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FALL ARTS 2018 TV: ‘Insatiable,’ ‘Insecure’ and a ton of reboots

Billy Porter joins AHS, ‘Will & Grace’ returns and Roseanne dies

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gay shows 2018, gay news, Washington Blade

The cast of ‘The Conners’ sans Roseanne. (Photo courtesy ABC)

Now that new shows and new seasons premiere throughout the year, the falls television season has lost some of its luster. Nevertheless, there are some great offerings on their way, including LGBT fan favorites and series with interesting queer content.

Here is a sample of the shows on their way this fall, based on the latest information available. Schedules are subject to change, so check your local listings.

Four queer series have already hit the small screen. “Insatiable” (Netflix) premiered Aug. 10. Focusing on a teenaged girl who wants to get revenge on her bullies, the show includes several LGB characters. The third season of “Insecure” (HBO) dropped Aug. 12 and the show has already been picked up for a fourth season. Based on conversations with fans and writers after a male character revealed that he once had sex with a man, showrunner Issa Rae says she is ready to tackle LGBT issues in the show.

“The Deuce,” starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, returned to HBO Sept. 9. The action has jumped forward five years to 1977 and gay bartender Paul is becoming part of the burgeoning gay bar scene.

The eighth season of “American Horror Story” began on FX Sept. 12. Subtitled “Apocalypse,” the show is a crossover between “Murder House” (season one) and “Coven” (season there). The new season will combine characters, themes and plot elements from both seasons. All of the major cast members will return, with some of the actors playing multiple characters. Joining the cast will be Joan Collins (the original “Dynasty”) and Billy Porter (“Pose”).

“9-1-1” returns to FOX Sept. 23 for its second season. Angela Bassett plays LAPD police sergeant Athena Grant, whose husband Michael has come out as gay. Aisha Hinds plays out firefighter “Hen” Wilson and Tracie Thoms plays her wife Karen Wilson.

Anchored by openly gay Jim Parsons as super-nerd Sheldon Cooper, “The Big Bang Theory” will begin its final season on CBS Sept. 25.

The popular tear-jerker “This Is Us,” which has been hailed for its sensitive handling of race and sexuality, returns to NBC Sept. 25. During the first two seasons, Randall Pearson (played by Emmy-winning actor Sterling K. Brown), is reunited with his bisexual biological father William “Shakespeare” Hill (Ron Cephas Jones). William introduces the family to his ex-boyfriend Jessie (Denis O’Hare) before his death from cancer. In flashbacks, William (played by Jermel Nakia) abandons his infant son at a firehouse following the death of his girlfriend. It’s not clear how the chronologically flexible show will handle the bisexual storyline in season three or if creator Dan Fogelman will add additional LGBT plotlines.

Starring Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet as a gay couple, ABC’s “Modern Family” returns for its 10th and final season Sept. 25. The producers have announced that there will be a spin-off, but casting for the new show has not been announced.

Under the watchful and wildly inventive eye of openly gay creator Lee Daniels, the cross-over series “Empire” and “Star” return to Fox Sept. 26. Both shows feature prominent African-American LGBT characters. Trans actress Amiyah Scott plays Cotton, the trans daughter of salon owner Carlotta Brown (Queen Latifah).

Twenty years after the original series went off the air, the revival of “Murphy Brown” returns to CBS Sept. 27. Candice Bergen returns as the infamous title character, rejoined by Faith Ford (Corky Sherwood), Joe Regalbuto (Frank Fontana) and Grant Shoud (Miles Silverberg). Jake McDorman joins the cast as Murphy’s son Avery, a journalist who shares his mother’s quick wit and competitive spirit, and Nik Dodani plays the social media director for “Murphy in the Morning.” The gang still hangs out at legendary watering hole Phil’s, now under the management of Phil’s sister Phyllis (Tyne Daly). 

Jake McDorman as Murphy’s son on the ‘Murphy Brown’ reboot. (Photo by Francis Specker; courtesy CBS)

The award-winning “How to Get Away with Murder” returns to ABC Sept. 27 for a fifth season. Viola Davis stars as pansexual law school professor Annalise Keating and the show includes several other LGBT characters. 

Openly gay actor Leslie Jordan is part of the cast of the new show “The Cool Kids” which premieres on Fox Sept. 28. Set in a retirement home, the show also stars camp icon Vicki Lawrence (“Mama’s Family” and “The Carol Burnett Show”), David Alan Grier (“In Living Color”) and Martin Mull (“Roseanne”). 

