Arts & Culture » Television

Fall Preview: The Lavender Tube

by Victoria A. Brownworth

In the latest Greg Berlanti creation, Ruby Rose stars as an out lesbian "Batwoman." Photo: CW
In the latest Greg Berlanti creation, Ruby Rose stars as an out lesbian "Batwoman." Photo: CW  

Ah, summer, we hardly knew ye. Gone in a flurry of Trump horrors, mass shootings and too many Democratic contenders for the 2020 nomination, summer 2019 is now merely another for the climate-crisis record books. So we turn to TV for respite as the autumnal equinox approaches. TV has never, thankfully, been better. Not necessarily gayer, but definitely lit. There are some superb shows just waiting to debut, and others are soon to be at your streaming, binging fingertips on Netflix.

The fall season begins with a Climate Crisis Town Hall on Sept. 4. Only 10 Democratic candidates have qualified for the event, which will be a live broadcast on CNN. They are, in order of their current polling rankings, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Beto O'Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang and Julian Castro. With the Amazon rainforest, which provides a fifth of the world's oxygen, on fire, and July having been the hottest month ever recorded in history, the timing could not be more critical. Noticeably absent will be Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who withdrew from the race on Aug. 22. Inslee, who had made climate action his main platform, had never got above 1% in the polls. But it was Inslee who had campaigned for a climate summit, so the CNN town hall is largely his doing.

The political spillover into TV was never more apparent than with the announcement that former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer would be a contestant on the latest season of "Dancing with the Stars." The decision, which hopefully paves the way for at least one "SNL" skit featuring Melissa McCarthy's genius portrayal of Spicey Spicer, was met with universal opprobrium. Host Tom Bergeron slammed the casting on Twitter, noting that he had requested of producers that "the 28th season of 'DWTS' be a joyful respite from our exhausting political climate and free of inevitably divisive bookings from any party affiliations." Bergeron said he had understood that he and the producers were in agreement. "Subsequently, a decision was made to, as we often say in Hollywood, 'go in a different direction.'"

"DWTS" has previously cast several other well-known Republicans, notably Energy Secretary Rick Perry — bet you forgot he was Energy Secretary, or that we even have one, didn't you?; journalist and Trump pal Geraldo Rivera; Bristol Palin, daughter of former Alaska governor and Tea Party founder Sarah Palin; and Fox News anchor and white nationalist cheerleader Tucker Carlson.

Spicer will be getting a big payday, too, proving once again that straight cisgender white male privilege rises. Variety reports that contestants on the ABC competition series make $125,000 for the show's rehearsal period and their first two weeks on the air. Should contestants go to week three and beyond, they earn more each week. Variety reports the top money is $295,000. According to a White House report released in 2017, Spicer made just under $180,000 during his time with the Trump administration. We look forward to Spicer adding to his personal humiliations and being the first one voted off the dance floor.

In better fall season news, the powerhouse gay producers and showrunners extraordinaire Greg Berlanti and Ryan Murphy have more TV for us this season. Berlanti just made TV history. The gay wunderkind of the Arrowverse now has a record 18 shows on the air. We won't list them all, but wow. His latest, "Batwoman," is probably the most hyped series for fall. In Berlanti's iteration, Kate Kane, Batman's cousin, is an out lesbian fighting the social justice fight in Batman's absence. Batwoman will be the first lead lesbian superhero on TV.

The latest Berlanti creation stars Ruby Rose as the iconic Batwoman. Rose herself has been an out lesbian since she was 12, and has been outspoken about her own gender nonconformity. She says she had previously considered transition from female to male, but for now uses female pronouns. "I am very gender fluid and feel more like I wake up every day sort of gender neutral," Rose said.

Rose caused a furor when she joined the cast of "Orange Is the New Black" and straight ladies worldwide fell in love with her sexy, butch, tatted androgyny. Some LGBTQ activists argued that the "I'd go gay for Ruby Rose" wave was homophobic, but Rose herself said in an interview with Cosmopolitan that "people should not nitpick who can or cannot identify as genderqueer, gender-neutral, bisexual or trans, or tell them how to live their lives," adding, "People should let others say what they want to about their sexuality, and this is a message the LGBT community should be supporting."

