LGBT, Opinion, Television

8 reasons why Sense8 is a legendary show

With the devastating news that Sense8 has been cancelled, now seems as good a time as any to cement its place in entertainment history. Whether the show gets a miracle renewal or pickup, who can say (though it is unlikely), this show needs to be recognised.

Sense8 is gone before its time, before it had even finished the story that they have been working so hard to tell. But like all great things, time is not always on its side. A celebration of what the show’s world, stories and representation meant to me, and why I think it is a legendary show, can barely be summed up in 8 reasons. But I’ll give it a try anyway.

1. Global Storytelling

How many stories can you name or even barely recall that took you around the world? How many transported you from Berlin to Mumbai, Iceland to Chicago, Seoul to Nigeria, London to Mexico and back again?

The feeling of watching each character in their homeland, feeling their emotional reactions to being transported round the world and into the hearts and minds of strangers. It reignited a wanderlust for fantasy that I have mostly only got from books.

Key to the story that was being told, Sense8 filmed on location in cities and towns around the world. Its global storytelling felt grounded in the reality of life, while adding the drama of great television. Few shows have accomplished what it did, if any.

2. Emotional Closeness

One of the greatest values that the Sensates share, and one that humanity itself craves, is emotional closeness. Given the ability to feel what the other members of their cluster feel, and share that emotion, was what brought them together. What made them a unit, such a close and tight knit group, was their drive for emotional closeness.

This isn’t to say that every character was warm and fuzzy at all times. But they were allowed to explore each of their own emotional vulnerabilities. The Sense8 writers and creators looked to the actors of the show to channel their own raw feelings into these unique characters. It brought them to life in a way that opened their eyes to acceptance and support in all its forms.

3. Diversity & Authenticity

Representation in art is one of the cornerstones for a greater society. It is my belief, shared by many, that we cannot expect to be the best versions of ourselves if we only see, interact and hear from those who are exactly like ourselves. Sense8 offered a glimpse, a small but varied set of windows to the lives of people we might never think to know.

What I eternally seek is diverse shows and casting that reflects the characters. Actors can be straight and play gay, they can be pansexual and play hetero, being convincing is all in the acting ability of the person. But historically straight, white people (mainly men) have really gotten all the visibility they could ever need. Which is why the representation in Sense8 was so commendable and exciting.

They may not have covered every letter of the queer community, they may not have had every single kind of person and body type in the show. But they did a damned lot better than a lot of shows. They even had a bisexual secondary character in season 2! If one of the actors came out as bi/pan then I’d be hooting and hollering for days.

But regardless of the actors own personal sexualities and gender identities, they all brought authenticity to the characters. From Jamie Clayton as Nomi, representing trans women and speaking the words of a trans woman and co-creator Lana Wachowski (along with Lily), to Miguel Ángel Silvestre giving Lito the duality of pain and love, through to the lack of literally any of the straight male actors/characters to say “no homo!” or act in any small way like it mattered, without being dismissive.

4. Compelling Characters

What some deemed to be slowness in the show, I devoured as meditations on character. Every moment of the show gave insight into these characters. Like watching people in the park, stopping to see families playing, couples walking, someone sitting and reading a book or laughing on the phone, we spent time watching these characters simply be.

I fear that if I did a small dive into what I loved about the characters and what made each compelling, it would end up deeply submerging, and that would only end with me writing the series out as a Wikipedia page. I will say this though, and its something I’ve said to people about the show since the first season came out. I would watch episode after episode, even if it was only each of them sharing moments, “Visiting” as its called, with each other. Even without the action, it is the characters that bring me back.

5. Visual Splendour

The global locations made for stunning backdrops, but what pushed the visuals to new levels of awe was the styling. The scenes often jumped between locations creating contrasts in weather, lights, even the sounds of the spaces. In season 2 especially, as the sensates grew closer together and joined together more often, we were treated to new and more brilliant shots of people disappearing behind one another, rising together, appearing side by side.

6. What’s Up

I couldn’t write about Sense8 without talking about the iconic season 1 scene set to 4 Non Blondes “What’s Up”. The song itself is enough to make your heart swell with emotion and thanks to this show, its taken to another level.

Each of the sensates hears the song and, such is the power of music, it brings them together. It a pure moments of bliss, friendship and joy, all set to cleansing lyrics. I can’t listen to it and not “scream from the top of my lungs, what’s going on”!

7. Showing Love

As infamous as the What’s Up scene, Sense8 was noted for showing love, specifically love expressed in sex, in the show. Not only did they get many a viewer hot and bothered, I can admit that I’ve been moved, but they gave us sex scenes that were all about sensation and love.

Every sex scene, between the same sex couples and opposite sex pairings, along with the group shared scenarios, were passionate but also infused with the closeness and trust that it must have taken to film them. Not many sex scenes have love as such an integral part.

And once again, none of the cast were shy about getting to grips with this on and off screen – see the wonderful Pride shoot from São Paulo in 2016.

