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The Lavender Tube: 2019 preview

by Victoria A. Brownworth

Lesbian actress Ellen Page will star in "The Umbrella Academy." Photo: Courtesy Netflix
Lesbian actress Ellen Page will star in "The Umbrella Academy." Photo: Courtesy Netflix  

Well, we didn't get what we wanted for Christmas, which was Donald Trump indicted. But we do get to start the New Year watching Nancy Pelosi be sworn in as Speaker, so 2019 is bound to be, if not better, at least less terrible than 2018, because Paul Ryan is gone, there are queers in the House, and Pelosi is gonna kick some GOP butt from the Beltway to the Castro and back again with her six-inch stilettos, and we are so here for it.

That said, we will still need lots and lots of scripted TV to distract and amuse us from the DC reality show, as well as give us that weekly cathartic cry (looking at you, "This Is Us" and "New Amsterdam"), because substance abuse is not an option between now and January 2020, when the next presidential primary begins.

And how is the primary a full year away when mainstream media has already jumped over Kamala Harris to anoint a Biden/Beto ticket? Did TV's white male pundit class learn nothing from 2016 and the Midterms? Elderly white men out, young women, people of color and queers in.

Who doesn't want to start the New Year with our old friends the Lannisters, Starks and Targarynes? If ever there were a metaphorical TV series for our times, it is "Game of Thrones."

"When you play the 'Game of Thrones,' you win. Or you die," begins the voiceover for the new trailer of "GOT." Sounds about right.

We somehow managed to get through 2018 without a season of the most-watched-series-ever because there was a lot of other great TV out there, and we made "Netflix and chill" our mantra. But now that we know the eighth and final season is imminent, we cannot waiteth.

HBO is teasing us with trailers, but the actual event is primed for ratings, so it debuts in April. Which gives you plenty of time to binge seasons one through seven, if for some reason you have never been bitten by the "GOT" bug. We don't know what winter will bring this time around, but we do know this will be the most anticipated new season of anything since "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" left us.

Some series aren't forcing us to wait more months before their debut. A raft of new shows and returning favorites debut this month. What will define 2019 on the TV landscape is more and more series coming via Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and the web. It's not your abuela's TV anymore, and if 2018 taught us anything, it's that we should hunt down great series because we needn't be stuck in network or even cable anymore.

That said, some network series remain must-see for their queer content and entertainment value, and we'll get to those in a bit. But there are some new series and returning favorites from streaming services and cable that you want to put on your "must-see" or "try this" lists.

Must-see is "The Fosters" spin-off "Good Trouble," which debuts on Freeform Jan. 8. We loved "The Fosters," with its lesbian family and young gay characters and interracial lesbian marriage. It checked all the boxes, and made it clear that gay TV could be engaging without lecturing the audience.

Joanna Johnson, whom we fell in love with a couple decades ago when she played Caroline Spencer on "The Bold and the Beautiful," has been behind the camera for years now, since she came out as a lesbian. She's one of the "Good Trouble" showrunners and writers, and as we always say, when we are behind the camera, our stories get told on camera.

Also on Freeform, "grown-ish," the "black-ish" spin-off, returns for a second season. Exec produced by "black-ish" star Anthony Anderson and starring the older daughter of that series, Zoey (Yara Shahidi), "grown-ish," which delves into bisexuality at Zoey's college campus, returns Jan. 2.

"The Umbrella Academy" is one of the most-hyped new series of 2019, and since it stars out lesbian actress Ellen Page, we're in. The Netflix original series is based on the comic book series of the same name. The plot is complex, as Netflix describes it: "On the same day in 1989, 43 infants are inexplicably born to random, unconnected women who showed no signs of pregnancy the day before. Seven are adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a billionaire industrialist, who creates The Umbrella Academy and prepares his 'children' to save the world. But not everything went according to plan. In their teenage years, the family fractured and the team disbanded. Now the six surviving 30-something members reunite upon the news of Hargreeves' passing. Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Vanya and Number Five work together to solve a mystery surrounding their father's death. But the estranged family once again begins to come apart due to their divergent personalities and abilities, not to mention the imminent threat of a global apocalypse."

The trailers are compelling, queerness abounds, and in addition to Page in the main cast, there is Mary J. Blige. Yes, Mary is in the house, and she plays Cha-Cha, a Neo-Nazi criminal. Unlike the comics, the character is female, and Cameron Britton plays Hazel, Cha-Cha's partner.

Emmy Raver-Lampman, as Allison Hargreeves/The Rumor, plays a "tomboy" with the ability to manipulate reality by lying (a timely skill). The ever-impressive and always just a little (or a lot) creepy Colm Feore plays Sir Reginald Hargreeves, also known as The Monocle, an alien masquerading as a human billionaire industrialist. Think "Stranger Things" meets "Deadly Class," with a touch of "Gotham." It looks fabulous.