Casting Rose as Batwoman was a definite pro-queer choice by Berlanti. The show and Rose are destined to be wildly popular, and "Batwoman" is positioned on the top ratings night of the week, Sunday. On the CW, debuting Oct. 6.

"You don't have to be a good person as long as you do good things." That line will repeat in your head to infinity as you settle into Ryan Murphy's glorious new series and his Netflix debut, "The Politician." It's fabulous in a way that made us fall in love with "Glee" and "American Horror Story" when they were new and not like anything else. "The Politician" is not like anything else except the best of Ryan Murphy. It has everything you could want, but especially it has a deliriously good Ben Platt in the title role as Payton Hobart, a young politician, and an incomparably good Jessica Lange. "The Politician" is so good, our hatred for Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays Payton's mother Georgina in a perfect parody of herself, momentarily ebbed.

Netflix describes the eight-episode series as "the politician aspirations of Platt's Payton Hobart, a wealthy Santa Barbarian. Every season will revolve around a different political race his character is involved in." It brings the gay, it brings the funny, it brings the camp, and you will love it. Also starring Zoey Deutch as Infinity Jackson, with guest stars Bette Midler and Judith Light. Light previously tore through the scenery in Murphy's ode to Gianni Versace. We can't wait to see her here.

Murphy signed a $300 million deal with Netflix, and "The Politician" is his first series with them. In the brand new trailer, Platt's character warns his classmates not to get in the way of his presidential aspirations. The scene where he freaks out on his running mate Infinity Jackson (who has cancer) after discovering a video of her using a gay slur (not the one you're thinking of, which is what makes the scene hilarious rather than awful) is priceless.

The trailer also teases something dark and dangerous about the show as Payton asserts he will win at all costs. Murphy told The Hollywood Reporter the show "is meant as a satirical class takedown with a modern twist," and noted, "It's wealthy people behaving badly. All of this has been percolating in the culture, particularly under this president and this idea of Ivanka and Jared as the sort of satanic poster boy and girl for privilege and nepotism." Dark, funny satanic poster boy and girl TV is just what we were looking for this season.

Stabs in the dark

Remember all those slasher movies set in summer camps that splattered the 1980s? So does Ryan Murphy, and the 9th season of "American Horror Story" is a paean to those films. Murphy always closely guards details of his "AHS" series, so it's always a shocker when the series finally debuts. From the various trailers and Murphy himself, we know that "American Horror Story: 1984" is set in a wooded camp, there's lots of "Psycho"-style stabbiness, and one teaser showed a group of counselors arriving at "Camp Redwood" to set up. Cast members include Emma Roberts, Sarah Paulson, gay Olympian Gus Kenworthy, "Pose"'s Angelica Ross, Cody Fern and more. "American Horror Story: 1984" premieres on FX Sept. 18.

So remember "Lost?" Remember how much you loved it before it went completely off the rails? Remember how fabulous "The Leftovers" was? Well, Damon Lindelof, "Lost" co-creator and creator of "The Leftovers," is the creator of "Watchmen," which is arguably the most-talked-about new series of the fall season and may be what HBO was looking for to fill the vacuum left by "Game of Thrones" ending.

Based on the graphic novel series "Watchmen," the TV series takes place in what HBO describes as "an alternate contemporary reality in the US, in which superheroes and masked vigilantes were outlawed due to their violent methods, but some of them gather around to start a revolution while others attempt to stop it."

Lindelof, who knows how to tease the unteasable, described the series on Instagram, saying it was neither a reboot nor a remake of the original 1987 12-issue story. Rather, he said, it will be wholly new, but with the canon of the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic series embedded. "Those original 12 issues are our Old Testament," he wrote. "When the New Testament came along it did not erase what came before it. Creation. The Garden of Eden. Abraham and Isaac. The Flood. It all happened. And so it will be with 'Watchmen.'" Wow.

The series stars Emmy-winner Regina King, who is a veritable shapeshifter of an actress and pure genius in everything she does. Co-stars include Don Johnson, Frances Fisher, Louis Gossett, Jr., Jeremy Irons and Sara Vickers. Music by the great Trent Reznor. It's gonna be lit. In October on HBO.