8. The Sensates

I love each and every one of the Sensates, and they each brought something new, personal and special to the roster. In no particular order:

Lito – in Lito we got a struggle to be courageous. Wrestling with honesty, caged by fear, he went through what so many LGBTQ+ people go through in learning to be themselves openly. And he learned the hard way what the consequences of honesty in a harsh world can cost you.

Will – In many ways Will was the beating centre of his cluster. He wears his heart on his sleeve, does what is right regardless of his own safety. He’s basically a Gryffindor. Will would die to save anyone, especially those he loves.

Wolfgang – As Kala put it, some are trapped by circumstance and our own pasts. Tortured as a child by his father, Wolfgang is strong and quiet, but also brutally truthful and caring. We got to explore how Wolfgang found new family with his cluster, and of course with Felix.

Nomi – The core of Nomi is to be a rebel. She lives to love and learn, being a hacktivist was the epitome of her skills. But she is also transgender and while it doesn’t define her completely, it is part of her history and life, and she owns it.

Kala – She looks upon the world with hopeful eyes and an outstretched hand. She is supportive but never to a fault. Kala is reliable yet impulsive. Kala struggles with accepting her privilege, wrestling with accepting fortune when others suffer.

Sun – Wronged by her brother, broken by her mother’s death and difficult relationship with her father. Sun never forgot to love, but prided herself on needing no-one else to hold her up. She is driven and determined, humble and righteous.

Capheus – A smile can change someone’s day. This I am sure is Capheus’ internal motto. He is the everyman, but a special man, unable to see his own gifts and talents. He works, he helps and he laughs, bringing a smile to all he can.

Riley – Maker of music, she surrounds herself with energy. Family grounds her, and she struggles with personal demons. Riley has the strength of a mother, but the hardened heart of one who has lost her child. Yet she still finds love.

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Music, Opinion, Television

Reading, Watching, Listening : Best of 2015

Here’s what I’ve been loving in 2015:

TV

BANANA (& CUCUMBER) – queer drama series on UK TV from Russell T Davies of Torchwood and Queer as Folk.

THE FOSTERS – three season strong, this family dramas anout a same sex headed family of bio, foster and adopted children is heartwarming, interesting and deals with queer, race and other social issues in a smart way.

DAREDEVIL – the Hells Kitchen hero who sees the grit and corruption, despite being blind, and takes a stand. He’s also superpower-less meaning we see him tire, ache and break. Fantastic.

SENSE8 – the most LGBT drama series with a superpower twist, 8 people from locations around the world are thrown into each other’s heads and become emotionally connected. Riveting character exploration and real location filming gives a true sense of scale.

Movies

INSIDE OUT – Pixar returns to greatness with the five aspects of a twelve year olds mind. Everything I wanted it to be and more. Prepare to laugh, gasp and cry. All the feels.

Music

Pentatonix (Self Titled) – acapella goes mainstream, great songs from extraordinary voices that won a Grammy.

RWBY SOUNDTRACK (1&2) – the epic web series from Rooster Teeth, created by the late Monty Oum, has an exqually epic soundtrack. Tracks by Jeff Williams and best songs ft Casey Lee Williams.

Book

YOU’RE NEVER WEIRD ON THE INTERNET ALMOST by Felicia Day – one of my favourite geeks wrote a memoir, how could I not love it. Learn how being the outsider helped her find her tribe online.

BINGE by Tyler Oakley – I thought I knew this YouTuber, who is hilarious and ridiculous in the best way, but I had no idea till I read his book. A collection of stories that proves we’re kindred spirits.

Podcasts

INVISIBILIA – exploring the hidden forces in our world. This podcast gave me infinite creative ideas based on the concepts discussed, from hive emotions to computers.

POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR – for the cultural discussion, the ideal set of other perspectives on movies and Tv shows and for introducing me to Glen Wheldon

Comic Books

ALL NEW X-MEN – the lastest series has brought the classic X-men to the future, revealed Iceman is gay and given us Professor Kitty Pryde. A wonderful series, drawn in a beautiful way, its new classic X-men greatness.

UNCANNY X-MEN – Another series that explores the X-men divided, in the aftermath of the Phoenix Force return. The series centres on Cyclops’ new X-men, New Xavier School and feature, my personal favourite, Emma Frost in a central role.

Web Series

RED VS. BLUE – the longest running online series hit a crescendo with its latest season. The soldiers from Blood Gulch have travelled the stars, going from strength to strength. Hilarious comedy, stellar action and outstanding animation.

RWBY – Another series from Rooster Teeth (RED VS. BLUE), this time the magickal world of Remnant sees a main cast of four young women learning to defend their world from the creatures of Grimm. Season 3 is being released bi-weekly now!

L.A.R.P.S. – From Geek & Sundry (THE GUILD) comes a series based on people who play Live Action Role Play. Marathon this series on YouTube and become immersed in two worlds, the characters and the people. Makes me want to LARP.

 

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Bisexuality, LGBT, Review, Television

How To Get Away With A Season 2 Premiere (HTGAWM): Sexuality & A New Murder

When How To Get Away With Murder (HTGAWM) premiered last year (2014) I was instantaneously hooked. A mystery drama with pace, intrigue and a fierce lead in Viola Davis, the recipe was made all the sweeter thanks to a diverse cast and range of characters – something that’s been upped this year with the season two premiere.

