When you’re watching reruns as background noise or zooming through a new series to see how it ends, binge-watching is perfectly fine.
But with this week’s curated collection of queer television shows from the Blade’s vaults, binge-watching is not allowed. Take the time to savor the writing, the acting and the design and to discuss what you’re watching with family and friends.
“Gentleman Jack” (HBO) is a rollicking portrait of Anne Lister, an English landowner often descried as “the first modern lesbian.” Like any cash-poor landowner, Lister decides that she needs a rich wife and sets her sights on Ann Walker, a local heiress who’s been dazzled by Lister’s charisma for years.
The splendid eight-part series, set in Halifax in 1832, features an excellent script by creator Sally Wainwright that is crammed with authentic period details gleaned from Lister’s diaries. The delightfully swaggering Suranna Jones leads a superb cast.
“Gentleman Jack” has been renewed for a second season. It’s a rousing tale and a rich contribution to our understanding of how same-sex desire and gender nonconformity are expressed in different times and places.
A much less authentic but equally fascinating view of history is on display in Hulu’s “The Great.” Over the course of 10 episodes that wonderfully combine witty repartee, Enlightenment philosophy, court intrigue, physical comedy and brutal violence, Elle Fanning transforms from a naïve Austrian princess to the ruthless Empress Catherine the Great of Russia. Fanning is terrific and Nicholas Hoult gleefully portrays her imperial husband in all of his mercurial magnificence.
“The Great” has been renewed for a second season, but Catherine’s coup may require some cast changes.
Powerful women are at the center of “Mrs. America,” (FX on Hulu), a fascinating nine-part series that recreates the battle over the Equal Rights Amendment. The Amendment is supported by the leaders of the women’s movement and the leaders of both political parties. The Amendment is opposed by frustrated housewife Phyllis Schlafly who mounts a grassroots movement that ultimately derails passage of the ERA and helps to usher in the Reagan Revolution.
Creator Dahvi Waller even-handedly captures the obstacles faced by both sides: the personal and professional sacrifices made by Schlafly and the challenges of working in coalition faced by the second-wave feminists. A superb Cate Blanchett leads an outstanding cast that includes Uzo Aduba (Shirley Chisholm), Rose Bryne (Gloria Steinem), Margo Martindale (Bella Abzug), Tracey Ullman (Betty Friedan), Niecy Nash (Flo Kennedy), and Elizabeth Banks (Jill Ruckelshaus).
With a phenomenal script by brilliant gay writer Russell T. Davies (famous for “Torchwood,” the original British version of “Queer as Folk” and several seasons of “Doctor Who”), “Years and Years” (HBO) is a visionary voyage into the near future.
The six-part series starts in Manchester, England in 2019 and follows the Deacon family over the next 15 years as Britain is rocked by a period of rapid technological, political and economic changes. On the political front, the wily Vivienne Rook (a stellar Emma Thompson), gradually seizes power. On the home front, matriarch Muriel Deacon (a fierce and feisty Anne Reid) fights to keep her sprawling family together.
Craftily extrapolating from current events, Davies creates a fascinating future that serves as a vibrant backdrop for the compelling family saga. The acting from the amazing ensemble cast is superb and Davies’ pitch-perfect casting displays a deep commitment to diversity.
Diversity was also a hallmark of “Vida,” which ran for three seasons on STARZ. The smart and sexy series centered on two estranged Mexican American sisters (Melissa Barrera and Mishel Prada) who return to their childhood home in Los Angeles following the unexpected death of their mother. They are surprised to discover that their mother was married to another woman (played by non-binary actor Ser Anzoategui) and that her business, a popular neighborhood bar, is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Created by award-winning playwright Tanya Saracho and scripted by an all Latinx writers room, the show pulsated with a gritty and truthful authenticity whether it was exploring the complex and fluid sexual lives of the central characters or the shifting economic tides of their rapidly gentrifying East Los Angeles neighborhood.