Night ministry

"I Am the Night" debuts on TNT Jan. 16. The trailer, by "Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins, whose series it is, is mesmerizing. The six-episode limited series is based on the unsolved Black Dahlia murders, and is a gorgeous period piece.

TNT describes the series: "Inspired by true events, 'I Am the Night' tells the gripping story of Fauna Hodel (India Eisley), a teenage girl who is given away at birth, and grows up outside of Reno, Nevada. Fauna lives more-or-less comfortably with the mysteries of her origin, until one day she makes a discovery that leads her to question everything. As Fauna begins to investigate the secrets of her past, she meets a ruined reporter (Chris Pine) haunted by the case that undid him. Together they follow a sinister trail that swirls ever closer to an infamous Los Angeles gynecologist, Dr. George Hodel (Jefferson Mays), a man involved in some of Hollywood's darkest debauchery, and possibly, its most infamous unsolved crime." Must-see.

Theoretically, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" isn't a new series. Last spring, Fox cancelled the critically acclaimed comedy after five seasons. Literally the next day after Fox announced the series was cancelled, NBC snapped it up. There have been many TV series with cult followings over the years, and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is one. Had no one picked it up, there would have been a flurry of outraged fans doing letter-writing campaigns and picketing Fox, as often happens when favorite shows are cancelled. And "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is definitely beloved.

Will the Emmy-winner be different at NBC? Hard to say. NBC is the home of some solid sitcoms. What will be true is that vital gay characters will remain on the tube because NBC decided to keep this funny series that delves into serious issues like racism and homophobia alive and well. Begins Jan. 10.

"Veep" also isn't a new series, but like "Game of Thrones," the HBO political satire is beloved by viewers and critics alike. The show was on hiatus throughout 2018 while star Julia Louis-Dreyfus was treated for breast cancer. Louis-Dreyfus is one of the most awarded actors in TV history, winning more Emmys and SAG Awards than any other performer (eight of her Emmy awards were for acting, three for producing).

The return of "Veep" is almost as anticipated as "GOT," and for many of the same reasons. We need this searing political satire in this Trump climate more than ever. Alas, the HBO series does not return until April, along with "GOT."

HBO's "True Detective" returns for a third season on Jan. 13 after a nearly four-year hiatus. The hype is huge because Mahershala Ali is starring in the anthology series. Coming off his Oscar win for the magnificent "Moonlight," Ali is a reason to watch anything in which he appears. We've been paying attention to his work as far back as "Crossing Jordan" and "The 4400." Most recently Ali has co-starred in "House of Cards" and "Marvel's Luke Cage."

When "True Detective" debuted in 2014 to rave reviews, it felt like one of the best series HBO had created since "The Wire." It was dark, it was brilliantly acted with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and the eight episodes both felt like enough and left one craving more.

Season two was not-so-good, however. And while HBO claimed the ratings remained high, the plan to make the series an anthology cop show seemed as confused as the same plan FX had for "Fargo." Season two was a bust. Time passed. A long time. And now season three, also eight episodes, looks stellar.

Co-starring with Ali is the always reliable Stephen Dorff. Among the supporting cast is Mamie Gummer (we'd be remiss if we didn't remind you she's Meryl Streep's always-superb daughter, shadowed though she may be by her mother's greatness), in what will likely be the performance of her career. Also in the supporting cast is the amazing British actress Carmen Ejogo, who was luminous in Ava DuVernay's "Selma" as Coretta Scott King.

The plot involves two missing children, a decades-long search for answers, Ali being aged 30 some years, and a searingly emotional storyline that explores how good people can turn evil in mere moments, how justice is so often both delayed and denied, and how we come to terms with events that are guaranteed to break us if we don't fight back.

The writing is sharp (David Milch wrote one of the episodes) and delivered as one would expect from a cast this accomplished: with verisimilitude, verve and heart. This is a must-see series that has Emmy written all over it.

So does the Netflix original "Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes," which premieres Jan. 24, 30 years to the day after the serial killer was executed at the age of 42 in Florida. The four-part series, directed by Emmy-winner and Oscar-nominee Joe Berlinger, is billed as peeking "inside the mind of the infamous serial killer" who was convicted of murdering 30 women in the 1970s.

SYFY's new series "Deadly Class" premieres Jan. 16, and it's gonna be lit. This queerish coming-of-age story is about a school for young (and gorgeous) assassins. It's set in the 80s, and the music is fabulous. The first episode is available online, so you can preview it to see whether you want to commit. The diverse cast stars Benjamin Wadsworth ("Teen Wolf"), Lana Condor ("To All the Boys I've Loved Before") and Benedict Wong of the "Avengers" series, as well as Liam James ("The Killing"), Luke Tennie and Maria Gabriela de Faria.