If you haven’t watched the first episode of season two then stop reading now! This will get spoilery.

In season one we were introduced to Connor Walsh, a wise cracking and unashamed m seeking m future lawyer. His less than monogomous sexual style was treated in much the same way that a straight counterpart would be if this show was on even ten years ago. The dissection of what Jack Falahee’s portrayal of Connor means for the queer community is out there, but what is even more interesting is the dialogue that the actor has created. Tired of hearing the same limiting, expected questions, Falahee has questioned the interviewer reasoning behind asking actors who play gay characters if they are gay themselves, when we don’t ask actors playing heterosexual characters the same.

With season two, the LGBT+ spectrum has gained more representation on HTGAWM through Emmy winner, Viola Davis. Portraying Annalise Keating, a law school professor who has her own firm, Annalise was already been shown in two romantic relationships – her husband and her lover. While her husband was killed off by the end of season one, her lover lives on but hates her more than cats hate being thrown head first into water.

Viola has always given a gravitas to her role as Annalise, adding layers of complexity that shine in brilliant scenes with such natural ease. Her demanding, unyielding lawyer side takes no prisoners. She’s very smart and quick, accounting for variables but controlling outcomes both inside and outside of the courtroom. Her emotions can be hidden below the surface, used if the situation demands it, yet, she is often raw and exposed with those she loves. Her honesty and her lies are both equally convincing and that is what pushes her lovers away.

Joining the cast of season two, alongside The Guild alumni Amy Okuda, is *drum roll* Jean Famke Janssen! Cast as death row lawyer Eve Rothlow, she power walked into the first episode to a gasp from me. While her entrance was a shock; I don’t do spoilers, her brilliance was not.

Eve is an old friend of Annalise from her days at Harvard and it is immediately clear that she knows her well. While Eve puts up a strong front and looks to be putting Annalise in her place regarding people manipulation, she ends up being the one Annalise can still turn to. Their difficult past is brought to light at the episode’s close, when Annalise goes to her home. Eve casually mentions that she’s moved on from their relationship before Annalise kisses her and she takes it all back.

Now, labels being what they are, I’d love to call this bisexuality but we may have to wait to see if Annalise ever entertains the idea of naming it herself. In a way this is a big twist, as non-heterosexuality so often if, but its not dealt with in a soap opera way with dun dun duns. Instead, the swell of emotion is passionate, full of need. As with Connor’s sexuality, its another dimension and, certainly, representation for the bisexual community. I can only hope that we get to explore this relationship, though I have my doubts about whether we’ll get questions and answers re: bi people.

Except if the student team finds out. Then we’ll have Asher’s fratboy ideas to deal with which will be hilarious and illuminating. Who knows, maybe he’s bi but it hasn’t been shown yet.

HTGAWM has screamed modern and up to date drama through the choices made regarding the show, proved by Viola Davis becoming the first black woman to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress. Shockingly, we are only NOW living in a time where that has happened.

Within the show, we’re going to see Connor and Oliver tackle not only Oliver’s HIV+ status but also PrEP. The relatively new HIV preventative drug is now being discussed within the LGBT+ community regarding how it should be used. Like those in Connor’s situation, many people see it as a get out of HIV free card, assuming it will stop them from contracting HIV. However, this could set a precedent, at least in the public sphere, for condom-less sex. What many have warned is that preventing HIV is one thing, but there are numerous other sexually transmitted diseases that condoms help prevent.

Add in the drama of a new murder and the time jump to Annalise getting shot, possibly by her student (and lover?) Wes, whats not to love about How To Get Away With Murder?!

If you have read this but aren’t watching the show, try season one now! Basically no spoilers for that and then you’ll be all caught up for the goodness gracious season two to continue.

I love this show.

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LGBT, Review, Television

Cucumber Banana Tofu – Review

The first week’s episodes of Cucumber and Banana had me rollercoastering. From the highs of witty dialogue, Freddie Fox and graphic monologues, to the milder lows as I was slapped in the face with the unlikable characteristics of the main characters Henry and Dean.

I was enthused to see more but I felt that there was something brash about the series; something I only came to fully understand by the second episodes, which was the very real life, human flaws that each of the characters has.

It’s the dimension that takes them from being just any character on a TV show to a level that makes you sit up and take notice.

Cucumber

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The longest show of the interconnecting three, Cucumber, focuses on middle aged Henry Best (Vincent Franklin). He is comfortably going about his daily life with a snarky smart mouth that borders on abusively honest, while working upper management job that he seems to be able to do without even turning up to and a lust for the gay life he thinks he should be having.

Through his connections with other characters, we learn that Henry isn’t at all disliked by his friends and colleagues for his barbed tongue, they seem to take it all in stride. He gets on with a great number of them despite his taste for brutal honesty. But it’s all very habitual. It’s as though he’s showing up to a life that he’s only leading because he hasn’t died yet.

At this point, we’ve had the first memorable monologue in which Henry describes to his group of gay male friends how Ryan Reynolds is gay for himself, showing how his fast thinking wit can be put to good use. I can’t believe no-one has uploaded that scene to YouTube but somehow they haven’t. It’s brilliant.

