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LGBTQ critics announce winners of Dorian TV Awards

Wanda Sykes, Jennifer Coolidge among honorees

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Jennifer Coolidge in ‘The White Lotus.’ (Photo courtesy of HBO)

They don’t get as much fanfare as the Emmys, but the Dorian TV Awards – presented annually by GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics – have been offering an important queer perspective on the best in the year’s television for a decade and a half, and they’ve just picked their latest round of champions.

On June 26, GALECA announced a slate of winners for the 15th Annual Dorian TV Awards that represented an even mix of high-profile hits and under-the-radar gems. HBO’s final season of “Succession” was a winner, taking the prize for Best Drama while series star Sarah Snook won Best Drama Performance. ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” star Quinta Brunson’s widely praised mockumentary following a clique of idealistic Philadelphia school teachers, took Best Comedy Series.

Less in line with mainstream Hollywood priorities, perhaps, many other awards went to an assortment of under-seen standouts. Amazon Freevee’s audacious prank show “Jury Duty” was named Best Reality Show, with Max’s absurdly snarky showbiz satire (and sadly, now-cancelled) “The Other Two” winning as Best LGBTQ TV Show and HBO comedies “Somebody, Somewhere” and “Los Espookys” taking Best Unsung TV Show and Best Non-English Language Show, respectively. Director Andrew Ahn’s cinematic “Fire Island,” Hulu’s smart queer spin on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” penned by star Joel Kim Booster, scored as Best TV Movie or Miniseries.

GALECA voters seemed to favor dry-but-witty women in most of the performance categories; Bridget Everett of “Somebody, Somewhere” was awarded Best Comedy Lead, Jennifer Coolidge for Best Supporting Drama performance for her instantly iconic return trip to “The White Lotus,” and Ayo Edebiri of FX on Hulu’s restaurant comedy “The Bear” for Best Supporting Comedy performance. The trend extended to the award for Best TV Musical Performance, which went to Ariana DeBose for her well-intentioned but controversial rap tribute to Angela Bassett and other nominees at the BAFTA Film Awards last March.

Other noteworthy wins: Satirist Ziwe Fumudoh’s (also recently cancelled) Showtime series “ZIWE,” a mix of commentary, sketch and topical interviews, received the Dorian for Best Current Affairs Show – its third win in the category; HBO Max’s female superhero series “Harley Quinn” was named Best Animated Program.

Horror was also a running theme, with Shudder’s documentary “Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror” (from TV mastermind Bryan Fuller) taking the Dorians for both Best TV Documentary and Best LGBTQ Documentary, and HBO’s apocalyptic limited series “The Last of Us” impressing GALECA voters as the year’s Most Visually Striking TV Show.

Season Two of Apple TV+’s musical spoof “Schmigadoon!” was named as Campiest TV Show, an award unique to the Dorians, though that might go without saying.

In other honors, the GALECA membership gave Coolidge another win by naming her as TV Icon of the Year, an award whose past recipients include Christine Baranski and Cassandra Peterson (a.k.a Elvira). Elliot Page, whose superhero character Viktor Hargreeves came out as trans in the most recent installment of Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy,” was named as the year’s LGBTQIA+ TV Trailblazer, an award given to entertainment figures who create “art that inspires empathy, truth and equity.” He joins the ranks of former winners Michaela Jaé Rodriguez and Jerrod Carmichael.

The Wilde Wit Award, designated by GALECA for “a performer, writer or commentator whose observations both challenge and amuse,” went to Wanda Sykes, the venerable comedian whose year has included memorable roles in “The Other Two,” Hulu’s “History of the World: Part II,” and Netflix’s “The Upshaws,” as well as voicing a charater in HBO Max’s “Velma.” After all those, she triumphed with a Netflix stand-up special – “Wanda Sykes: I’m an Entertainer,” featuring her takedowns of everyone from Kyrsten Sinema to MAGA conservatives afraid of Critical Race Theory.

It’s worth noting that out of the 18 programming categories, HBO (and Max) won nine, with Hulu (including FX on Hulu) and Shudder each grabbing two – a clear victory for streaming platforms over traditional network TV.