The popular revival of “Will & Grace” returns to NBC Oct. 4 for its second season (10th total); the show has already been renewed for an 11th season. Out actor Matt Bomer joins the cast as a new love interest for Will (Eric McCormack) and David Schwimmer (“Friends”) joins the cast as a love interest for Grace (Debra Messing). Minnie Driver returns as Lorraine Finster, the scheming stepdaughter of Karen (Megan Mullally) and Brian Jordan Alvarez returns as Estafan, the flight attendant boyfriend of Jack (Sean Hayes). 

In addition, Chelsea Handler joins the cast as Donna Zimmer, a high-powered client of Grace’s who falls for Grace’s bitter sister Janet Adler (Mary McCormack). Blythe Danner, Robert Klein and Alec Baldwin return as guest stars and there will be cameo appearances from Jon Cryer and Olympic medal-nabbing gay figure skater Adam Rippon.

Directly following the season premiere of “Will & Grace,” “Superstore” will return to NBC for its fourth season. The ensemble cast of workers at the fictional big-box store “Cloud 9” includes openly gay Filipino actor Nico Santos (“Crazy Rich Asians”) as an openly gay Filipino store employee.

The multi-talented, multi-layered and very modest Justin Johnson, aka drag superstar Alyssa Edwards (a “RuPaul’s Drag Race” vet), stars in “Dancing Queen” which drops Oct. 5. Set in Johnson’s hometown of Mesquite, Texas, the Netflix docu-series follows the performer as he balances his dance life, his drag life, his family life and his love life and prepares his young students at the Beyond Belief Dance Company for competition. 

Alyssa Edwards in ‘Dancing Queen.’ (Photo by Jake Giles Netter; courtesy Netflix)

During the first weeks of October, the very queer friendly CW network will drop several new and returning shows, including the final season of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” a reboot of the cult favorite “Charmed,” the second season of the rebooted “Dynasty,” “Riverdale,” “Black Lightning” and three of the series set in the DC Arrowverse: “Supergirl,” “Arrow” and “The Flash.”

In the wake of actress Roseanne Barr’s Twitter meltdown and the cancellation of the revival of “Roseanne,” ABC has killed off her character. The rest of the family will be reunited in “The Conners” which premieres Oct. 16. Beyond Darlene’s gender non-conforming son Mark (Ames McNamara), it is unclear which of the original series’ LGBT characters will return.

In the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct, Netflix fired Kevin Spacey from “House of Cards,” where he played bisexual former President Frank Underwood. The sixth and final season will premiere without Spacey on Nov. 2. A recently released trailer shows President Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) standing over her husband’s grave.

GLAAD has hailed several daytime dramas for their LGBT storylines. Some on the ongoing soaps include “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “The Young and the Restless,” “Days of Our Lives” and “General Hospital.”

Finally, several series that with queer characters or with a strong LGBT fanbase are expected to return this fall, even though premiere days have not been announced. These include “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Dear White People” and “Transparent.”

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Television

Check out final season of ‘Grace and Frankie’ — it ends well 

Groundbreaking show highlights queer, straight elders

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Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are wrapping their groundbreaking series. (Photo by Melissa Moseley; courtesy Netflix)

They make up a fake Jewish holiday (M’Challah) to avoid seeing their friends, lie to their kids about killing their bunny, obsess over playing John Adams in a (very gay) community theater production of the musical “1776” and create vibrators that glow in the dark. Their children sell their house out from under them and make them wear panic alerts.

These people might well creep you out in real life.

But, thankfully, they’re the funny and engaging characters on “Grace and Frankie,” the series, whose seventh and final season has recently dropped on Netflix.

The  show, starring Lily Tomlin, 82, (Frankie) and Jane Fonda, 84, (Grace) as two hetero elders whose husbands (Martin Sheen, 81 as Robert and Sam Waterston, 81, as Sol) leave them to marry each other, is, deservedly, Netflix’s longest-running series.

In 2019, there were 54.1 million people in the United States over 65, according to a Administration for Community Living of the U.S. Department of Human Services report. Elders, the study says, are expected to make up 2l.6 percent of this country’s population by 2040.

There are nearly three million (2.7 million) LGBTQ people over aged 50 in the U.S. and 1.1 million queer elders 65 and older in this country, according to a 2017 Movement Advancement Project and SAGE report.

Yet aside from “Transparent,” few TV series (broadcast, cable or streaming) have featured, let alone, been centered around, older queers.

“Grace and Frankie” is the rare series that’s focused on the lives of elders (hetero and queer). Unlike some shows that showcase older people, it’s been mostly entertaining, even thought provoking, rather than dull or didactic throughout its run.

Set in San Diego, “Grace and Frankie” throughout its seasons has told the story of how Frankie and Grace have created a life of their own as Robert and Sol have entered a new chapter of their lives as a same-sex couple. 