Everything changes though when Henry’s partner Lance (Cyril Nri) proposes to him. Henry turns him down flat, somehow scared by the idea. He deals with it by denouncing the idea and sending them spiraling into an attempt at getting some energy into their romance by clubbing and picking up a stranger for a threesome.

In line with the best British queer shows; like Sugar Rush and Queer as Folk, each episodic adventure is larger than life yet no quite beyond the realms of possibility. It’s fantastical but do-able.

Take for example, a scene early into the first episode where Henry and Lance are at dinner with their friends and they notice the attractive waiter. Within a few moments, he’s been found on Grindr, then his nude pics are being shared and before you know it they are crowding round a tiny phone screen to watch his cumshot. Sex in the digital age is just a few clicks away.

What I love about the scene is how modern it is. How it would only be possible today. A system as intricate as social media, the web and personal exhibitionism has never before combined in this way. It’s brilliantly liberating yet terrifying.

With the scene set in the first episode and Henry’s desperation for a different and more exhilarating life causing him to run away to colleague (and lead in Banana) Dean’s flat – allowing him to gaze at the ever lovely and totally unavailable to him, Freddie Baxter (Freddie Fox), I was set to go on this journey with Henry but not necessarily to like him.

Then the second episode switches the course by exploring the vulnerable side to Henry. Lance had bellowed during their argument about Henry not wanting to go through with the threesome because of his fear of sex. He brings it up again when they meet up in episode 2, that Henry just doesn’t have anal sex. He doesn’t give or receive and never has.

Lance reveals this to his new work colleague, Daniel, over a friend/date situation that is confusing and sure to be explored. Lance calls Henry’s resistance to sex his shame. It is, but through that we see Henry’s fear of himself, fear of what he could be and his fear of taking the next step. He is so petrified by his own fear that he has remained an anal virgin.

Out of initial politeness, Lance never pushed the subject once he noticed the aversion through flimsy excuses. Over the years, the gap between them grew, with neither of them addressing the issue.

Now, this isn’t to say that two men in a same-sex relationship have to be having anal sex but if one wants to and the other doesn’t and they never talk about it, the unsaid quickly turns into resentment.

In this situation I feel for Henry. I am sympathetic to his clear discomfort and saddened that he has yet to talk about and explore that part of sex. Especially as it is something that he wants but struggles to face.

Overall, I love where Cucumber is going and I love that it is making me question my first impression of these characters. The show balances realism, challenging situations with story and flurries of comedy and pure sexuality. Cucumber’s second monologue, this time from (swings both ways but not called bisexual) Freddie is particular memorable. Look it up and shudder at the truth of it.

Banana

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E4’s companion series, Banana, focuses on Dean Monroe (Fisayo Akinade) in its first episode. Much like the series Skins, Banana will follow a different central character each episode, taking a broader look at the LGBT+ community while Cucumber focuses of the life of a gay man.

Dean is an endearingly open chatterbox. He’s proud to flash his cock – while contained in a sex…trap…bondage….I’m not quite sure device. He knows when he’s being checked out and is explicitly open about his sexual exploits. As an example of modern young adults, he fits the bill on sexual freedom.

What I love about Dean is his thrill seeking in life, its all go with him and he’s up for almost anything. He enjoy sex, knows who he wants and will tell you all the gory details about the time he hooked up with Freddie just to see if it was possible to have sex in the coldest room in Manchester.

What made the switch for me was when we get to see Dean visiting his family. He sets it up like his parents have thrown him out, hate him being gay and that he comes from an unwelcome home. What we get instead is an embracing family than tiptoe around him for fear he’ll explode with teenage rage – brought on by teenage logic.

You know when people complain about being smacked in the face with someone else’s sexuality, they shouldn’t be thinking about two men kissing in public, they should be getting annoyed at Dean yelling about a guy spunking on his face during Sunday lunch with the family.

Dean wants to make his sexuality an issue, for an as yet unknown reason, and feels like his family aren’t being accepting. His dad even asks if he has a boyfriend. That’s an adjusted parent, an ideal one even. Dean instead throws the friendly questions back at his parents and storms out. This made him hugely unlikeable to me. Maybe because I’m 25 and have left temper tantrums brought on by surging hormones in the past, but I really wanted someone to tell him off.

Of course, as soon as he’s back out of the family home, he’s his cheery self again.

One intriguing area that Banana touches on with Dean is premature ejaculation or cumming quickly. Freddie points out that he seems to struggle with this, using the evidence of the time they hooked up and a comment from a mutual lover. As expected, Dean is defensive but it begs the question of what a person can do about that.

Like Henry and his anal virginity, Dean doesn’t feel he can be open with people about this part of himself, whereas he spares no other detail of his sexual experiences.

 

Banana’s second episode follows Vivienne Scott (Letitia Wright). Scotty, or Viv, is a close friend of Dean’s; working with him and Henry at the same company. She beams a radiant smile that says innocence and kindness.