For those unfamiliar with the Dorians, in addition to its TV awards GALECA (originally founded in 2009) also honor the best in film and – starting this year – Broadway and Off-Broadway Theatre. They bring recognition to excellence in these three fields at separate times of the year, chosen from mainstream and queer+ content alike by a voting body of over 480 active critics and journalists. Via the Dorians, the group endeavors “to remind bullies, bigots and society’s currently beleaguered LGBTQ communities that the world has long appreciated the Q+ eye on everything entertainment—not only on hair and clothes.” The organization also advocates for better pay, access and respect for its members, especially those in its most underrepresented segments, and sponsors the Crimson Honors, a public college criticism contest for women or nonbinary students in the QTBIPOC rainbow that awards scholarship funds provided by film and TV review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes.

Entertainment and media fans can find out more and support the members and causes of GALECA by following @dorianawards on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – and of course, by visiting GALECA.org.

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Television

‘And Just Like That’ ditches preachiness to become addictive TV

Second season wraps Aug. 24 with Samantha Jones cameo

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The returning women of ‘And Just Like That.’ (Screen capture via HBO)

“Do you know where your children are?” New York TV station WNYW asks the parents in its audience every night.

This isn’t a worry for Charlotte York Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis) or Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker) two of the main characters featured on season two of “And Just Like That,” (AJLT), the “Sex and the City” reboot, airing weekly on Max through Aug. 24. Their children (from elementary school kids to teens) are safely ensconced at a posh summer camp. While their off-spring are away, Charlotte, who back in the day ran an art gallery, is having sex so good it’s like fireworks on the Fourth of July with her husband Harry (Evan Handler), a highly successful divorce lawyer.

Lisa, a distinguished documentarian filmmaker, and her husband Herbert (Christopher Jackson), a wealthy investment banker who’s thinking about running for New York City comptroller, devote themselves to their work. And to enjoying the rare treat of having a drink at a swanky bar by themselves (sans children).

Meanwhile, corporate (turned human rights) lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) knows all too well where her son Brady (Niall Cunningham) is. He’s living with Steve (David Eigenberg), his dad, in their Brooklyn townhouse. Miranda’s relationship with Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez), a nonbinary, bisexual, Mexican, Irish comedian who’s making a TV sitcom pilot with Tony Danza (playing himself), has brought Miranda, Steve and Brady into therapy.

Carrie Bradshaw, writer, (Sarah Jessica Parker), Seema Patel, a hot real estate agent, (Sarita Choudhury) and Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman), a Columbia Law School professor, are so busy grieving, having exit-out-of-grief sex and mourning stolen Birken bags that they wouldn’t have time for children. Nya is divorcing her musician husband Andre Rashad (LeRoy McClain) after many years of marriage because he wants kids and she doesn’t.

Yes! It’s summer in the city, “And Just Like That,” the fab ladies are back! With less sizzle than in “Sex and the City,” but still fun watch. No matter how hard the writers try, no amount of additional characters could make up for the absence of Samantha Jones, the utterly fabulous PR maven, who was an integral part of “Sex and the City.” Even the highly talented Samantha Irby, a bisexual producer and writer of AJLT, couldn’t create a character as captivating as Samantha, who is slated to make a cameo in the final episode.

But the sophomore season of “And Just Like That” has its share of style and juice. How can you resist a series that, in the seven episodes that have aired to date, has given us a (fictional) Met gala and a “cum slut?”

The first season of AJLT spent much time trying to make “Sex and the City” (SATC) more diverse.

It succeeded in many ways. Che, Seema, Lisa and Nya, the new featured characters of color, have intriguing stories. They have good chemistry with the original SATC characters. Yet, it sometimes felt heavy-handed and joyless.

The current season of the show, mostly, dispenses with the exposition and preachiness of season 1. In this season, sex and glam fashion are back in the city.

The episode of “AJLT,” when Charlotte becomes Harry’s Kegel coach to help him with his “dust balls” when he can’t ejaculate and Carrie talks of “Casper, the friendly cum,” is nearly as good as SATC’s “funky spunk” episode.

The women on AJLT are fab. But one of the most enjoyable characters is Anthony Marantino (Mario Cantone), who runs the Hot Fellas bakery. In one hilarious scene, he turns to his BFF Charlotte when he desperately needs to find a Hot Fella to appear with him on Drew Barrymore’s talk show. This being AJLT, Charlotte instantly finds a hot Italian poet who more than fits the bill. Dressed in his Hot Fellas uniform, the poet’s “package” is so great, that looking at him makes Barrymore sweat.

