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‘Tales of the City,’ ‘Big Little Lies,’ ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ among summer TV highlights

LGBT characters well represented in Netflix originals, returning series and more

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Tales of the City, gay news, Washington Blade
Jen Richards as the young Anna Madrigal and Daniela Vega as Ysela in ‘Tales of the City.’ (Photo courtesy Netflix)

The 2019 summer television season gets off to a terrifying start with “The Perfection.” Already hailed as one of the creepiest movies of the year, the homoerotic horror story stars Allison Williams (“Get Out”) as a former music prodigy and Logan Browning (“Dear White People”) as the new star pupil at her music school. Not for the faint of heart, the movie premieres on Netflix on May 24.

Also streaming today on Netflix is season two of Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” based on his popular movie of the same name. Baltimore native DeWanda Wise stars as the pansexual street artist Nola Darling. Season one ended with Nola’s three boyfriends storming off and her girlfriend Opal Gilstrap (Ilfenesh Hadera) knocking on the door. Season two opens 18 months later with the same characters in new configurations.

Also starting today on Netflix is “What/If” a neo-noir thriller anthology that will focus on a different morality tale each season. In the first 10-episode season, Renée Zellweger stars as Anne Montgomery, a venture capitalist who tempts a young couple (Jane Levy and Blake Jenner) with an offer they probably should refuse. Security on the set is tight, but sources have confirmed that the cast has several gay characters.

The critically acclaimed “Vida” is returning to STARZ for a 10-episode second season starting May 26. The popular series stars Melissa Barrera and Mishel Prada as two Mexican American sisters (one straight, one lesbian) who return to their childhood home in East L.A. after the unexpected death of their mother. As season two starts (May 23), they fight the forces of gentrification to save their mother’s bar with the help of their mother’s lover Eddy (played by non-binary actor Ser Anzoategui).

The beloved characters from “Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City” return June 7. As the new installment opens on Netflix, Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) returns to family and friends in San Francisco after a 20-year absence. Olympia Dukakis is back as Anna Madrigal, the matriarch of 28 Barbary Lane (with trans actress Jen Richards playing her in flashbacks). The cast includes Murray Bartlett as Michael “Mouse” Tolliver and Paul Gross and Ellen Page as Mary Ann’s ex-husband and daughter.

The LGBT fan favorite “Big Little Lies” returns to HBO for its seven-episode second season on June 9. Meryl Streep joins the cast as Mary Louise Wright who has come to Monterey to investigate her son’s death. Returning cast members include Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon and Zoë Kravitz.

The HBO comedy series “Los Espookys” begins its six-episode season on June 14. The primarily Spanish-language (with English subtitles) show follows a group of friends who turn their love for horror movies into a peculiar business. The cast includes Julio Torres as Andrés, the brooding heir to a chocolate empire and his trophy boyfriend, Juan Carlos (José Pablo Minor).

The magnificent Zendaya leads a strong ensemble cast in “Euphoria,” an eight-episode series, which debuts on HBO on June 16. Based on the ground-breaking Israeli series of the same name, the show follows a group of high-school students as they navigate a minefield of drugs, sex, identity, trauma, social media, love and friendship.

House Evangelista is back! Season two of “Pose” struts back into the FX spotlight on June 11. Season one of the wildly popular series made television history by focusing on the stories of trans performers from the New York ball scene of the 1980s and telling those stories with trans actors in front of the camera and trans writers and directors behind the scenes.

“Pose” scored big during awards season. It won several Dorian Awards from GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics including Best TV Drama and Best LGBTQ TV Show, Best Musical Performance (“Home”), Best TV Performance by an Actor (Billy Porter), and, Wilde Artist of the Year (Ryan Murphy).

Season two of the wildly popular series jumps ahead to 1990; the ball scene is threatened by the mainstream appropriation of voguing (thanks Madonna!) and by the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The entire ensemble cast is expected to return. Broadway legend and devoted fan Patti LuPone will join the cast and appearances from Sandra Bernhard, Bette Midler and Judith Light are planned.

