Going through 'Pose' withdrawal

  • by Victoria A. Brownworth
  • Wednesday August 1, 2018
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We want more LGBTQ TV. There. We said it. After watching the final two episodes of "Pose" twice because we couldn't let go and because they were so pitch perfect, we were struck by how much we wanted more. More of "Pose," which we absolutely fell in deep, irrevocable love with, more of characters that were as real and true and honest as Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) and Angel (Indya Moore), Pray Tell (Billy Porter) and Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), Elektra (Dominque Jackson) and Lil Papi (Angel Bismarck Curiel), more of our own stories. Oh, do we want a lesbian "Pose!"

Each week while we have tuned in to FX for our fix of "Pose" it felt like coming home to friends and queer family. It wasn't just that we personally grew up in that world, that we spent time as a homeless gay teen, that we knew people like Blanca, Damon and Pray Tell, so they resonated deeply for us and raised memories long-buried. But "Pose" also kept the straight world on the fringes, turning the straight people into the outsiders - they really had no place in our world. And to have a totally queer-centered TV series where none of the main characters are killed off for being queer - that was, as they say, priceless.

One of the most poignant subplots of "Pose" was the love affair between Angel and Stan (Evan Peters). The relationships between straight men and trans women have always been fraught - too often by violence, as the disproportionate number of murders of trans women from domestic violence or by clients of trans sex workers proves with terrible regularity. "Pose" addressed these relationships with both Elektra and her sugar daddy, Mr. Ford (played to absolute Emmy-worthy perfection by Chris Meloni), and Angel and Stan.

We admit, we were rooting for Angel and Stan to make it. They were so in love with each other, and it was such a sweet, true, first-love kind of love that we wanted it to last, we wanted to see them make it. But what was so remarkable in the way their story was told was how Angel was allowed to take back her power, find herself outside of what men wanted from her. It spoke directly to the impact the role of mother had in the lives of the trans women who took that role on.

Blanca was our heart, and her relationship to her children and to Damon's dance teacher, Helena St. Rogers (the magnificent Charlayne Woodward), was that evocation of queer family that we have almost never seen on big or small screen. "Pose" managed to meld that feeling of cinema verite with scripted fictional depth to create a landscape we fell into easily and comfortably with no hard edges, despite the often painful subject matter.

"Pose" was the best series for LGBTQ people possibly ever, and its landmark qualities set the bar high for subsequent series with an LGBTQ focus. "Pose" has been greenlit for a second season (yay!), so we expect more of the same and maybe other breakout storylines. It can't come soon enough.

We would add that we tweeted Steven Canals, the impossibly young, black, brilliant UCLA film school grad and writer, director and co-creator of "Pose" after the July 22 season finale to say how much we loved it, and he replied. He's just as wonderful as one would imagine from his characters, and clearly centers his fans. That just made us love the show more.

What "Pose" did for us - and few other series have done the same - was remind us that our stories deserve full attention. We've had tastes of this in other series: "Looking," "The L Word," "Queer as Folk," a British series called "Clapham Junction." Ryan Murphy's "American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace" was fully gay, but it was also the tale of a closeted self-loathing serial killer of gay men. While it was a stunning limited series with extraordinary performances that are on the Emmy roster, and while Darren Criss is likely to win a much-deserved Emmy for his stellar performance as Andrew Cunanan, there was still that ick factor of the characters either being tragic (the gay victims) or repugnant (Cunanan and the other hucksters).

It's not wrong to want more series where our lives predominate. "Pose" showed us it can be done and get rave reviews from the straight media and have full advertising support.

Our one objection to "Pose" was the TV-MA rating, which was not warranted and derived solely from the fact this was a series predominantly about trans women and trans culture. The FCC continues to assert that our lives are not "normal" viewing when they are. Hopefully that rating gets knocked back to PG-13 for Season 2.

On a diet

"Dietland," the other best series thus far this summer, also got an MA rating, and if being a fat woman in America qualifies as too extreme for younger viewers, they had better not look around their own lives, because 70% of American women (and men, ahem!) are overweight.

While the recent episode where Plum (Joy Nash is so, so good) is sexually assaulted was horrific and deserving of that rating, as the series ended this week (how is AMC still pondering renewing for a second season with all the media attention this series has received?) we couldn't figure out why it got this rating throughout. The violence on prime time network TV series is extreme, yet never warrants MA ratings. This is another way to chase off advertisers from series like "Pose" and "Dietland" that are highlighting American lives we rarely see in honest and authentic ways. Restricting access to such series is just another way to marginalize both series and the people those series are highlighting.

We wish some of these MA ratings would be meted out to some of our least favorite yet omnipresent TV characters, Trump and his cohort. Attorney General Jeff Sessions got caught enthusiastically chanting "Lock her up" while speaking to a group of conservative high school students at the Turning Point USA High School Leadership Summit on July 25.

To be fair, the students started it. Which says something about parenting among Trump supporters. But Sessions chuckled as he repeated the chant. Speaking with reporters on July 27, Sessions said he could have handled things better.

"I met with a group of enthusiastic high school students, and they spontaneously broke into that chant. I perhaps should've taken a moment to advise them of the fact," Sessions said. "You're presumed innocent until a case is made."

Republicans have been trying to make some case, any case against Hillary Clinton for decades, but have never got past multiple hearings and those fun chants that animate Trump's rallies and so much of the programming on Fox News.

As for Madam Secretary, she will be appearing next season on CBS' "Madam Secretary," which should be intriguing. The network announced Hillary Clinton's appearance last week, but didn't give spoilers. The series very much paralleled Hillary Clinton's life as Secretary of State with regard to the job itself, so we look forward to this art-imitates-life teaser.

