Type keyword(s) to search


Netflix's Q-Force gets mixed results in its attempt at a stereotype-subverting gay Archer

  • "Much like the long-running FX hit, this cartoon is a spoof of spy action dramas that attempts to subvert their clichés with a modern sense of humor and progressive ideas about sex and gender," says Brian Tallerico. "What’s a bit off about Q-Force is that it also feels like a show that might have been conceived around the time Archer started its long run. A few too many of the jokes are dated and easy, although the show leans so far into its cheesy sense of humor that it becomes increasingly likable as the season goes on. It’s a show that’s comfortable with viewers groaning at a few of its easy targets and trusts that fans will stick with it as a very sharp writer’s room and strong voice cast get over the growing pains of a first season. Q-Force may not have the loyal fan base of Archer out of the gate, but this group of outcasts could end up just as beloved before too long." He adds: "The jokes are easy in the way that a comedy drag show often includes targets that the audience can see coming. It’s a big, gay, spy show with Sean Hayes and Wanda Sykes—you don’t come to it for subtlety. And yet Q-Force does try to develop some unexpected channels of humor and plotting as the season-long story starts to build around a nefarious plot to keep LGBTQ+ agents in the closet. It starts with the expected, but Schur and his writers make just enough unexpected choices after laying that foundation to keep people watching, and it feels like a show that really likes its characters, even the stereotypical ones (which one can’t always say about Archer). It leans into the stereotypes and then slowly starts to subvert them, revealing the characters underneath. Q-Force isn't as ambitious or smart as some of the shows it’s clearly trying to be, but I’m not willing to write off Agent Mary just yet.


