Friday, April 12, 2024

Queer as Folk is a Few Massive Flaws from Perfect

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It turns out that there is a line to be drawn when it comes to how messy a show can handle being. Peacock’s Queer as Folk treats that line like a millimeter-thin tightrope that cuts into its feet all season before it finally falls off onto the side of the circus tent it’s in that doesn’t have a protective net to catch it.

Spoilers Ahead for Season One of Queer as Folk

Queer as Folk Trailer
Queer a Folk‘s Driving Force

The first season of this drama-filled reboot follows a large ensemble cast of queer people in New Orleans as many of them cope in the aftermath of a mass-shooting hate crime. While it’s tempting to say that the timing of this release was unintentionally poor with the spike in mass shooting events over the last month, it is, unfortunately, more likely than not that Queer as Folk would be released close to at least one of these tragic events regardless of when it premiered.

Still, despite the fact that the target audience for shows like this is undoubtedly tired of seeing suffering like this in media about them — I, for one, know that I am — it would be wrong to act like the event isn’t handled well. We only see the back of the shooter’s head and we don’t actually see anyone get shot or go down, and that was the best way to show what happened without actually showing what happened.

QUEER AS FOLK -- Episode 103 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie, Devin Way as Brodie -- (Photo by: Alyssa Moran/Peacock)
QUEER AS FOLK — Episode 103 — Pictured: (l-r) Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie, Devin Way as Brodie — (Photo by: Alyssa Moran/Peacock)

Really, the strongest part of Queer as Folk comes from the aftermath of the shooting. It’s where you see the true found family that the LGBTQ+ community is at its core. The event serves as a way to drive every character closer together, and the bond that they all share — present at the shooting or not — is the super-glue that holds the show together.

Characters like Brodie (Devin Way), Noah (Johnny Sibilly), Ruthie (Jesse James Ketel), Shar (CG), Julian (Ryan O’Connell), Bussey (Armand Fields), and even Mingus (Fin Argus) all know each other beforehand, and the tragedy brings them closer to each other and characters like Marvin (Eric Graise) and Ali (Name), and the members of their families like Brenda (Kim Cattrall) and Judy (Juliette Lewis). The cast is expansive for sure, but unlike other shows with large ensemble casts, Queer as Folk never seems to lose sight of anyone, which is easier said than done.

I Think We Need That Relationship Chart from The L Word

All of those characters make for a wild web of relationships. Brodie and Noah are exes, Ruthie and Noah are childhood best friends and also exes, Shar and Ruthie are dating and raising twins that Brodie donated sperm to create, Ruthie is Mingus’s English Lit teacher, you can probably catch on to the idea by now. It’s clear enough that Queer as Folk was going to be messy with this many connections in a group, but it didn’t need to get as wild as it did.

Brodie and Mingus are prime examples of this. Their relationship arc has the potential to be pretty interesting, with Brodie having life experience as an adult queer person and Mingus about halfway to figuring out who he is. There’s a complex dynamic between them had has a lot of depth, but then the show decides to kick you in the shins because, while Brodie is old enough to be in the middle of med school, Mingus is 17 years old.

QUEER AS FOLK -- Episode 101 -- Pictured: Fin Argus as Mingus -- (Photo by: Peacock)
QUEER AS FOLK — Episode 101 — Pictured: Fin Argus as Mingus — (Photo by: Peacock)

A single romantic encounter between the two would’ve been fine as long as nothing had come from it afterward. It makes sense that Mingus feels bonded to Brodie after he saved him during the shooting, but Brodie — even with all of his insurmountable flaws — should’ve pushed him away after he found out how old he really was.

Ruthie being Mingus’s teacher makes things more complicated, and while there are some consequences for her being present in adult spaces with her high school student, she never draws a hard line for Brodie when it comes to the situation. No “Get away from that kid,” no “both of you need to find someone your own age to have sex with”, nothing to make the clear statement that adults should not be dating underage teens. It’s a lost opportunity, to say the least.