However, Scotty isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. In a page turner of a second episode, Banana uses 25(ish)mins to show a complexity to her that defies definition. Scotty admits to Dean that she’s fallen in love with a woman at a grocery store. A woman that she keeps watching from afar by going to the supermarket at the same time each week, knowing that’s when she shops. We’re shown this though a lens of love, infatuation and sweetness.

Scotty goes to work, gets paid, then before going back in search of her unknown love – now that she’s tracked down her possible address making her seem quite stalkerish – she visits her mother.

This is the first twist. Her mother is unable to look after herself and we see the tenderness as this young woman washes her parent, laughing and talking with her about her new love interest before putting her to bed and leaving with the warning not to get too attached. Her mother mentions that this has happened before. Immediately, I realise that something is amiss.

Her kindness matched with a sort of mental imbalance; if its fair to call it that, feels reminiscent of Cassie in Skins. While Banana stands on its own and I’m reluctant to keep referring back to another show like this, there are similarities. Cassie was a free spirit who saw the world her own special way and Scotty does too.

She finds the woman’s house and calls her only to hang up. She spends hours watching her house from her van but does nothing. Then the woman’s angry husband appears and rages at her, questioning who she is and why she’s following his wife even as the van speeds away.

Quickly, Scotty finds herself over the line and is confronted by the couple at her work; the company logo on the van giving them the tool to find her. She pleads to explain herself, all while the husband is racially profiling her which is jarring and left undisputed. Scotty explains that the reason she was following her was because she thinks that the woman is so beautiful. That she saw the anger and annoyance of a bad day wash away when she saw another person in the checkout line in need of help. Scotty saw kindness that warmed her heart.

This, it turns out, is the catalyst that frees the woman from her unhappy marriage of convenience. Not because she wants to start a relationship with Scotty but because for the first time, someone has told her how beautiful they see her as.

It’s tragic. Truly tragic and truthful that some people go through life never being given the compliments a conventionally good looking person is offered daily. Its so easy to tell ourselves we’re not beautiful or the kind of handsome that someone else would see as attractive. We find it easy to put ourselves down while refusing to let others lift us up. It takes serious circumstances to get us to realise that there are people who see us as beautiful just as we are.

I look forward to seeing who Banana explores next. Especially as we will be getting the stories of a range of LGBT+ people and I’m really hoping for a character who actually calls themselves bisexual. Fingers crossed.

Tofu

tofu_digital_sex_rating

The final part of the Russell T Davies trio is Tofu, the online docu-series with imaginative sketches and interviews that explore the themes of Cucumber and Banana.

In the first episode we get a sketch/scene which imagines a world where we can holographically rate sexual partners, like an Uber taxi, and post video comments. This allows others to see who you’ve slept with, what you’ve been rated and even suggests matches you might enjoy. It’s an amazing concept that really isn’t too far from how we live our lives.

One thing it does highlight is our ability to, in the digital age, say one thing to a person in real life and then turn to social media to release our honest truth. We are afraid to be direct, preferring to hide behind a protective wall – which is no doubt why people, at least in my life, text more than they call.

The second episode notably has Jake Bass (adult film star) saying that while he is a bottom for his porn movies, he doesn’t like receiving in his personal relationships. A reminder that the internet is full of what we perceive to be truth.

Tofu is a great finish for the group of shows as it brings it back to the viewer, engaging them into asking questions about sex and sexuality in a fun way.

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LGBT, Opinion, Television

Why does Glee need so many gay characters?

So here’s what you missed on Glee…(if you lost your way once the first group of kids graduated and they started to cover modern songs)…fan favourites Kurt and Blaine got together, broke up and then got engaged, all while living in New York and attending NYADA (New York Academy of Dramatic Arts) with Rachel, who got her starring role of broadway only to leave the show after being offered a TV pilot. Sam and Mercedes had a fling. Santana and Brittany learned they could be apart but reunited anyway and Mr Shue finally married Emma but lost the Glee Club forever when Sue became Principal of McKinley High. Also there were some more New Directions but they are basically gone now and the old cast is back for Season 6.

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That basically catches you up on everything important that happened in Glee except one, major change. Glee has always been something of a meta show anyway. What many reviewers failed to realise when it first aired was that not only is Glee a musical dramedy but it is satirical. Its knows the cast are way older than the estimated, average, 16 years the cast play and its hugely aware that the characters are larger than life BUT it was okay with that. That was the joke and the tool to help let you laugh with and love the characters.

Over the years, the influence of the cast on their characters portrayal became more and more apparent. There is no Glee Club without Rachel; see the episode after her departure entitled ‘The New Rachel’, and there is no Glee without Lea Michele. Every character was rounded out fully using the real life stories and experiences of the person who played them. Kurt Hummel in fact didn’t even exist before Chris Colfer auditioned. That character was created for him.

“Everyone wants to talk about how he died…I care more about how he lived.”

Then between season 4 and 5 something unthinkable happened. Cory Monteith, who played Finn Hudson, died. His death was a blow to the cast, who like many casts were a family, and in particular, his on and off screen girlfriend, Lea Michele. Ryan Murphy; co-creator of Glee, said that if at that point she didn’t want to continue then the show wouldn’t keep going.