In another scene, Lisa, wearing a dress (designed by Valentino) with a huge train that won’t fit into a cab, has to walk 10 blocks to the Met Gala. “It’s not crazy,” she says to Herbert, who’s holding her train, “It’s Valentino.”

“And Just Like That” isn’t prestige TV. It’s more important: it’s addictive entertainment.

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‘Casa Susanna’ reveals 1950s underground safe haven for trans women

PBS doc tells story of LGBTQ history that has long been invisible

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(Image via PBS)

In the 1950s and 1960s, you could lose your job, scorned by your neighbors, arrested and/or institutionalized, if you were openly trans or cross-dressed in public.

Yet, during this draconian – anti-queer time, an underground network of transgender women and cross-dressing men found a safe haven in a modest house in the Catskills in New York. For a few days, they could live in this house, known as Casa Susanna. There, they could fulfill their dreams and discover their true selves. In a rare reprieve from hiding, they could meet other people like themselves; and live and dress as women.

“Casa Susanna,” an engrossing, moving documentary, which aired on June 27 on PBS’s “American Experience,” offers a revealing look into this underground network. The doc, directed by filmmaker Sebastian Lifshitz (“Wild Side,” “Little Girl), and executive produced by Cameo George, tells the story of a chapter of LGBTQ history that has long been invisible. “Casa Susanna” will stream on PBS platforms, including pbs.org and the PBS App, through July 26.

The documentary uses a trove of color photos of the people who sought refuge at Casa Susanna, archival footage and personal remembrances to tell its story.

The photos of life at Casa Susanna were found by collectors Michael Hurst and Robert Swope at a New York flea market. In 2005, Hurst and Swope published the photos in a book titled “Casa Susanna.”

Queer icon Harvey Fierstein wrote a play “Casa Valentina” that was inspired by Casa Susanna. The play was performed on Broadway in 2014.

In the documentary, we learn about what queer life was like at Casa Susanna from four people who were there in mid-century.

This isn’t a fast-paced, action-packed doc. But, it’s far from a “teachable moment. Watching “Casa Susanna” is like seeing photos of long-lost relatives.

The 137-minute doc’s slow pace is captivating. “Casa Susanna,” now, is just a few empty buildings. But in its heyday, it pulsed with queers.

In other places in the Catskills, hetero Borscht belt comedians entertained. At Casa Susanna, trans women and cross-dressing men performed. Not always as showbiz stars. Often, they dressed as who they wanted to be: ordinary women such as housewives.

The most moving story is that of nonagenarian Katherine Cummings. At the film’s beginning, Cummings, a trans woman, visits the old Casa Susanna buildings. Though, all that’s visible are the facades of empty buildings, she recognizes the theater where trans women and cross-dressing men performed decades earlier. Cummings was born in Scotland in 1935, and raised in Australia. Born as a man, she moved to Toronto. From there, she went to Casa Susanna to meet people like herself. While she lived as a man, she was named John. As John, she married and had three children. Cummings died in 2022. The documentary is dedicated to her.

“People used to love to be here,” Cummings says, “They had total freedom. A total chance to be themselves.”

Another elder, Diana Merry-Shapiro, a trans woman born in 1939, tells an engaging story. She was born in an Iowa farm town and later lived in California and New York. During her life as a man, Merry-Shapiro, then named David, married a woman and was a cross-dresser. After the marriage ended in divorce, she had gender affirmation surgery. She then married a man. After that marriage broke up, she was a computer programmer at Xerox. She married Carol, a woman, in the 1990s. The couple live in New York.

Another of the documentary’s storytellers, Betsy Wollheim, born in 1952, cisgender and president of Daw Books, is, at times, refreshingly angry. Donald Wollheim, the science fiction writer, was her father. A cross-dresser, he along with his wife (Betsy’s mother), went to Casa Susanna. This was kept secret until Betsy’s mother was dying. Betsy reveals that her father sometimes was abusive toward her. She believes this may have been because he had to be closeted about his cross-dressing.

