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Buttigieg inspires in televised victory

by Victoria A. Brownworth

Pete Buttigieg was all smiles after his big win in Iowa. Photo: Courtesy CNN
Pete Buttigieg was all smiles after his big win in Iowa. Photo: Courtesy CNN  

TV left our head spinning when it wasn't outright exploding this week. From the erasure of Pete Buttigieg's big win in Iowa to the authoritarian rantings of the squatter in the White House to the unlikely heroism of Mitt Romney, we spent a week shaking our fist at the tube when we weren't outright screaming.

But there was also some TV that made us swoon, like Billy Porter turning up on "Sesame Street" in a tuxedo ball gown, "The Good Place" star Jameela Jamil coming out as queer, and the great Edie Falco debuting as "Tommy," the lesbian police chief of Los Angeles.

First to Mayor Pete. We get that Iowa was a virtual tie and Buttigieg led by a single delegate. But to paraphrase savvy media queen Angela Rye on CNN, whether he was first or second, this was historic, and we shouldn't be erasing what happened here. Not only is Buttigieg the first out gay candidate, he is also the youngest candidate ever to run for president. He had a grassroots campaign run by a wholly millennial staff, and he bested two 80-year-olds who have been in politics for a half-century and have run for president several times before.

Buttigieg is the first LGBTQ person to win delegates in any presidential contest, and he said in his speech from Iowa, with a banque of supporters behind him, that he hopes this inspires people who feel unwelcome.

Buttigieg doesn't have to be one's candidate for one to acknowledge what a remarkable feat that was. Unless you are straight media, of course. The only commentator we saw give Buttigieg his props was Chris Cuomo, who moderated Buttigieg's CNN town hall on Feb. 6. If you missed it, watch; there's some historic stuff in there.

As Buttigieg was set to begin, Cuomo got the final results of the Iowa caucus. By the narrowest of margins, Buttigieg won. He was excited, but also gracious, noting, "Sen. Sanders clearly had a great night, too, and I congratulate him and his supporters."

Bernie then released a statement calling the final decision "meaningless," which was not his finest hour. On Feb. 7, Sanders began casting Buttigieg as the darling of billionaires.

"I like Pete Buttigieg, nice guy, but we are in a moment where billionaires control not only our economy but our political process," Sanders said in a televised speech in New Hampshire. He then claimed Buttigieg was "collecting money from dozens of dozens of billionaires."

But at the CNN town hall, Buttigieg sounded like the small-town mayor he is. A teacher asked Buttigieg a question, and he thanked her for her work and noted that "I married a middle school teacher."

Excuse us, but this part — seeing an out gay presidential candidate talking about his husband on national TV — will never get old. Later, when Cuomo pressed Buttigieg about his gayness, the candidate said, "Right now, there are so many LGBTQ+ people, especially young people, questioning whether they fit in their communities. We've got a long way to go before achieving full equality, but I hope they were watching tonight, with my husband in the audience, and know that they belong." Cue the crying emojis.

Contravening the kumbaya was Fox News fave Bryan Fischer of the notorious American Family Association, who said of Buttigieg's win on Feb. 6, "Do we want somebody who engages in that kind of sexual conduct to serve as a role model for the rest of the country, to serve as a role model for America's children?" The Trump supporter said, unironically. "I vote no."

After the town hall, Buttigieg was on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," and earlier in the day he appeared on "The View." Both are worth watching. Buttigieg also appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show to talk about the viral video which showed an Iowa voter choosing to switch her support in the state's caucus after learning Buttigieg was gay. Buttigieg said he was "proud" of the volunteer who spoke to the voter, saying "real change is looking people eye-to-eye and engaging them with compassion."

Daily Double

Speaking of gay marriages, we caught this little tidbit and loved it. Emily Therese Cloyd and Stacey Cloyd met competing on "Jeopardy." In a recent tribute to "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek, who is battling pancreatic cancer, the couple noted, "A little more than two years after our episode aired, we went to a taping of 'Celebrity Jeopardy!' We hand delivered a note for Alex Trebek to one of the 'Jeopardy' staff members: It was an invitation to our wedding." Sweet and smart.

Billy Porter has long been one of our icons. The Emmy, Tony and Grammy-winning performer just filmed a spot for the 51st season of "Sesame Street." The always soignée Porter wore one of his iconic outfits, a black velvet tuxedo ball gown. Gorgeous. But when Porter posted a pic of himself in full regalia outside the doorway to "Sesame Street," the haters freaked out.

A petition to remove Porter's appearance on the "Life Petitions" site claims that "Sesame Street" wants to "try to sexualize children using drag queens" by featuring guests like the "Pose" star. "Let children be children, and stop trying to force this corrupting and dangerous influence on the youth of America," the petition states.

Porter, who has always spoken his mind, said of the petition, "Like, what about me singing with a penguin [on "Sesame Street"] has anything to do with what I'm doing in my bedroom? The really interesting thing for me is that that's what it's all about when it comes to LGBTQ people: the first thing everyone wants to talk about is how we are having sex. Stay out of my bedroom and you will be fine. That is none of your business."

Porter first wore the spectacular Christian Siriano gown at the 2019 Oscars. Last September Porter told People why he had changed his look.

"As a man, I really want to make a different kind of statement and show up in a way that could also be transformative, that could also be political," Porter said. "My goal was to be a walking piece of political art. When I show up, that's what my goal is. Put a man in a dress and it's controversial, doesn't make any sense, but okay. Let's keep having this conversation until we can change something."