"Roswell, New Mexico" debuts on the CW Jan. 15. Even if you never saw the original 1999 queerish "Roswell" that launched the career of Katherine Heigl among others, you'll love this re-boot of the tale of three sexy-pretty-hot aliens trying to hide in plain sight in the tiny, claustrophobic, alien-obsessed town of Roswell, New Mexico. With Tyler Blackburn ("Pretty Little Liars") and Michael Trevino ("The Vampire Diaries").

"Black-ish" and "The Conners" return to ABC Jan. 8. We continue to enjoy "black-ish" five seasons in because it is consistently hilarious, has Tracee Ellis Ross, Jenifer Lewis and Wanda Sykes, and because there still aren't enough black people on TV.

We promised ourselves we wouldn't watch "The Conners" anymore after their 2018 queerbaiting, but we may have misspoken. We may have to give it One More Chance to see if they fix what's wrong, since they do have some solid queer writers on the show, like lesbian writer and comedian Ali Liebegott.

"Will & Grace" was a consistent queer port for us to plug into in 2018, and that always-reliably-funny band of 50somethings returns Jan. 31, in a later time slot. That other reliable gay vehicle, "Modern Family," returns Jan. 9 for its 10th season of Cam and Mitchell not having sex.

Since we like our queer characters to be sexual, we are anticipating some interesting new plotlines on "How to Get Away with Murder," which has the hottest gay male sex on network and is unafraid to show full-frontal, albeit in tight briefs. Will marriage kill off Connor (Jack Falahee) and Oliver's (Conrad Ricamora) sex life? Will Oliver cheat with gorgeous Gabriel (Rome Flynn)? Will Grindr come into play again? Will that lesbian storyline between Tegan (Amirah Vann) and Michaela (Aja Naomi King) finally launch, or will Tegan and Annalise (Viola Davis) become an item, after flirting through season five?

"HTGAWM" returns Jan. 17. The series follows "Grey's Anatomy," which we fell out of love with after 15 years last season because there were just too many new faces and not enough of the core folks who made us love the series for all those years. But among those new faces were a couple gay guys and a trans man, so we're going to come back and see what Shonda Rhimes has up her prodigious sleeve for this year.

"This Is Us" and "New Amsterdam" return with their intense LGBT storylines Jan. 8, and "A Million Little Things," which we hate-watched through its first season, returns Jan. 17.

Other critics loved "A Million Little Things," but there's too much good TV out there for us to watch things we hate, so we'll report back. The premise starts with a "Big Chill"-style suicide, and the season finale had two of the cast with cancer (including a man with breast cancer) and another with serious depression that was impeding his getting erections, so we're not sure if the writers are just pulling out all the stops or are genuinely, earnestly wanting to address some serious issues, like mental health and the downside to anti-depressants, as well as the fact that yes, men also get breast cancer.

A brief PSA here: The leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. is not breast cancer or prostate cancer. Among both men and women, the leading cause of cancer mortality is lung cancer. Nearly 500 Americans die every day from lung cancer. So if you're going to pick a New Year's Resolution to keep, let it be to stop smoking, now, today.

The CW's Arrowsphere returns this month with "Arrow" on Jan. 21. Greg Berlanti's series takes a new look at the Green Arrow character, as well as other characters from the DC Comics universe, and it's really a great show if you like the DC Comics series that Berlanti has made his own. "The Flash" and all its gayness return Jan. 15.

Also returning Jan. 21 is "Black Lightning," a personal fave of ours, which stars the first black lesbian superhero, Thunder (Nafessa Williams). The first trans superhero returns on "Supergirl," Jan. 20.

Ah, "Riverdale." We just can't quit you. The gang in all their gay, lesbian and bisexual drama returns in its full youthful prettiness on Jan. 16.

Finally, a word about Kevin Spacey, late of "House of Cards." The video Spacey posted on Christmas Eve was creepy-crawly awful and made us want to run for a Silkwood shower. The video begins with a long silence — we counted 11 seconds — during which Spacey stares into the camera. He's dressed in a Christmas apron, and when he begins to speak, it is as his infamous character Frank Underwood. He says, "I know what you want. You want me back."

We do not. In fact, we wish Spacey didn't appear in some of our favorite films or "House of Cards," because they are forever tainted by the knowledge that he's accused by more than 30 young men and boys of sexual assault. We've always appreciated Spacey's remarkable talent as an actor, and we can imagine that young men have been drawn to his intellect and dark humor over the years. But consent has always been a thing, and when you don't get it, any sexual advances or more are assault.

It's a shocking end to a great career, and while we don't know if Spacey will land in prison with Bill Cosby, we do know male victims deserve justice, too, and we hope they get it. That Spacey thinks this is all vaudeville is disturbing, and speaks to the problems victims of sexual assault, be they male or female, have seeking justice.

And so for the serious and the sublime, the old and the news, and a fresh and fabulous New Year, you know you must stay tuned.

Lesbian actress Ellen Page will star in "The Umbrella Academy." Photo: Courtesy Netflix

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