queer Cinema Archive that “garnered a lot of interest from their followers,” and “helped to convince my distributor to bring the film back” after being unavailable for almost 10 years.

Mostly, however, he says “I feel very lucky that I got to make this film at that time and be a part of that movement, which signaled a sea change in the way LGBTQ characters were portrayed on screen.”

Now, thanks to Strand’s new 4K restoration, which will be available for VOD streaming on Amazon and Apple starting April 19, his film is about to be accessible to perhaps a larger audience than ever before.

Hopefully, it will open the door for the reappearance of other iconic-but-obscure classics of its era and help make it possible for a whole new generation to discover them.

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