The struggle for queer equality is far from over, but it's a true sign of progress that watching Queer as Folk is no longer an obligation.
Back when Showtime aired the first American adaptation of the British series about a community of gay friends in 2000, it was appointment viewing among huge swaths of queer people. It would be years before The L Word and Noah's Arc focused on lesbians and gay men of color, respectively, and while Will and Grace was a massive hit, the constraints of network TV meant the show's gay characters couldn't have recognizable sex lives. Beyond occasional installments from the Tales of the City franchise, Queer as Folk was the only place to find gay people on television who had friendships, lovers, and family lives. It was the only place to find stories about the personal and political reality of being queer in America, spiced up with the occasional murder.
And let's be clear: The show was pretty bad. For one thing, the plots were so tawdry they made Melrose Place seem like Tennessee Williams. Who can forget the time Ted (Scott Lowell) saw a video of himself having an orgy while he was strung out on crystal meth? Or when Hunter (Harris Allan), the teenage hustler, had sex with a closeted, homophobic politician, then kept a condom full of his semen in order to expose him as a hypocrite? The dialogue could be groaningly terrible, and some of the acting was so bad that it was hard to believe a performer as skilled as Sharon Gless, who played the indomitable diner owner Debbie Novotny, was asked to put up with it.
But that's what we had. There was a sense, at least among some gay viewers, that the community had to watch Queer as Folk, just to prove there was an audience out there for gay shows. What if it failed and we never saw another queer romance on television?
Fortunately, it didn't fail. It ran for five seasons and 83 episodes, breaking down wall after wall along the way. The aforementioned L Word and Noah's Arc followed in its footsteps, as did series as disparate as Looking, Queer Eye, Please Like Me, and It's a Sin. (The latter was created by Russell T. Davies, who also created the original, British version of Queer as Folk)
And now the legacy continues with Peacock's new iteration, which premieres June 9. The action has moved to New Orleans and the cast is more diverse, including many people of color, as well as trans and nonbinary artists. Still, the core of the show is the same: a group of queer friends experiences soap opera-level melodrama, has lots of enthusiastic sex, and tries to navigate the complexity of living freely in modern times. There are subplots about babies, nightclub shootings, and hooking up in bathrooms. There are accomplished older actresses on hand to lend credibility (this time it's Kim Cattrall and Juliette Lewis, who play the mothers of two leading characters.)
And frankly, there are many of the same old issues with writing and acting. As a brand, it seems Queer as Folk is destined to be heavy-handed and awkward. For instance, when a nonbinary professor talks with their trans partner about identity issues, they end the conversation by saying, "You're gonna give me this beautiful speech about trans-ness and sex and self-worth? Nothing could turn me on more." The only people who speak this way are fictional characters forced to embody political sentiments instead of human emotions. The same goes for the gay man who flirts with a teenage drag queen saying, "There's nothing more powerful than a young gay person at the club." That's hardly passable as the opening sentence of a college paper, let alone a pickup line at a bar.
Still, there's likely to be an audience for this show. It's easy to imagine viewers who are hungry to see these issues discussed so bluntly and see so many types of queer people in the narrative mix. It would be fantastic if the series found a fan base, but even better, queer audiences who don't like it don't have to watch in order to see themselves on TV. Instead, they can turn to First Kill or Heartstopper or Crush or Transparent or Pose or Legendary or AJ and the Queen. Or they can watch one of the many queer series and films premeiring this very week, including the second season of P-Valley on Starz, the Discovery+ docuseries Generation Drag and The Book of Queer, and the Hulu film Fire Island.
In other words, because the world made good on the promise of the first American version of Queer as Folk, this new one doesn't have to be for everyone. And that means everybody wins.
All eight Season 1 episodes of Queer as Folk drop Thursday June 8th on Peacock.
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Mark Blankenship is Primetimer's Reviews Editor. Tweet him at @IAmBlankenship.
TOPICS: Queer as Folk (Peacock), Peacock, Harris Allan, Johnny Sibilly, Juliette Lewis, Kim Cattrall, Russell T Davies, Ryan O'Connell , Scott Lowell, Sharon Gless