QUEER AS FOLK — Episode 106 — Pictured: (l-r) CG as Shar, Jesse James Keitel as Ruthie — (Photo by: Alyssa Moran/Peacock)

Edging towards the healthier side of things is Ruthie and Shar’s relationship. Sure, Ruthie is constantly lying to Shar, but as the season goes on she does try her best to communicate as to why she behaves the way she does. She’s deeply flawed, but she does make some tangible progress over the course of the eight episode season, and that’s not nothing.

Regardless, it would’ve been nice for there to be a somewhat infallible character found in Shar. They suffer through Ruthie’s antics, but they never hesitate to make sure that Ruthie knows that her behavior is unacceptable. They’re kind and accommodating, but they’re not the kind of person to be walked all over, and that’s a really nice duality that isn’t common for a lot of characters on TV.

Where Shar begins to slip is in their relationship with Brenda. What could have been a really nice friendship that was beneficial to both characters turns into an adulterous mess that feels like something that’s out of character for someone like Shar. Brenda cheating on her husband doesn’t really matter — he only appears a few times and Brenda makes it very clear that she’s only with him because she feels like that’s how things are supposed to be — but Shar cheating on Ruthie is more painful than I think the Queer as Folk writers intended it to be.

QUEER AS FOLK — Episode 102 — Pictured: CG as Shar — (Photo by: Peacock)

Had Shar simply helped Brenda realize that she was gay without actively participating in her sexual awakening, this would be a different review. Even with all of Shar’s frustrations with Ruthie, the cheating with Brenda doesn’t feel like an equal and opposite reaction. Ruthie and Shar are shown over and over as a couple that has (at the very least) decent communication skills, so it’s frustrating past the point of reasonable to see their relationship pulled apart like this.

Tied to the final moment of the show where Ruthie and Brodie seem to rekindle their romantic feelings for each other (yeah, that’s a thing too for some reason), it’s just not fun to watch this particular thread of drama unwind. Ruthie and Shar had the potential to be the strongest realtonship on Queer as Folk, but instead they’re plauged by actions in the latter half of the season that don’t feel like things that either of them is naturally inclined to do.

Not to be Overshadowed By…All of That

If you’re willing to face the previously outlined issues in the show, the other aspects of Queer as Folk absolutley make it worth the watch. The writers certainly have a handle on comedy that contributes to multiple running bits that are for queer people, people of color, and disabled people not at their expense.

QUEER AS FOLK — Episode 104 — Pictured: Ryan O’Connell as Julian — (Photo by: Alyssa Moran/Peacock)

There are also two great storylines about being queer and disabled that follow Julian — who has cerebral palsy — and Marvin — who is a bilateral amputee. Both of them find love in this series, and it’s wonderful to see a series that puts a great amount of care into their stories that is equal to all of the other characters.

Outside of his relationship with Brodie, Mingus’s story goes down so many different pathways without feeling scattered, and he goes through so much as a teenager who is coming into himself and who survived a mass-shooting event. Nothing is contrived, though, and his relationship with his mother Judy is very special, even if it doesn’t take up a lot of time across the series.

QUEER AS FOLK — Episode 105 — Pictured: (l-r) Fin Argus as Mingus, Juliette Lewis as Judy — (Photo by: Peacock)
What’s Next for Queer as Folk?

When it comes to a potential second season, Queer as Folk has a lot of challenges set out. Whether it’s Shar and Ruthie’s mutual adultery or Bussey’s quest to revive a nightclub that was the sight of a hate crime, there’s plenty of material to work with.

Most importantly though, communication for these characters is key. While they all love each other in their own ways, they’re as deeply flawed as any real person, and there are some hard conversations that need to be had between them. If renewal is in the cards for Queer as Folk, the writers have absolutely made sure that their work is cut out for them.

Images Courtesy of NBCUniversal

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