Zendaya plays Rue Bennett, a drug addict fresh from rehab, whose life changes dramatically when she meets Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer), a trans girl who recently moved to town following her parents’ divorce. 

The fabulous Lady Bunny seizes center stage in the documentary “Wig” which premieres on HBO on June 18. The movie includes appearances by Neil Patrick Harris and husband David Burtka, who helped produce the latest extravaganza, as well performances by dozens of drag queens past and present at the legendary Wigstock.

Created and directed by out writer Russell T. Davies (“Queer as Folk”), the fascinating drama series “Years and Years” debuts on HBO on June 24. Starting in 2019 and extending 15 years into the future, the BBC production focuses on the Lyons family of Manchester, England. The extended clan includes Daniel (Russell Tovey) and his husband Ralph as well as Stephen (Rory Kinnear) and his wife Celeste and their daughter Bethany who announces that she is “transhuman.” The cast also includes Emma Thompson as an outspoken political figure whose controversial opinions divide the nation. 

The cast of Years and Years. (Photo courtesy HBO)

More timely than ever, with pivotal scenes for the series being shot on the National Mall and real-world protestors appearing in red cloaks like those worn on the series, season three of “The Handmaid’s Tale” starts on Hulu on June 5.

The entire principal cast, including Bradley Whitford as the enigmatic Commander Lawrence, is returning for the new season. “Gender traitor” Emily (Alexis Bledel) has escaped the dystopian world of Gilead with June’s baby, Nicole; June/Offred (Emmy-winner Elisabeth Moss) has stayed behind to join the Resistance. The phrase “blessed be the fruit” has been replaced with “blessed be the fight.”

Yvonne Strahovski as the evil Mrs. Waterford on ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ (Photo courtesy Hulu)
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Television

‘And Just Like That’ is clunky, but shows promise

SATC reboot suffers without Samantha’s irreverence

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‘And Just Like That’ reunites three of the original four from ‘Sex and the City.’ (Screen capture via HBO Max)

Just in time for the holidays, “And Just Like That,” the 10-part “Sex and the City” (SATC) revival has premiered on HBO Max.

The first two episodes of “And Just Like That” aired on Dec. 9. One episode will air weekly until the show’s Feb. 3 season finale.

I have only seen the first two episodes of “And Just Like That.”

The reboot has its awkward, clunky, annoying moments, but shows glimmers of tenderness, wit, and promise.

It’s not a lump of coal in your stocking. Yet, it’s too soon to tell whether it’s a gift from your loving, but clueless aunt or an awesome present from your BFF.

But, it’s definitely worth putting under your tree.

How I miss “funky spunk” “Father Fuck” and “The Rabbit!”

If you’re an SATC aficionado, you’ll know that while Samantha couldn’t abide “funky spunk,” she longed to canoodle with a hot priest. (Naturally, he was “Father Fuck” in Samantha’s fantasies.) And, you’ll remember how much pleasure “the Rabbit” (a vibrator) gave Charlotte and Miranda.

Those are just a few moments that “Sex and The City” fans have missed since the arch, fashion-trend maker, sexual-taboo-breaker, HBO show’s 2004 finale.

What we’ve pined for wasn’t just the sex. It was the wit and friendship of the four bright, badass, professional, witty and, it can’t be denied, privileged women, who were the stars of SATC: writer and sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), art dealer Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) and public relations pro Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall).

We missed hearing the ladies talk openly, and wittily, sometimes tenderly or thoughtfully, about everything from “funky spunk” to “shortcomings” to their affairs with married men to threesomes to their abortions.

After the SATC finale, there were two “Sex and the City” movies. The first, released in 2008, was mediocre. The second, released in 2010, was beyond horrible.

After all these years, it’s lovely to see Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte (along with their husbands: Big, Steve and Harry respectively).