Frankie, Grace, Robert and Sol, who are in their 70s, are affluent. Robert and Sol are successful divorce lawyers. Grace has run a flourishing cosmetics company. Frankie is a new-agey artist who teaches art to ex-convicts.

When Robert and Sol say that they’re leaving them to wed each other because same-sex marriage has become legal in California, Frankie says she’s done a fundraiser for that.

The beach house where Grace and Frankie live is breathtakingly gorgeous. Yet these characters encounter the indignities and dilemmas of aging from learning about social media to coming out in late life to memory loss to end-of-life decisions.

Grace and Frankie run up against the condescension that older women often face. Yet though these are serious concerns, “Grace and Frankie” hasn’t been a downer. 

In one episode, as I’ve written before in the Blade, Grace and Frankie, though they’re practically jumping in front of his face, can’t get a store’s sales clerk to notice them. Because he’s paying so much attention to a young woman. Frankie gives up and steals a pack of cigarettes. If “you can’t see me,” Frankie says, “you can’t stop me.”

In season two, their friend Babe (Estelle Parsons), who is terminally ill, tells Frankie and Grace that she wants them to help her end her life. Though it’s difficult emotionally for them, the women give their friend Babe a good-bye party that’s joyous without being maudlin.

Robert and Sol deal with Robert being in the early stages of dementia. This narrative is touching, but not sappy. Though you should have a tissue in hand for Robert and Sol’s elevator moment in the show’s finale.

Like many old people, the characters have their ups and downs in relating to their adult children. These off-spring from Brianna (June Diane Raphael), a 21st century Cruella de Vil, to Bud (Baron Vaughn), the often wrong-headed “good son,” would try any elder’s soul. 

The main pleasure of “Grace and Frankie” is watching Tomlin and Fonda. The two forces of nature, friends since their “9 to 5″ days, make you laugh and cry with the BFFs Grace and Frankie.

TV series, like everything, have to end. Check out “Grace and Frankie.” It ends well.

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Television

Netflix scores queer triumph with ‘Heartstopper’

Series adapted from popular YA webcomic about teen boys who fall in love

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Kit Conner and Joe Locke star in ‘Heartstopper,’ streaming April 22. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

If we were only able to choose one word to describe “Heartstopper,” the new Netflix series adapted from Alice Oseman’s wildly popular 2017 YA webcomic about two teenage boys who fall in love, that word would have to be “adorable” — and it would be more than enough justification for an enthusiastic recommendation to start streaming it right now.

Fortunately, we don’t have to choose, and just in case there are some curmudgeons among our readers who avoid “adorable” content as a matter of principle, we can add quite a few more words just to make it clear that this is a show to win the heart of even the most cynical viewer and have them ready to binge it straight to the end after watching only the first five minutes.

For readers of Oseman’s original comic, no explanation is needed to convey the infectious blend of emotions that makes its simple love story so irresistible; with more than 52 million views to date and the bestselling print publication of four volumes so far, its quick and widespread popularity is proof enough of the story’s universal – and multi-intersectional – appeal. “Heartstoppers” is the story of Charlie and Nick, a pair of students at an English boys’ school with widely differing places in the school’s pecking order; Charlie, gentle and shy, has been bullied after being inadvertently outed as gay the previous year, and spends most of his time with a handful of other social misfits, while Nick, athletic and popular, is a rugby player who hangs out with his equally athletic and popular teammates. Yet when they end up sitting together in a class they share, the two become friends – much to the surprise of Charlie, who finds himself crushing on Nick despite assuming, along with everyone else, that he is straight. It’s not hard to see where things are going to go from there, even without spoilers, but that predictability does nothing to dampen the delight of following these two young and tender hearts as they negotiate the pangs and pressures of first love while navigating their school’s deeply ingrained social hierarchy.

With Oseman herself writing the adaptation, the series had an advantage right out of the gate when it came to translating that into a live-action format, and her fans have been eagerly awaiting it ever since Netflix announced it was happening in January of 2021. The resulting series – an all-too-brief season of eight half-hour episodes directed by BAFTA-winning “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock” veteran Euros Lyn – will almost certainly lead millions of others to join their ranks.

The most important factor in bringing the story’s appeal to the screen is undoubtedly the casting of its two leading characters, and with newcomer Joe Locke as Charlie joining Kit Connor (“Rocketman,” “His Dark Materials”) as Nick, it’s hard to imagine how the show’s creators could have done better. Locke, with his soulful eyes and curly mop of hair, perfectly captures the look of the character as drawn, as does the cherubic, handsome Connor – but they bring much more than an apt appearance to their roles. 

