Televising editorial board meets: that's news!
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We had high hopes for 2020. Thus far, thanks in large part to the squatter in the White House, it's been a continuation of 2019, which was hellacious. In a mere two weeks we've had an assassination and a WWIII scare. Australia is on fire, where more than a billion (try and get your head around that number) animals have been killed. In this climate emergency there are actually candidates without a climate plan. The scene on CNN of a koala coming up to a bicyclist and begging for water was among the most heartbreaking things we've witnessed on TV.
And now, as we write this, CNN is 24/7 gutting scenes of the aftermath of that Ukrainian Airlines flight that was shot out of the sky via missile during the battle between Trump and Iran, killing 176 people.
The embarrassing televised press statements by Secretary of State Pompeo and Trump himself have failed to explain why Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was assassinated, the incident that set the missile launch in motion.
Those statements do, however, reinforce the import of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership. This is why Trump is attacking Pelosi and San Francisco at his most recent rallies, calling Pelosi a "radical Democrat" and the city "rat-infested," among other things. At his Jan. 9 rally, Trump also said repeatedly of Democrats, "They are vicious, horrible people. They are horrible people."
With less than a month until the Iowa caucuses, the most recent polling on Jan. 10 has a statistical dead heat, with the top four candidates within a point or two of each other. Bernie Sanders is slightly ahead, followed by Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden. (We don't endorse candidates, but the policy Warren has been rolling out for LGBTQ people and her groundbreaking town hall on Jan. 7 on disability, the first ever, are unlike anything else. Julian Castro's endorsement ad for Warren on Jan. 6 was as feminist a moment we've seen from a cis-het man in a while. We just don't see political ads like this on the tube. Something to think about.)
It is into this politically fraught and volatile primary that The New York Times is making the unprecedented move of televising their editorial board interviews with candidates. Kathleen Kingsbury, Times deputy editor, made the announcement on Jan. 9. She said, "Historically, endorsement interviews are off-the-record, meaning nothing said leaves the room, other than the board's final judgment. But these aren't typical times."
Kingsbury said, "The 2020 election is beginning in the shadow of voter suppression, a presidential impeachment, not to mention climate change and escalating foreign conflicts. Voters have a lot to think about in this election cycle, and we want to help."
According to Kingsbury, all presidential candidate interviews will be on the record and filmed. Next week, the NYT be publishing the full, annotated transcripts online. The videos will be aired on the FX show "The Weekly" on Jan. 19, a mere two weeks prior to Iowa. In addition, there will be interviews with the editorial board and a "behind-the-scenes pop-up podcast." This could be a game-changer.
There are other things than the daily dose of Trump, et al., even though it seems not much of the time. RuPaul debuted his latest queer extravaganza, and to say we are here for it is to understate in the extreme. "AJ and the Queen" debuted Jan. 10 and is now streaming on Netflix. It is everything, and yet another statement series for LGBTQ representation. RuPaul told Variety that his latest put him totally in his feelings.
"The younger RuPaul would just love this because it is a navigational tool for life," RuPaul explained. "It shows you what to do when you're up against the wall and you need some direction. What you do is you open your heart. It's the opposite of what we're taught. When we get up against a wall, I think the impulse is to close your heart. The truth is, open your heart and let your heart guide the way." We're not crying, you're crying.
Netflix describes "AJ and the Queen": The series follows "Ruby Red, a bigger-than-life but down-on-her-luck drag queen who travels across America from club to club in a rundown 1990s R/V with her unlikely sidekick AJ, a recently orphaned, tough-talking, scrappy 10-year-old stowaway. As these two misfits, one tall, one small, travel from city to city, Ruby's message of love and acceptance winds up touching people and changing their lives for the better." Who doesn't need this?
RuPaul said being on the show showed him he's not "dead inside." He said, "My heart isn't black. It's actually pumping blood, and it's alive. It was really lovely to dig deep. It's been years of protecting that soft underbelly, and then to be in the safe hands of Michael Patrick King, I was able to just bloom and just be vulnerable, and I love that."
King, the show's co-creator with Paul, said the show would be "healing. The interesting thing about any place in this country where people maybe need a smile, they want to feel good," King said. "They also want to be healed a little bit, but we are smart enough to know that you do that with jokes and music and dancing, and we just wanted to put a big, full show out there for people to watch."
At the Jan. 10 screening, to which everyone wore over-the-top red (be sure to check out the pics online), RuPaul received a standing ovation. He told the audience, "This show is a love letter to the United States of America and beyond. It is an adjustment to a world that feels so fractured right now. This is a show that is saying, 'Let's get together and recognize our similarities rather than our differences.'" "AJ and the Queen" is all that: 10 episodes. Anodyne for these parlous times.
In the new HBO series "The Outsider," which premiered Jan. 12, Ben Mendelsohn's character, Detective Ralph Anderson, says, "I have no tolerance for the unexplainable." "The Outsider" is all about the unexplainable and the darkness that lives inside all of us. It's good. Very, very good.