The fourth storyteller, Gregory Bagarozy, a cisgender, hetero man, is personally connected to Casa Susanna. The (now-deceased) Marie Tonell, who co-owned Café Susanna with her spouse (the late) Tito Arriagada, was Bagarozy’s grandmother. Arriagada, first a cross-dresser, later lived as a trans woman named Susanna Valenti.

If you’re sensitive to language, be warned. Often, the people who tell their stories in “Casa Susanna” use terms that were said in the 1950s and 1960s. Words like “transvestite” and “transexual,” which aren’t used today, are used.

Though some of the storytellers in the doc, later, were in same-sex relationships, in mid-century, Casa Susanna didn’t welcome gay people. This is part of the extreme homophobia of the time of the Lavender Scare, Bagaroxy says.

“Casa Susanna” is a fascinating window into hidden queer history.

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‘Being Mary Tyler Moore’ a relevant, entertaining look at beloved icon

Despite lacking queer content, new doc is a fun walk down memory lane

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“Being Mary Tyler Moore,” a new, 1 hour-59 minute, documentary, directed by James Adolphus, airing on HBO platforms, is a valentine to Moore. It’s impossible to resist its charms, and there’s some saltiness in the midst of its sweetness. Seeing and hearing (if only in brief clips) Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Betty White and other queer icons talk about, hang out with and act with Moore is well worth the watch. As are the moments when Moore forthrightly says what’s she’s thinking. Such as when she takes down David Susskind, a 1960s TV talk show host.  

Moore, who died at 80 in 2017, starred in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” two of the greatest TV sitcoms. She received a special Tony for her role in the Broadway play “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for her work in “Ordinary People.”

To many women and queers, Moore was a feminist and/or a queer icon.

The documentary opens with Moore’s take-down of Susskind. In a clip from a 1966 interview, Susskind asks Moore blatantly sexist questions. He bemoans the fact that, in his view, married women don’t listen to their husbands. After putting up with his condescension, Moore speaks up. Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminist Mystique” has it right, she tells Susskind. Women, Moore says, should be “a human first, a woman second, and wives and mothers third.” 

There isn’t a narrator for “Being Mary Tyler Moore.” This is, at first, disconcerting. But, though the documentary might have benefitted from having a narrator, it doesn’t lack coherence. Through archival footage of televised interviews of Moore (with Rona Barrett and Dinah Shore) and audio, along with a few video clips of colleagues, friends and family talking about and interacting with Moore, we’re given a window into Moore’s life and career.

It’s fun to see clips of Moore singing and dancing with Dick Van Dyke. If you grew up watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the documentary’s clips from the show will bring back fond memories. Those who’ve never watched MTM will come away with an appreciation of why their moms and grandmas loved the series. Watching Moore toss her beret in the air in the clip from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” credits, I recalled what a lifeline Mary Richards was for second wave feminists.

Though a loving portrait, the documentary doesn’t leave out Moore’s struggles with alcoholism or how dysfunctional her family was when she was a child.

Moore married Dr. Robert Levine in 1983. Levine, who was her husband until her death, was a producer of the documentary. Because of this, the documentary has charming home movies of Moore with her dogs and at her bridal shower (where Betty White takes part in roasting the bride to be).

The documentary notes Moore’s superb portrayal in “Ordinary People” of a cold, angry and grieving mother, and of a paralyzed woman in “Whose Life Is It Any Way.” 

Going from the sublime to the campy, there’s a clip of Moore with Elvis Presley in the 1969 movie “Change of Habit.”

“Being Mary Tyler Moore” is insightful about the impact of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” on women. It’s disappointing that it includes little on the impact the series had on queers. Airing in the decade after Stonewall when TV portrayed LGBTQ+ people as criminals, “sick” or sissies, the series was one of the first on TV to depict being gay in a positive light. The documentary has no clip of the episode “My Brother’s Keeper.”

In that episode, broadcast when being queer was illegal in most states, Phyllis’s brother Ben visits her. Phyllis says, “I’m so relieved,” when she learns Ben won’t marry Rhoda, her nemesis, because he’s gay.

“What is a family?” asks Moore (as Mary Richards) in a clip featured in the documentary, “but people who care about you?” This line has spoken to generations of queers.

Despite my quibble with its queer quotient, this documentary is a keeper. At a time of backlash against women’s reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights, “Being Mary Tyler Moore” is both relevant and entertaining.

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