His death was very public but was handled very carefully and tastefully in the show. Having garnered a young audience, the showrunners decided to kill of Finn but in an unexplained way because, as Kurt says in the episode ‘The Quarterback’, “Everyone wants to talk about how he died, too, but who cares? One moment in his whole life. I care more about how he lived.”

The queer spectrum on Glee grew from one young gay man called Kurt

From Season 2 onwards there were cast changes a plenty in Glee. The team had created a solid base in season 1 from which to launch their characters and even had even given them their first sense of victory as they coddled together enough members to compete in Sectionals.

At its core, the glee club was meant as a place for the misfits and the outcasts to come together in a safe place where they could be who they are; and sing about it. Kurt was the first character who appeared on screen as not heterosexual. He ticked a bunch of stereotypical gay boxes, had lost his mother and had a father who loved him but didn’t understand him. While Rachel was the star of the show, Kurt was the heart, and even more of an underdog than she was, because he didn’t always believe in himself like Rachel did.

Kurt was bullied, attacked, feared, judged and scolded as he tried to navigate coming out and redefining his relationships with the people around him. His character was the writers’ way to speak to gay teens and tell them that there was strength to be found even when there didn’t seem to be any hope.

Kurt learned over time to stand up for himself and received support from the New Directions; after people like Puck stopped throwing him in dumpsters, but his biggest change was to come in the form of Blaine “Warbler” Anderson (played by Darren Criss).

Blaine was another gay man who had struggled with being bullied for his sexuality but he had transferred to the nirvana of schools, Dalton Academy. At Dalton there was a zero tolerance for bullying and the all-male school had its own glee club of straight and gay, camp and not camp, guys who weren’t afraid of being open about their sexuality.

While Glee also tackled issues of gender and race in smaller segments, there was always a big push to create a platform to shine a light on LGBT issues, notably aimed at the modern youth.

After Kurt and Blaine, Glee diversified further with closeted bully Karofsky coming out and attempting suicide – something that plagues LGBT teens, even pre-teens, and is truly terrifying.

The L and B of the queer spectrum came in the form of Santana and Brittany who began a relationship to much acclaim and gave Naya Rivera’s Santana a different coming out arc to Kurt by learning to come to terms with her sexuality by treading bisexual water before identifying as a lesbian (or Lebanese as Brittany would put it) in a Gaga themed episode.

Brittany was something of a quandary in the show as she struggled to find a name for herself that others would understand given her unique mind. Brittany found love in Santana but also Sam – who was introduced in Season 2 as what many thought was a new gay character – showing her bisexuality but sadly without really naming it.

Glee’s Unique tackled trans issues ahead of the Transgender Tipping Point.

Glee has had ups and downs with its characters and storylines. Not everything was plain sailing and trying to negotiate the graduation of much of the cast and introducing a new set of characters came with a number of challenges as it essentially doubled the cast. Oxygen’s The Glee Project sought to find new, interesting talent for the show in an elimination style musical challenge competition show which amounted to the final round of a public audition. The saving grace of that show; with minor successes in the form of some of the other finalists like Blake Jenner who played Ryder Lynn, was the amazingly talented and loveable Alex Newell aka Wade aka Unique.

From his entrance onto the show Alex was enrapturing. He was a young gay man who could sing like a diva of old but struggled to balance his talent with the exposure of being in the spotlight.

Originally only joining the show for two episodes, Alex’s reward to being runner up on The Glee Project, his gender bending entrance into the halls of McKinley High as Unique was truly fierce and fabulous. Unique was the T in Glee. She struggled to be understood for what she was, tackled issues like not obsessing over genitalia when it comes to trans people, use of public bathrooms and wearing the clothes of whichever gender rather than only the one you were assigned at birth. Unique showed trans youth that they could be themselves in the same way it taught them it was okay to be gay.

Glee pushed the envelope with its representation of so many real people, including: the abused, the nerds, the disabled, the lonely, the gay, the racially stereotyped, the mentally troubled and a whole bucket more. It pushed into representing all of these young people, in different areas of depth, but they are there, each one is shown and allowed to be accepted.

Why does Glee need so many gay characters?

As the sixth and final began and the casting rumors and character confirmations began to appear, Glee started taking heat from people – okay, twitter people mostly – for the number of gay characters it was adding. Fans and non-fans alike started to ask why there were so many gay characters in this show.

I think that the reason Glee has so gay characters in their show is because, a) as a gay man, Ryan Murphy knows gay men so why not write what you know, and b) because every other show that exists either has to be labeled a gay show in order to have an almost full cast of LGBT characters OR introduces a token gay character to much applause from critics who think that counts as diversity.

In a way, Glee is a straight show that has a lot of queer characters. It targeted a broad audience which allowed it to tell the stories that it wanted to and represented on prime time TV the people who wouldn’t usually get represented. Glee is balancing the scales for all the shows that has one, token, LGBT (but usually gay) character.

*Spoilers ahead!*

In the first two episodes of season 6 we are seeing a return to what made Glee great in the first place. Gone are the extra cast members, back are the favourites who launched this groundbreaking show, and with brilliant song choices we’re being swept up in comedic musical drama.

