How queer can Queer As Folk be as Showtime’s hottest series? It depends. If you are an activist transsexual lesbian fighting for a seat on the city council to represent sexual minorities, it probably offers nothing much. Yet, this show wants to be everything to everybody as the edgiest gay show in an explosion of television shows with gay characters. There’s even a current documentary about the show on VH1. As the new episodes unfold, the show seems to be guided by the iconography it has created, glossy ads and media attention.
Season four resolves plot hangovers from season three faster than you can say "gay soap opera." Liberty Avenue remains the fictionalized, apparently all-white Pittsburgh gayborhood where straights are most often one-dimensional villains and gays can becomecomic book heroes, when they are not enacting scenes from the queer Our Town.
As much as the show’s writers and producers seem to work every GLTB & Q(uestioning) gay issue into the storyline, sacrificing dimensional character development, their scope seems limited.Nothing steers them completely away from genuflecting at the trendy stations of the gay male cross (the club, the gym, the parties, the meat-rack) as the perpetual backdrop to queer current events.
All is hedonistically well in the cruising district thanks to backdoor adman Brian Kinney (Gale Harold) who has saved Liberty Avenue for dancing, drugs and sex and even, for the more socially adventurous, gay families and gay pride.Even though Brian lost everything exposing homophobia in the police department, he is back on top with his own agency called Kinnetik (named by his ex-ex Justin).Kinney is thrown a real curve ball with a bit of news revealed at the end of one of his countless trysts.(Great visuals when Kinney flees the sex club in lights that make his face look like Rage from Michael’s comic book.)
Meanwhile, thinking out of the box is a breath of fresh air when Emmett (Peter Paige) (shaking off his animus toward his old boyfriend Ted Schmidt) and perpetual nice guy Michael Novotny (Hal Sparks) go off to find their inner queers (Dumpling and ClearDay, respectively) at a gay spiritual retreat where they dress as fairies (mid-tranny nightwear) and there are bonfire "love-circles." For the less zenned out on camp, there’s always nude volleyball.
One of the central "positive family" couples consists of Michael and professor Ben Bruckner (Robert Gant) whose relationship is stalled in marital bliss as they try to make a home for bad-boy runaway Hunter (played engagingly by Harris Allan).Melanie (Michelle Clunie) and Lindsay (Thea Gill) are back as the lesbian power-couple who are more and more becoming cutouts.
Justin has joined forces with Cody (Mitch Morris), a queer militant who recruits him for his "pink posse" of street vigilantes to confront gay harassers or bashers and further bait straight guys for fights. He trains Justin to retaliate against Chris Hobbs, the classmate who almost killed him with a baseball bat after seeing Justin and Brian dance together.The show revisits this issue, carefully built to its gripping climax in the first season, but here, instead of sensitivity to character, it is dealt with like a second rate Charles Bronson flick.Harrison (so powerful in the initial storyline) does the best he can to give it truth, but the whole scenario rings false.In a shockingly gratuitous scene, he forces Hobbs to perform fellatio onthe shaft of a pistol.
Harold’s character is increasingly becoming the center of the show which is not surprising since the actor handles dramatic conflict with depth and his scenes with Harrison continue to float many of the episodes. The plots otherwise get thick and sometimes sticky.Sharon Gless’ bossy, big-hearted waitress Debbie gets into a fight with her brother Vic (Jack Wetherall) when he and his new lover move out of her house.In one scene these two have a petty fight that leads to a forced twist.
The hapless Ted, working out his 12-steps off of a crystal-meth addiction, is reunited with Blake (believably revived by Dean Armstrong), a former club druggie who is now a rehab counselor.Ted becomes a singing opera waiter and, surprisingly, the writers passed on any comic possibilities.It’s also great to see Makyla Smith back as Justin’s best friend Daphne.
The sex scenes continue to be choreographed like straight soft porn, where the principals don’t move around the roomnaturally.In one scene Brian and Justin are in a nude wrestling match shot more prudishly than Ken Russell’s homoerotic bout between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed in Women in Love thirty years ago.The cast continues to beinventive in their portrayals and maybe the show will have better focus later in the season, but in many ways the writers are dropping the soap.On the up side, the dancing at Babylon still sizzles.