HBO describes the series: "Based on Stephen King's best-selling horror novel of the same name, 'The Outsider' begins by following an investigation that at first seems simple and straightforward, but things change as it leads into the gruesome murder of a young boy by a seasoned cop. When an insidious supernatural force edges its way into the case, it leads the investigators to question everything they believe in. The character of Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) from 'Mr. Mercedes' is a major character in this series."
The series takes place in a claustrophobic Oklahoma town. Erivo, who was recently nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Harriet Tubman, co-stars as an unconventional investigator brought in from outside to work with the local detectives who want nothing to do with her. Her femaleness and blackness are only part of the issue they have with her.
There is stellar acting in "The Outsider." Mendelsohn ("Bloodlines," one of the best Netflix dramas ever), Jason Bateman ("Ozark," another extraordinary series), Mare Winningham ("American Horror Story"), Julianne Nicholson (the amazing "Eyewitness") and Erivo are all giving award-winning performances here.
But be forewarned: this is dark stuff. Reminiscent of "Broadchurch" and "Mindhunter," "The Outsider" plays with that grayest of areas, obsession and where it can lead. Stephen King has spent at least half of his writing career delving deep into what happens to children in an adult world. This is one of those stories. But it is also about what we believe about people we love. Thoroughly compelling, but a slow build to some truly shocking revelations. Mendelsohn and Erivo play off each other just wonderfully. HBO is back.
We are, of course, obsessed with USA's simmeringly queer "Dare Me." The USA series is also darker than we expected, but then so is 2020, so there's that. The small-town claustrophobia is a big part of what drives this series.
Addy's (Herizen Guardiola) obsession with the new coach, Colette French (Willa Fitzgerald), is pulling her away from bestie and previous obsession Beth (Marlo Kelly). The dynamic among the three is riveting. Addy and Beth have such deep and unresolved feelings for each other. In one scene in the school hallway we expect them to fall into each other's arms. When it doesn't happen, we are left to wonder where that adolescent sexual energy will go. These are girls who only see boys as a way to get off — the obverse of what we usually see on screen. The shifting power dynamic gives a hint as to where the world would be if teenage girls ran it. Scary af.
Among the new series this season is a reboot of "Party of Five," which we loved. The reboot of the 1994 Fox show, now on Freeform, follows a family of five orphaned siblings, but instead of a drunk driver, ICE is what threatens the family. The parents of the Acostas, Javier (Bruno Bichir) and Gloria (Fernanda Urrejola), entered America without papers and are deported years later, leaving the children to fend for themselves. "Party of Five" will leave you sobbing, but this is a series that is as timely and deeply political as it is personal and emotionally compelling. With queer elements.
"Little America" is a new series from the Apple streaming service that you can try out really inexpensively, and it seems well worth it thus far. It's produced by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon of the stellar "The Big Sick," along with Alan Yang of "Master of None." An anthology series, it focuses on immigrant stories across the U.S.
There is humor and seriousness and a delving into this shadow world we force such a large swath of Americans to live in. There is a lot here, and you will want to watch it and share it. One in 10 Americans is an immigrant, and so many are in our own community or our homes. These are stories of our lives.
"Shrill" returns to Hulu for a second season on Jan. 24, and we can't wait. This incredibly watchable and bingeable series stars the terrific "SNL" comedian Aidy Bryant as Annie, a Seattle journalist who spent the show's first season learning to want more than the confined existence she'd been living.
Bryant is mesmerizingly good. Lolly Adefope, John Cameron Mitchell and "SNL" alum ("It's Pat!") Julia Sweeney make up the stellar supporting cast. The series is based on Lindy West's memoir, and executive produced by Elizabeth Banks and Lorne "SNL" Michaels. Absolutely delightful.
Finally, some sad news. Harry Hains, 27, has died. The queer and gender-fluid Australian actor, musician and model, was so beautiful, and a star of "American Horror Story" and the cult hit "The OA." His death was announced in an emotional Instagram post by his mother, well-known Australian actress Jane Badler, on Jan.11. Badler (" V," "Falcon Crest," "Neighbours," among others) said, "He struggled with mental illness and addiction. A brilliant spark shone bright too short a time. I will miss you Harry every day of my life."
Hains also performed music under the name Antiboy. In an interview in 2019, Hains talked about the importance of making space for LGBTQ people. He explained his alter-ego character. "Antiboy is this character that I've created that is a gender-fluid robot from the future, stuck in a virtual-reality world that has been malfunctioning.
"I created Antiboy because it represents this future world that I foresee, not only where I think we are going with technology, fusing with AI and life extension, but also as a place where we've come to realize the complete deconstruction of labels." Hains said he identified "in the realm of gender fluid," adding that people should "be whatever we want. I'd love to create a space for LGBTQ+ artists where people can feel safe to go and create art and exist and collaborate in this space," he said. "Not just for LGBTQ+ artists, but for anyone who feels judged in the outside world or feels like an outsider or minority. This space would be for anyone who doesn't feel safe in society to create the art that they want to create. What it comes down to is that I want true equality for people."
Badler was right. A tragic loss to a bright star. At least we have his performances and these words in memory. A funeral for Hains was held in Los Angeles on Jan. 12.
So for the tragic and the joyful, the volatile and the soothing, you know this is a time, more than ever, when you really must stay tuned.