Episodes 1 and 2 introduce us to newbies Jane and Spencer. Jane is a phenomenally talented black girl who wants to join the Warblers but is rejected as having a woman changes there rules – see how that might be relevant in modern times? – and Spencer is the post-modern gay teen who doesn’t see his sexuality as a hindrance and has douche bag levels of arrogance which, despite his handsomeness, make him somewhat repellant.

These two characters; along with others, have been introduced as the founding members of New Directions 3.0 because they represent the new modern group of people that need to be seen, understood and allowed to take centre stage in a show which so many young people look to.

Having shown a bunch of different gay characters in Kurt, Blaine, and Karofsky, Glee has expanded into new territory with Spencer. It can only be a good thing for other gay people who don’t fit a musical loving mold to see themselves represented on TV.

So, why so many gay characters? Because we haven’t gone through all the representations yet! That’s why.

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Opinion, Review, Television

The dumbing down of Doctor Who

I was aware that I avoided any tiny shred of information about the new series of Doctor Who. When an out of the blue message from a friend alerted me, last Saturday night, that the premiere would be on in forty minutes I was forced to remember how unexcited I was.

When Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor ran into Rose’s (Billie Piper) life back in 2005, I didn’t know what’d hit me. It was wonderful. The show had an sci-fi oddness that I adored, quick quips and strange monsters. The use of made-for-TV CGI combined with models and puppetry were just enough to spark my childhood imagination and fall into this world of wonder and time travel.
It was easy in the first few years to almost forget that Eccleston’s Doctor had ever happened as he was replaced in my mind by David Tennant; my Doctor. Since rewatching I marvel at how wonderful he was and how good he made the Doctor I grew to love. Sadly, Eccleston feared being typecast and left fairly swiftly.

When he then regenerated and became David Tennant’s Doctor, the epitome of hipster (without the pretence), Billie Piper taught us what knowing the Doctor really meant. It meant knowing him only for a time. Falling in love with a man who has more secrets, mysteries and adventures than everyone you could read about in every history book at school.

The family friendly show teetered between the dark and genuinely scary and the farcical and silly. You could laugh and cry in the same episode and be breathless from all the running. The Doctor was revealed to be a complicated man who needed a companion to make him more human and less lonely and so he would be loved. Even when he didn’t feel he was worthy of their love. In exchange, ordinary (though he thought they were anything but) humans would get to travel the stars, visit momentous points in history, save lives, witness the end of the world and the birth of new ones.

But every Doctor has his time. The wonderful concept that the time lords could regenerate into new bodies, becoming both someone new and someone the same, meant that actors could move on and the story could still continue.

As Russell T Davies had reimagined Doctor Who for the next generation, pulling together the girl from the council estate, a bisexual/pansexual man who couldn’t die, the companion from long ago, the woman who could lead the world and the best temp in Chiswick (ninety words a minute!), Tennant’s departure was also his and the regenerated Matt Smith took the reigns with new showrunner Steven Moffat.

To say I was devastated at this change is both over dramatic and accurate. I had fallen in love with every twist and turn that Davies and his team of writers along with Tennant and his many companions – after all he also created Torchwood! – had given us. I echo the sentiment in Tennant’s Doctor’s last words, “I don’t want to go”.

However, I was still hopeful. Matt Smith was something of an unknown quantity, he was the youngest man ever to play The Doctor and he was wacky. Similarly, Moffat was something of a curveball. He had written some excellent and memorable episodes during Davies’ run, such as The Girl in The Fireplace and Blink, which spoke of his ability as a writer to create captivating stories, characters and most wonderfully, monsters.

Yet, he also wanted to carve out his own Doctor Who world and revamped the theme music and logo to reflect his new era. This was to be the first of many things that would cause me to worry for the series.

The whimsical new Doctor from Smith and Moffat was very young, somewhat lost in himself and overall a bit off. The whole series took on a new kind of pandering to the audience. It was as though Moffat had great ideas but no-one to tell him no, so inevitably the bad ideas made it to the screen. The trends that he created in the show, the nods to a larger plan, were too forced and blatant especially as there was never a satisfying climax. His “cracks in the walls of time” that flowed around Amy Pond (Karen Gillen) never got a conclusion in the the same way that Bad Wolf did with Rose. Fezzes became a thing out of constant use, shoved down our visual throats because “fezzes are cool” even though they never were.

I liked Amy, I tolerated Rory, who seemed to be there entirely for the purpose of dying and coming back to create emotional trauma for Amy and so that, we the audience, could be assured/lied to/ made to think that Amy wasn’t in love with the Doctor and was settling for human Rory because he was so convenient.

Over several series and piece by piece, Moffat tore at the clever and gritty yet fun Doctor Who world that Davies had built and replaced it with women who were there by convenience and were only worth screen time if they were in love in Matt Smith. For goodness sake, even River Song got progressively less bad ass and more like his token long running joke/mystery.

I stuck with the series during the Smith years, finding some things to love and enjoy and many more things to hate and irritate me both as a fan and a writer. By the time it came down to regeneration time I had decided to watch the finale and then be done with Doctor Who.