But, there’s a gaping hole! There’s no Samantha!

It’s no secret that Cattrall and Parker weren’t getting along off-screen. Cattrall didn’t want to be in “And Just Like That.”

You can’t blame the SATC folks for forging ahead with “And Just Like That.” Interest in the SATC characters has remained high, and shows with female characters in their 50s are few and far between.

Now that Miranda, Carrie and Charlotte are in their mid-fifties, “And Just Like That” could become “The Golden Girls” of our era.

But that’s not likely without Samantha, who was the essential queer sensibility of SATC.

Samantha’s irreverent, she loves sex, quiets babies down with vibrators, and though she’d never cop to it, has the proverbial heart of gold.

“And Just Like That” needs an infusion of irreverence.

SATC had problems of representation. Its characters were too white and too privileged. For its time, it had a queer quotient. Carrie’s best friend Stanford Blatch (the late Willie Garson) was gay, as was Charlotte’s best friend Anthony Marantino (Mario Cantone). But its depictions of bisexuals, lesbians, and trans people were stereotyped at best – bi and transphobic at worst.

“And Just Like That” works hard to correct those problems.

There are several characters who are people of color — from a law school professor to an upper-class mom.

Stanford and Anthony are now a bickering married couple. And there is Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez) a “queer, nonbinary, Mexican-Irish diva,” a podcaster, who is Carrie’s boss.

It’s great that the show is trying to do better with representation, but it’s trying too hard.

We face serious issues – from parenting to grief – as we age. But, as any “Golden Girls” disciple knows, you don’t lose your sense of humor or lustiness as you grow older.

If “And Just Like That,” learns that, then it’ll be a great show.

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Television

MTV ‘True Life Crime’ host reinvents genre

Dometi Pongo puts focus on victims of anti-LGBTQ violence

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Dometi Pongo hosts MTV’s ‘True Life Crime.’ (Photo courtesy MTV)

The last place most of us would expect to find a true crime show is on MTV. Yet that’s exactly where you’ll find “True Life Crime” and its host Dometi Pongo, who on Aug. 24 will take a journalistic deep dive into the Mississippi murder of trans teen Mercedes Williamson – just one of the brutal, tragic stories covered by the show since its debut in 2020.

They are the kinds of stories, of course, that make fans of the genre eagerly stay up late to binge watch old episodes of “Cold Case Files” or the latest Netflix serial murderer doc. But while those shows content themselves with being a guilty pleasure for their viewers, this one aims a little higher.

To begin with, it primarily covers violence against people from marginalized communities; and though it examines facts and evidence, those take a back seat to discussion of the social issues around the crimes. Instead of placing all the emphasis on the “how” and “who,” the show puts it on the “why,” taking the spotlight from the killer and shining it on the victim instead – a far cry from the kind of truncated treatment usually bestowed by mainstream news sources when covering crimes against marginalized people.

Pongo – a charismatic host whose passion for amplifying the stories of marginalized communities is tied to his roots in Chicago’s south side – spoke to the Blade about the intentions behind the show, and the need to include the stories of LGBTQ victims.

BLADE: Besides the upcoming episode about Mercedes, this season has already covered two other cases involving anti-LGBTQ violence: the murders of Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, who were a lesbian couple, and Muhlaysia Booker, a trans woman of color. Did you come into the show wanting to bring visibility to these kinds of cases?

DOMETI PONGO: It’s my connection to marginalized communities that made me want to do it, to talk about other marginalized communities that I’m not even a part of, but which deserve a voice as well. I’ll be honest with you, at a high level I understood the dangers of homophobia and transphobia in our communities, but I didn’t know the numbers. I didn’t know how often victims were dead-named, how under-reported anti-trans violence goes. I didn’t realize how deep this really got, until I was in the thick of it, reporting on these issues.