Porter said he was influenced by "Pose" to change to a more radical style for his red carpet appearances. "I realized how gender-fluid my impulses, my whole life has been. I didn't really understand that until 'Pose' happened, It kind of cracked my brain open and helped me get to a different space and understanding about myself, the dilemmas I was putting on myself even just about what I can wear, what was masculine enough, what was acceptable." Yaaas, queen.

Falco watch

We have been a fan of Edie Falco's for years. Admittedly that was the only thing that propelled us to watch "Tommy," which debuted Feb. 6 on CBS in the slot where one of our fave shows, "Evil," was until its spectacularly dark season finale.

"Tommy" centers on Abigail "Tommy" Thomas (Falco), who becomes the first female and lesbian Chief of Police of the LAPD. The series was created by Paul Attanasio, an Oscar nominee for his screenplays for "Donnie Brasco" and "Quiz Show." Attanasio and Falco are what make "Tommy" far more than we could have expected. Sharp, gritty writing and Falco's great big screen presence make us believe everything that's happening. Thomas Sadoski is a perfect foil to Falco as LA Mayor Buddy Gray, a charismatic second-termer who is plotting his legacy with every nuanced focus group response. Gray's Deputy Mayor Doug Dudik (Joseph Lyle Taylor) develops an immediate antipathy to Tommy, seeing her as thwarting his power. He calls her "Butch Cassidy."

For her part. Tommy comes with a truckload of baggage. She was married to a black man, had a daughter, Kate (Olivia Lucy Phillip), and abandoned the family when she came out. We learn a lot about her quickly. She's world-weary, semi-closeted and survived a near-rape by a superior officer that, when she reported it, derailed her career for a decade of no promotions. Then a scandal rocked the LAPD (shocker, that). The former Chief of Police, Milt Leakey (Corbin Bernsen), was a known womanizer and serial sexual harasser, but it was the accusation of running a prostitution ring that got him fired and under investigation. The LAPD needed a woman for optics, so they brought in Tommy from New York. The secret Gray is hiding is that Tommy's hire was court-mandated.

In one exchange after the near-riot, Gray is lamenting to Dudik how Tommy did exactly what he told her not to do and wonders how they can get her gone quickly. Dudik says, "Did you ask her about her sexuality?" Gray says, no, of course not. Dudik says, "Well, gay people are more independent-minded by definition because they are diverging from the majority view." It's going to be a hard road for Tommy with this guy.

Tommy's fearless, but with a slight edge of vulnerability. The opening story is about an ICE raid that triggers a riot. She puts herself right in it, and her gritty determination to both play things by the book, and take compassionate charge, slowly diffuses the incendiary drama. For the moment. But as she notes to her chief of staff, "If I fail, it will be 20 years before they give another woman this job."

At the recent Television Critics Association press meet, "Tommy" executive producer Tom Szentgyorgyi explained how committed the show was to getting everything right. According to Szentgyorgyi, the idea for "Tommy" came from creator Attanasio commenting on how none of the top cities in the U.S. has ever had a woman chief of police. (Ironically, Philadelphia just hired its first woman Police Commissioner last month after a series of scandals in the department and the resignation of the Police Commissioner over a sexual harassment suit.)

Attanasio and Szentgyorgyi built a writers room that could create the series they wanted. The writers are 50/50 women and men. Half of the writers identify as LGBTQ. Two are black, which is sadly a dramatic statement of inclusion in a genre notorious for being wholly white and male.

The series is episodic, like "Law & Order" and "Chicago P.D.," but with other storylines running through it, like the conflict between Tommy and her daughter Kate, and the tensions over Tommy's leadership style.

In the first episode Tommy turns down the opportunity for an assignation with a believably beautiful and age-appropriate woman. We are sad about that, but given the state of flux Tommy's in, it makes sense. But we don't want Tommy to be another sexually neutered queer character. Lesbians tend to be killed off or de-sexed on TV.

The layers of complexity in the story bode well for "Tommy," particularly with Falco in the lead. But there is literally one great series on CBS, "Evil," and it's unclear whether the tamest and most conservative network can handle a big bold lesbian like Tommy.

CBS is the police procedural network: "Blue Bloods," "MacGyver," "Hawaii Five-O," "NCIS," "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "NCIS: New Orleans" are all series that feel like a time-warp portal to the 1970s. "Tommy" seems a little edgy, dark and highly political for CBS. Whether that will fly on the network remains to be seen, but Falco is terrific and worth a look.

That said, CBS Access has some really good stuff, including "Picard," a Star Trek spinoff starring Patrick Stewart that just debuted.

USA's "The Sinner" is even better than anticipated. The series debuted on Feb. 7, and Matt Bomer is giving one of his best performances as a married would-be killer with a pregnant wife and a complicated and hidden gay past.

"The Sinner" is one of our fave series, and star Bill Pullman is extraordinary as the most tortured of all tortured detectives, with a messy personal life that has in previous seasons included being a sexual submissive. Pullman is mesmerizing if low-key. This is must-watch TV.

HBO Max has chosen newly out Jameela Jamil as MC and judge of its upcoming voguing competition series "Legendary." Other judges will be Megan Thee Stallion, Law Roach and Leiomy Maldonado, alongside a weekly rotating guest judge with commentary by Dashaun Wesley and DJ MikeQ.

"Homeland" is back for its final season with the most timely of plotlines. No spoilers, but wow does this series still bring it.

For Royals lovers, CNN has a new series, "The Windsors," starting Feb. 16. On the same day, Epix debuts its Watergate docu-series "Slow Burn." And on PBS, "Vienna Blood" is an amazingly good Sherlock Holmes-style British/German production set in 1907 about Freud, anti-Semitism and murder. It's painterly, and the politics are scarily resonant.

So for the relentlessness of the DC drama as well as the self-care of scripted TV, you know you really must stay tuned.

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