In a story that requires them to delicately tread through a potentially fraught emotional landscape, facing scenarios with consequences ranging from the socially awkward to the deeply traumatic, they not only fulfill that duty effortlessly, but do so while meeting every moment with enough intelligence, sensitivity, and authenticity to make the already-relatable nuances of their young relationship resonate even more tangibly. Most essential of all, the tender chemistry they share is strong enough – and believable enough – to ensure that the almost unbearable sweetness of their blossoming romance never once feels sappy or insincere. It’s a fragile and difficult balance to maintain, but these two young actors pull it off with such unforced buoyancy that we are too busy floating on their cloud with them to even notice.

As right-on-target as the show’s portrayal of Nick and Charlie’s journey together may be, they are not the only LGBTQ+ characters in the mix. There’s Elle (Yasmin Finney), a member of Charlie’s circle until being transferred to the neighboring girls’ school after coming out as transgender, who is nervous about being accepted in her new environment. Also at the girls’ school is Tara (Corinna Brown), who once shared a kiss with Nick but is now on the verge of coming out and going public about her relationship with girlfriend Darcy (Kizzy Edgell). Finally, there’s Tao (William Gao), a protective friend and ally to them all (though his protective nature leads him to mistrust Nick’s intentions), who is beginning to recognize the stirrings of more than friendship with Elle.

Simply reading that roster might lead one to presume the show is trying to up the ante on inclusion by including as many colors in the rainbow as possible – and it’s worth mentioning that the cast of characters is made up of a diverse blend of ethnicities, too. Neither of these elements feel forced; those of us who know about life from more than just television surely recognize that seeing so many LGBTQ+ people and people of color mixed into one blended community together is not a stretch – it’s an accurate reflection of the real world. Even if that were not the case, the show asserts its sincerity by treating each of these characters and their stories with the same amount of kindness it affords Nick and Charlie; it even leaves room for us to pity characters like Ben (Sebastian Croft), a closeted boy who carries on a secret relationship with Charlie while refusing to acknowledge him in the halls, or Harry (Cormac Hyde-Corrin) a teammate of Nick’s who delights in tormenting anyone who doesn’t fit in, who are on hand to remind us that – increased acceptance notwithstanding – homophobia still exerts a toxic enough effect to make coming out a difficult path to undertake alone.

In answer to that, the show takes ample opportunity to explore the theme of chosen family; the way these friends help each other along the way, even as they themselves are trying not to stumble, serves as both an inspiration and a reminder to the countless viewers, whether LGBTQ or not, who know first-hand the bonds that grow from such experience. As for “real” families, they’re not left out of the picture, either: both Nick and Charlie have supportive (if not always helpful) parents in their lives, and Charlie’s older sister Tori (Jenny Walser) emerges every so often from her room like a denizen of the underworld rising to taunt him – lovingly, of course – with a truth or two.

By now, it feels like we’re gushing. After all, haven’t the last few years have seen any number of LGBTQ teen love stories coming to our screens? And hasn’t each of them been hailed as a milestone of representation? Haven’t queer elders remarked, each time, what a difference it would have made if they had seen such a film when they were growing up?

The thing is, though, that it’s been true each time — and sometimes, as it does with “Heartstopper” — it feels a little more true than usual.

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Television

Grindr’s first series is as shallow as you’d expect

Instantly forgettable, just like a typical hook-up

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Jimmy Fowlie and Calvin Seabrooks connect in ‘Bridesman.’ (Photo courtesy Grindr)

When Grindr announced it was dropping its first-ever original series on April Fools’ Day, many people assumed it was a joke. 

That’s perfectly forgivable; even without the seasonal timing, most people would never expect the notorious “dating” app to jump into the streaming entertainment market. It just seems, well, absurd. But whether or not Grindr chose the release date as a bit of self-deprecating fun, “Bridesman” – a limited comedy series consisting of six 7-10 minute webisodes and focusing on the misadventures of a gay scenester as his female BFF prepares for her wedding – is not a joke. It really exists.

Unfortunately.

The series, created by John Onieal and co-written by Onieal and Frank Spiro, debuted on Grindr for its first weekend, but is now available to stream on the app’s YouTube channel. It stars Jimmy Fowlie as Terry, described in the official synopsis as an “awful gay,” who is asked by his best friend Judith (Sydnee Washington) to fulfill bridesmaid duties at her upcoming nuptials. Terry, aside from his disdain for marriage as a heteronormative construct, feels betrayed that the person who once claimed to be his “forever partner” has chosen to commit herself to another man, and to make matters worse, he feels an “electric” sexual connection with Wyatt (David Mudge), her literally myopic groom-to-be. Rather than see his BFF lost to the horrors of a traditional marriage, he resolves to save her from that fate by doing his best to tank the wedding – especially since it also means sticking it to the control-obsessed Muriel (Shannon DeVido), chosen over him to be Judith’s Maid-of-Honor and therefore an object of his particular disdain.