The first season we did the story of Kedarie Johnson, who was a gender-fluid teen that was killed in Iowa. That story really helped to open my eyes, and so for this season we wanted to double down.

BLADE: The show differs from other crime shows because it’s more concerned with exploring motives and issues around the cases than it is about the facts. Is that a conscious choice?

PONGO: There’s a conscious idea of either answering questions that the family never had answered, or looking at elements of the person’s identity, or the world around the crime, and figure out how we can tell a fuller story. You know, in some states they can secure a murder conviction without proving motive, so you can have a family go through the entire litigation process, all the way up to the killer being convicted, and they’ll never know why their loved one was killed. The pain that comes from that is gut-wrenching. So, aside from just taking you through the crime and how the person is caught, what can we add to the conversation that can give some solace to the families?

BLADE: As a host, you bring a lot to the show. You’re great on camera and your passion really shines through – but you always deflect the attention toward the family and the community around the victim.

PONGO: Thank you, I appreciate you noticing that. I’m the lens through which the subject gets to tell their story. If I share something about losses and experiences that I have, it’s because I know that human-to-human connection will help the subject open up. As journalists, we’re told never to become the story – and now we’re in this age where you have to have a social media presence, you have to have some charisma about you, you have to be a host of sorts. But I want to make sure that I’m a human first when I’m talking to these families, and I’m glad if that shines through.

BLADE: It does, and so does the fact that your show doesn’t sensationalize the way others do. There’s nothing tabloid about it.

PONGO: We do want to differentiate ourselves. Why would you come to MTV for a true crime story rather than other networks that have been doing them for years? We’ve got to put our bent on it. We’re focused on talking to young folks who live in the pop culture space, and the “True Life” franchise is the perfect avenue for that, because it’s all about the true lives of the subjects, and we wanted to be sure that that was highlighted.

BLADE: The focus on social justice issues certainly gives the show a youthful perspective.

PONGO: They say the young have the energy, and the elders have the wisdom, and we want to arm the energy of these young people – these bright, action-oriented young people who mobilized with the racial reckoning of 2020, who are leading the charge – we want to arm them with context and information about more stories, and how everything in our society kind of folds into what happens. Many of our episodes end with a call to action. Who do you call to change this law? Who do you email? As effective a tool social media is, so is voting, so is emailing legislators, so is getting involved in advocacy groups. We arm our audience with the information that they need to keep doing the great work they’re doing.

BLADE: It’s really activism taking the form of entertainment.

PONGO: That’s it, 100 percent. I started out at a Black-owned radio station on the South Side of Chicago. Al Sharpton held the afternoon slot for his show, each host was very community oriented, so I cut my teeth at that intersection of information and social justice – but I’m also a fan of hip-hop, I’m a fan of music, so when I’m not doing “True Life Crime” I’m doing MTV News interviews with my favorite artists. Investigating that intersection of social justice and pop culture is where I think a lot of our power lies. I think that’s where the young people are sitting right now.

BLADE: What do you hope they take away from these stories?

PONGO: If there’s anything that I want people to take away it’s this: After the show, whatever social justice issue we talk about, research it. Dig into it. That guilty pleasure feels a little bit less guilty if you do the work after that TV cuts off. 

“True Life Crime” airs on MTV at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays. All past episodes are available to watch on the MTV website.

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Arts & Entertainment

Show must go on- Lil Nas X’s embarrassing wardrobe malfunction on SNL

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Lil Nas X performing on NBC's SNL May 22, 2021 (Screenshot via SNL YouTube channel)

NEW YORK – Montero Lamar Hill, known by his stage name Lil Nas X, was performing his latest hit single ‘Call Me By Your Name’ from his album MONTERO on NBC’s Saturday Night Live when his pants ripped at the crotch.

The openly out singer-songwriter- rapper glanced down then back up at the audience, covered the affected area with his hand and kept singing in what reviewers and commentators are calling “the gayest performance ever on national television” and “iconic.”

WATCH:

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