Over on the other side of the aisle, Roseanne Barr, replete with newly dyed blond hair, was Sean Hannity's guest on July 26. In her first on-air interview since she was fired from ABC, the disgraced comedian said she really had been "punished enough" for her "gaffe" of calling former Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett an ape. In a tweet that was one of the least offensive the comedian has sent out over the past few years, she wrote, "Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes has a baby = VJ". Yikes. It never seems less awful, no matter how much time has passed. We never understood why ABC didn't review Roseanne's racist, xenophobic and transphobic tweets prior to launching her rebooted series.

In a rambling and highly political hour with Hannity where he came off as the measured and sane one, Roseanne tried to explain her behavior. After Hannity repeatedly said she should apologize to Jarrett, Roseanne said, "If she's watching, I'm so sorry that you thought I was racist and that you thought my tweet was racist." This was a classic "it was really your fault" apology, in which Roseanne in no way took responsibility for her actions.

She continued, "Because it wasn't. It was political. I'm sorry for the misunderstanding that caused, my ill-worded tweet. And you know, I'm sorry that you feel harmed and hurt. I never meant that. And for that I apologize. I never meant to hurt anybody or say anything about an entire race of people, which I think 30 years of my work can attest to."

But unflaggingly an asshat, Roseanne added, "Plus I'd tell her she's got to get a new haircut. Seriously." Sitting there with Shirley Temple curls the color of a bad Dynel wig. Wow. Hannity tried to give her some cover, reviving Roseanne's original Ambien defense.

"You were on Ambien," he said, and noted that she had been drinking, and that "you once said to Larry King you suffer from multiple personality disorder."

Roseanne corrected him on the latter point, saying, "I don't suffer from it any more. I enjoy it."

The comedian complained bitterly about her time on the sitcom, noting how difficult it was to be in the same room with "25 people who think Trump is the worst thing" to happen to America. Hannity joked that he experienced that himself every day.

Roseanne was stunned. "In your circle? People that work on your show?"

"There's plenty of people around here who disagree with every word I say, and hate what I stand for, absolutely," Hannity said, in one of the most authentic moments of his career.

Roseanne responded, "I hate everyone equally. Everybody deserves to be joked about."

According to Roseanne, all of the controversy targeting her was unfair and unjustified. About Jarrett she noted, "I thought the bitch was white!"

Roseanne said ABC executives on her show listened to her apologies but did not accept them. After her racist tweet, she offered to go on "The View" or some other ABC program to explain and apologize. "Instead, what happened, about 40 minutes after that, my show was canceled before even one advertiser pulled out, and I was labeled a racist. Why, you ask? Well, the answer is simple: Because I voted for Donald Trump. And that is not allowed in Hollywood."

Early in the interview Roseanne said she wished she had worded things differently. But by interview's end it was apparent she doesn't see what she did wrong. And the thing about racism is, there isn't any wording that makes it better or different.

ABC is re-crafting the sitcom for fall, re-titling it "The Connors." The entire cast will be the same, sans Roseanne. How they will explain her absence remains to be seen. Maybe an opioid overdose, in keeping with the show's white working-class tone?

As the summer drags on with fires at one end, floods at the other, and Putin in the D.C. driver's seat, we're searching for TV that checks the right boxes for us, including binge-watching for series that we missed when they first landed.

The Here TV series "Falling for Angels" debuted in January, but got little attention. Set in Southern California in and around L.A., each episode focuses on a specific neighborhood and group of gay men, each group seeking sex and love and to fill the void. It has hot men of various races and a natural, colloquial feel to it. It's emotional without being gutting, but feels authentic, funny and just enough in this summer of our malcontent.

The series was created by Emmy-nominated actor/producer David Millbern. The first episode, "Boyle Heights," features Jesse (Luis Lopez), a Mexican-American lawyer who has somewhat turned his back on his Latino roots. Jesse experiences a cultural awakening after an encounter with Leo (Adrian Nunez), described as "a fiery and sexy Latino activist."

The first episode was directed by Nick Oceano, whose award-winning film "Pedro," about MTV star and AIDS activist Pedro Zamora, got worldwide release and accolades. Other episodes include "Koreatown," "Bel Air" and "Silverlake." All available now. Watch and enjoy.

As we struggle with life in Trumpworld, we often ache for the sheer darkness of "Breaking Bad," which really feels like a series for now. Creator Vince Gilligan told reporters this week that Season 4 of AMC's "Better Call Saul," the "Breaking Bad" spin-off prequel, will intersect with the original series more than ever.

At the AMC summit in June, Gilligan told reporters, "Season 4 is just so good. Everyone did such great work. I can't believe the level of quality on this show. It gets darker, it gets richer. It's still has funny in it."

Gilligan said "the overlap" between "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" "is getting bigger and bigger," and who doesn't want that?

The series returns Aug. 6 with Emmy-nominated Bob Odenkirk in new trouble as Jimmy McGill, lawyer, con man and trouble-shooter. Definitely the dark comedy we need right now.

"Barry," starring the brilliant comedian and "SNL" alum Bill Hader, is another dark, darker, darkest comedy that is well worth a look. Hader co-created the HBO series with Alec Berg.

Hader plays Barry Berkman, a former Marine "who works as a low-rent hitman in the Midwest. Lonely and dissatisfied in his life, he begrudgingly travels to Los Angeles to kill someone and ends up finding an accepting community in a group of eager hopefuls within the L.A. theater scene." Also starring Stephen Root, Sarah Goldberg, Jon Hamm (yes, that Jon Hamm) and Henry Winkler. Trust us when we say there is nothing else like this on the tube.

So for shows that feature us and shows that don't, for comedy and drama, for Trump TV and its antidotes, you know you really must stay tuned.