On Sept. 6, Sacha Baron Cohen changes it up in "The Spy." The Netflix original drama series is based on the real-life story of Israeli Mossad agent Eli Cohen. The series is created by Gideon Raff, who is openly gay. Raff has won an Emmy as well as the Israeli version of the Oscar. Noah Emmerich, who starred in "The Americans," co-stars. If you liked Netflix's "Bodyguard," this series is for you.

"BoJack Horseman" is one of those animated series that you tell yourself you'll just try one or two episodes to see what all the fuss is about, then it hooks you, and you realize you really did need animated queer characters. The creator of that series, Raphael Bob-Waksberg has a new series, "Undone," debuting Sept. 13 on Amazon Prime. The series is described by Amazon as exploring "the elastic nature of reality through its central character, Alma [voiced by Rosa Salazar]. After getting into a near fatal car accident, Alma discovers she has a new relationship with time, and uses this ability to find out the truth about her father's death."

In addition to "AHS" alum Salazar, "Undone" also stars Bob Odenkirk ("Better Call Saul"), Angelique Cabral ("Life in Pieces") and "Teen Wolf" cutie Tyler Posey.

Also on Sept. 13, Netflix drops a new Chelsea Handler documentary, "Hello Privilege, It's Me, Chelsea." Handler focuses on how white privilege has impacted American culture as well as talking, of course, about herself. Handler is always hilarious and arch, and spends her free time gutting Trump on Twitter like so much road kill, so definitely worth viewing.

There are many more new series which we will preview and let you know what is and isn't worth viewing, but set your DVRs for ABC's creepy thriller "Emergence," which debuts on Sept. 24, and the new CBS supernatural thriller series "Evil," on Sept. 26. "Evil" is created by Robert and Michelle King, who created "The Good Wife" and "BrainDead," two series we loved. "Evil" stars Mike Colter, Michael Emerson and Christine Lahti among other stellar actors.

We want to add here that we sure are glad the networks and cable finally got the message that people of color can be leads in series, because this is looking like the most racially diverse, if not queerest fall season in forever.

One of our faves, "Will & Grace," is set to return for its final season on NBC in October. Presidential candidate Joe Biden said of the series that "'W&G' probably did more to educate the American public" on LGBT issues "than almost anything anybody has ever done so far." And we wonder why a reality TV star is president.

Three much-loved guest stars will reprise their roles on "W&G" for the 11th season. Out gay actor and perennial gorgeousness Matt Bomer returns as Will's boyfriend, TV journalist McCoy Whitman. "SNL" alum Vanessa Bayer reprises her role as bakery owner Amy. Golden Globe nominee Blythe Danner returns as Will's mother Marilyn Truman. Danner has garnered two Emmy nominations for her acerbic role that says so much about how Will became Will.

Finally, as the summer season draws to a close, the Aug. 23 episode of ABC's "What Would You Do?" brought TLC's Jazz Jennings in for a segment on how cisgender people should treat trans people in public. (Your casual reminder that there is only one answer: with civility, just like you treat everyone else. We will never understand why this is so hard for some people.) A trans woman asks directions to the ladies room. A woman with a small child at a nearby table says, "You asked for the women's bathroom? Aren't you a man? That's disgusting." Two men at a table speak up and tell her not to do that. The woman says, "Why are you defending 'him?'" "Because what you're doing is not right."

More people in the restaurant engage, radical politics ensues, then Jazz comes in along with host John QuiƱones and says, "I'm Jazz Jennings, I'm transgender myself. You guys restored my faith in humanity." This show always makes us tear up because whatever the moral quandary of the week, most people (ordinary people) do the right thing. But whenever it's a queer thing, it really makes us feel like the possibility exists for LGBTQ people to one day live without fear in the straight cisgender world. If you missed it, you can watch at ABCgo.com. We highly recommend that.

So for all the great new series about to debut, the old faves back for a last hurrah, and climate action on the table, you know you really must stay tuned.

In the latest Greg Berlanti creation, Ruby Rose stars as an out lesbian "Batwoman." Photo: CW

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