What follows is (again, according to the official synopsis) “an irreverent, fast-paced satire of modern wedding culture and the ‘old fashioned trend’ of monogamy,” in which Terry goes on a slash-and-burn campaign to ruin his best friend’s big day, doing his best to sabotage everything from the sexy bridal boudoir photo shoot to the bachelorette party, and steamrolling his way through a tangled web that involves detectives, a secret agent, a relationship counselor moonlighting as a stripper, and a demon from hell. Along the way, though, he still finds time to hook up with a sexy Uber driver (Calvin Seabrooks) whenever he feels like going for a ride.

It seems like a lot to pack into a story that, in total, runs just shy of an hour, but the show’s self-description of “fast-paced” is accurate, and director Julian Buchan never allows things to drag. Indeed, the story moves so fast it doesn’t even give all its jokes time to land – an approach that works well with a script that throws them out like a pitching machine on a batting range – and trusts its audience to keep up. 

That’s probably not a miscalculation, either; the target demographic here has become well-accustomed to absorbing a lot of information in a short space of time, thanks to the rise of YouTube, TikTok, and all the other digital sources of entertainment for those with a short attention span. Furthermore, since the characters on the screen belong definitively to that same generation, they have no problem sticking to a rapid pace, and they plow ahead with confidence as if they’re in a race with the cameras to get to the end of the show first.

In fact, it’s the cast – an admirably diverse and inclusive one, thankfully – that makes it all come together, and which provides us with most of the show’s entertainment value. They embrace their exaggerated characters – most of whom are vapid, narcissistic, aggressively pretentious, or some toxic combination of the three – with glee and abandon, committing completely to the absurdities the story necessitates them to enact. It’s infectious, and it almost allows “Bridesman” to live up to its aspirations of satire.

As to that, the show sets its sights not just on “modern wedding culture,” as it declares in its synopsis, but on the broader target of modern culture in general, with its emphasis on the shallow and ephemeral and its obsession with self. It aims for a similar tone, perhaps, as “The Other Two” (the runaway comedic hit that began life on Comedy Central before being picked up by HBO for its second season), a show that deftly skewers the self-serving, attention-seeking mentality that drives our pop culture as it barrels through its never-ending cycle of “new, now, next” distractions. Its two lead characters – the older sister and gay brother of a teen YouTube star who are trying to levy their proximity to him into fame and fortune for themselves – are flat out horrible people, or at least behave like them, as are most of the characters that surround them, and watching them fail repeatedly in their efforts to manipulate their way into the fickle spotlight of “the moment” is just part of the fun provided by the series’ merciless send-up of the trends, tropes, and twaddle that surround so much of what we see on our plethora of screens today.

The characters in “Bridesman,” for the most part, are horrible people, too, though in some cases they might just be regular people caught up in a horrible mindset. Most horrible of all, of course, is Terry, who essentially embodies everything that gay youth culture loves to hate about itself; vain, judgmental, driven by libido, and completely unconcerned with anyone’s feelings but his own, he lives to create drama yet seems to love nothing better than to stand aside from it and roll his eyes in withering disapproval. Portrayed with dead-on accuracy by Fowlie (who is, coincidentally, probably best known to viewers for a recurring role as a super-gay influencer on “The Other Two”), he embodies the kind of jaded queer socialite whose posturing and self-promotion only prove just how “basic” he really is.

Yet the reason we are really amused by “The Other Two” and other shows that successfully lampoon the foibles and pretensions of our own society is not just because they put them on display. We laugh because we recognize something of ourselves in the people we see on the screen; because the horribleness is contrasted with the human, or at least tempered by good intentions; because there’s a flicker of something genuine underneath all the pretense reminding us that, no matter how far we allow ourselves to be carried away by our own ego, there is always a thread we can follow back to reality. Without that factor, the comedy can easily become hollow, even cruel, and amounts to ridiculing something just for the sake of ridiculing it.

 “Bridesman” has no such tempering influence. Though its satire is savage and even smart, there’s little self-awareness to suggest that it has any purpose except to become the “next big thing” and enjoy its five minutes in pop culture’s center ring. Like the people who inhabit it, it might be fun to hang around with for a while, but in the end its lack of substance makes it instantly forgettable.

You know, just like a typical Grindr hook-up.

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