    • Q-Force continues the "Marvelification" of queer culture: "It’s been happening for a while, but just as the 1990s Batman films and the occasional X-Men or Spider-Man entry eventually gave way to Marvel’s total domination of the cinematic landscape, queerness is becoming more and more mainstream," says Kyle Wilson. "And just as Marvel has polished the superhero story down to a predictable formula, shows like Q-Force are turning the distinctiveness of queer culture into a series of palatable public memes. Of course, I can’t begin to speak for every LGBTQIA+ individual, but for me, this has been its own kind of struggle. While surely queer acceptance is the goal we’ve all been striving for, seeing a media marketplace that wanted nothing to do with us 15 years ago suddenly start firehosing queer stereotypes onto the screen in the hopes that it will appeal to both straight and gay audiences can feel a bit like cultural whiplash. There was predictable outrage over Q-Force, a show that panders to the gays, insisting, “You can’t pander to the gays.” But the tensions of a culture not used to being pandered to suddenly being pandered to is exactly what I’m talking about. We’ve had to pick up the scraps at the pop-culture table for so long, and we’ve been aware of the media handwaving away our presence the whole time, so it’s no wonder we quite literally can smell it when the pandering begins."
    • Q-Force turns all the things that make growing up gay difficult into superpowers: "The show is, at its base level, a cartoon," says Justin Kirkland. "But after getting a few episodes in, I started noticing that in this show, all the things that make growing up gay difficult are superpowers, in a way, for these characters. The one that sticks with me hardest is the most flamboyant of the crew: Twink. He’s brash and outspoken. An effeminate drag queen, which so happens to also be his greatest strength on the team." He adds: "The stereotypes exist in the show, sure, but we've been so conditioned to recoil at them—whether to self-preserve or chastise those we think are making fun of us—that we rarely get the time to sit with them. I’ve seen the effects of my own internalized homophobia get in my way. I've twitched at the numerous yas queen characters I've seen over the years because I’ve seen what happens to me when I let my own flamboyance come out. Stereotypes like that are difficult because, even when they contain truth, they've been leveraged against us for so long that we're more willing to burn that part of ourselves than embrace it."
    • Q-Force can't quite achieve its gay James Bond goal: "This show is meant to evoke Bond, and seems to be borrowing from his fundamental unknowability," says Daniel D'Addario. "But while Bond can be more an archetype of a midcentury ideal man than a rounded human, part of the potency of the idea behind Q-Force is that in borrowing straight archetypes, queer creators might improve upon them. Viewers who are already dubious of this show’s fight for gay rights hinging on letting gay people serve the objectives of the (fake) CIA will find little in the character of Steve to keep them watching. It’s a surprising choice to center a character with little distinctive about him beyond his appearance, and speaks to a fundamental lack of specificity that hurts Q-Force. The show’s storyline, drawing on elements of global conspiracy and mind control, blossoms into something wild and proudly offbeat, but there is no strong central character to keep us anchored. And Steve’s rivalry with his straight supervisor Rick Buck (David Harbour) comes to feel flaccid, as Buck ends up almost shockingly clueless to avoid overshadowing a protagonist without qualities. Q-Force’s hopscotching around the planet comes at times to feel like a forced march, even as the settings — a fictionalized Eurovision contest, a gay enclave in Palm Springs — are well-chosen and cleverly drawn."
    • Q-Force misses its mark as a celebration of queerness: "Somehow....the star power of Hollywood’s greatest queer talent is diminished by … too much queerness," says Tariq Raouf, adding: "The biggest problem with Q-Force is that it tries too hard to be hip, queer and fun, which ends up making it feel stale and slightly offensive. At a time when queer people are fighting to be seen for more than their sexual orientation or gender identity, this comedy reminds us that Hollywood only sees us as flamboyant, rainbow-loving, sex-obsessed, one-note characters. Never-ending bad jokes — like lesbians merging bank accounts on the first date, or gay men only drinking wine coolers — diminish any depth that the show manages to reach by the end of its first season, a shame as there’s definitely potential for a compelling show hidden underneath all the rainbow confetti."
    • Maybe the most revolutionary thing about Q-Force is how matter-of-fact it feels in 2021: "For all the cartoon dicks, racy double entendres and specific LGBTQ+ pandering, Q-Force unfolds like a conversation between the funniest people on Gay Twitter circa 2016," says Daniel Fienberg. "Some of them even write for the show! It’s got the currency of the first season of The Other Two or a later season of Will & Grace. Or, put a different way, if this not especially young, white, straight TV critic can recognize all the jargon and get — and even often anticipate — all the punchlines, then you’re not really moving the chains (sports-ball reference) very far."
    • Unfortunately, Q-Force simply isn’t that good: "And the few laughs that did manage to escape my mouth as I watched weren’t nearly hearty enough to make me love it," says Michael Blackmon. "Though the show has some charm, it’s weighed down by uninteresting characters and dull “jokes,” which are really just random utterances of pop culture trivia like the names of actors, singers, and certain films. And though the show tries not to make its rainbow coalition of spies textbook stereotypes, it doesn’t completely succeed, especially when it comes to its queer women characters."
    • Q-Force feels like it's coming out 10 years later than it should have: "The pop-culture parodies lean towards movies from the 2000s like Brokeback Mountain and The Princess Diaries, and any show in 2021 where a drag queen praises Harry Potter and there isn't any joke afterward about J.K. Rowling's transphobia immediately feels like a relic," says Reuben Baron. "The show's politics mostly hold up and depicts some solid running gags about the corporatization of Pride. Yet, what might have felt boldly progressive in the Obama era is now feels a bit obvious. An animated show made over the course of two years is going to be limited in terms of topicality; although, somehow, the show is up-to-date enough to describe 'the nipple cut of Cats,' which only became public knowledge in July. However, it is noteworthy how much of Q-Force's attempts at humor are based on throwing out references and buzzwords."
    • Q-Force's comedy with gay stereotypes needs layers to work: "It is not particularly funny, and that is more of a problem," says Rebecca Nicholson. "In its opening episodes, you can see the jokes coming a mile away, and it left me thinking that animation and comedy are all much more sophisticated now. Trading in stereotypes is a tried and tested comedic technique, but to work well, there have to be more layers. This rarely goes beyond initial observations: Europeans love nudity! Isn’t it hilarious when fat people are naked! Aren’t straight men gross! Aren’t lesbians good at DIY! (Although to be fair, that one has solid roots.) It isn’t until Q-Force visits a very familiar-looking song contest, called Europevision, that it dares to leave the fluff behind and dip into more exploratory waters. When it finally takes off the feather boa and goes rogue, it starts to settle in to something worth watching."
    • For every joke that falls flat or plays into tired stereotypes, there are many more that mine those same stereotypes to find something surprising: "Some queer viewers, for example, may find the show's depiction of the fabulously effeminate Twink an offensive one, but it should be noted that the character's a great deal more confident, self-assured and comfortable in their skin than the show's ostensible main character," says Glen Wheldon. "That counts for something. It might be useful to point out here that stereotypes are harmful when they are flatly asserted by those seeking to keep marginalized groups out. But in the hands of a marginalized group, stereotypes can be deployed usefully — they can act as Trojan horses, sneaking us past the defenses of a bigoted system, to get us in the room. No, it's never ideal — one always hopes to be welcomed. But when thoughtfully, cannily exploited, even the broadest stereotypes can help to undermine the prejudices and hatred they seem, on the surface, to embody. Also, perhaps more importantly, given how queer characters have been depicted in media over the years: These queens aren't neutered. They, like any other superspy character in the culture, have sex onscreen. Joyfully (and occasionally full-frontally), without the camera panning away to gently wafting curtains."
    • Q-Force is like watching RuPaul's Drag Race's acting challenges: "To watch Q-Force, Netflix’s latest adult animated series, is to sit through 10 episodes of scripted material at the same level of quality as RuPaul’s Drag Race’s acting challenges, where talented performers try to bring to life a script with no actual jokes, just cultural references," says Juan Barquin. "It’s like scrolling through the drafted tweets of Gay Twitter Comedians or sifting through the outtakes for a gay podcast, where every other sentence in a conversation involves a name-drop of a pop star or actress and a catty observation about them...It seems unfair to call Q-Force dated, when it was likely put together quickly to have its finger on the pulse of the queer zeitgeist, but it’s hard to find any jokes that don’t rely on observations about queer people that have been around for ages."

    TOPICS: Q-Force, Netflix, Gabe Liedman, Michael Schur, Sean Hayes, LGBTQ