Then I received the text reminding me that Who was back. I almost got into an argument over not liking what the show had become. As a result, I realised I needed to give it a chance, or at the very least, watch it to be able to properly critique what I didn’t. No one listens to someone who hates something they know nothing about.

Peter Capaldi took on The Doctor and in typical regeneration fashion was stuck in the new and not quite himself mode for the majority of the first episode. I’m a fan of Capaldi and had grown interested in Jenna Coleman’s Clara – despite her being used as the sonic screwdriver for time travel problems. But again, the story lacked anything powerful or smart and very little was genuinely good.

I tried to like it, honestly I did, but I spent the whole time aghast that Moffat was choosing to make this first episode a revisiting medley of his previous episodes, combining the Victorian period (which Doctor Who loves to visit time after time) with Dinosaurs, previously from On A Spaceship, plus his Girl in the Fireplace robots and their replacing human parts repair storyline and all the while some of his most interesting characters; who deserve a spin-off by the way, popping up sporadically to save the day and provide a bed for Capaldi to not sleep in.

There was one good part in the while 70something minute opening episode and that was when Clara had to hold her breath to stop herself from being identified by the killer robots, her escape marred by further rooms full of more robots and causing her more and more pain as she ached for breath. It’s hard to make that sound good on paper but it was a dramatic moment.
I went back and watched the first episode of Eccleston’s run as the Doctor to compare. Moffat claimed his series would be darker than ever before, and it was, but that was just the lighting! The 2005 Doctor Who inspired the everyday fear of mannequins and the idea that anything could be alien or an alien’s weapon by grounding the series in the time and people of the present day.

I don’t know if I can bear to watch any more but if I can stomach it I will be sure to palette cleanse with a Davies episode as in comparison it still holds up as better, despite the dodgy CGI living plastic.

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Opinion, Review, Television

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Six : What is up with this season?

RuPaul Drag RAce S6 castWhen all five seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race appeared on Netflix earlier this year, it took the UK by storm. Finally, the masses got to take a look at drag at its finest. When the show first started, it was spoofing America’s Next Top Model; complete with product placement and slow, dramatic, eliminations, and using the task then runway challenge format for the episode. However, with each season passing season the show has changed, playing with different challenges and styles but keeping the endless, hilarious, puns.

Now in its sixth season, the show is polished, primed and almost perfected. One of the best parts of this series is that it isn’t afraid to evolve, thanks in no small part to the growing budgets.

In addition, each new group of queens expanded on what it means to be a drag queen and what drag is. As RuPaul discusses in his new podcast What’s the Tee?; featuring co-host and best long time friend, Michelle Visage, this show IS America’s and the world’s introduction to drag.

Therefore, there was a need to test the waters in each year by pushing the boundaries of what was perceived as ‘drag’. For example, large numbers of queens refer to themselves as ‘fishy’ meaning feminine or looking very much like a woman. As the most accessible concept of drag, it was the style of most of the Queens in early seasons.

However, with each passing year, Ru mixed it up adding in avant garde queens, such as Sharon Needles and Raja, comedy queens, such as Pandora Box and Jinkx Monsoon, and fresh new and untested talent such as Serena ChaCha and Shangela. This slow exposure to new, weird, wicked and wonderful helps propel each season onto a new level and keeps the show fresh.

It’s no surprise then that Season Six was hotly anticipated, or that the show was revamped and pumped up; notably with new sponsor Scruff, who grew the pit crew from two hot men to four hot men. Thanks! But not only that, the show took note of fan reactions and realized that there needed to be a big change in the way the queens were introduced.

This came in the form of ‘two big openings’, meaning that the fourteen selected queens would be split into two groups of seven, one group per episode, so that no-one got lost in the crowd. It was an intriguing idea, having two premieres allowed us to see just how awful the queens who sashayed away really were. (Willam shade? Really Kelly Mantle?!)

Yet, no season is flawless and with a growing fandom the cracks were bound to show. This season has already had its share of ups, downs and controversy, so I’ve compiled a list of some of the biggest talking points:

  1. Laganja Estranja.

From the moment she walked…nay death-dropped in, she was desperate not only to get the most attention from the other contestants, but from the cameras too. Her rehearsed and over enunciated diary moments spewed her molten self-importance at the viewers.

Laganja seemed to have decided that she would try to orchestrate as many sad/dramatic/gleeful moments as possible in order to get as much screen time as possible. While she isn’t the first to try; and though production and editing are a factor in these reality shows, she is the only queen whose talent was shaded by her own ego.

The saddest part is that most of the other contestants and the majority of viewers at home could see right through this act! That is, when they could understand what she was going on about. In between the ‘YES! MAMA WORK! GAWWWWD!’ and the ‘SERVE MAMA!’ was the occasionally cringe worthy ‘SUSHI ROLL SUSHI ROOOOLLLL!’ and they did her no favors.

Fellow competitor, and friend of Laganja from before the competition, Adore Delano was eventually forced to point out that the person she presented herself as, was not the real Laganja. Then, instead of seeing her own flaws, Laganja decided to fake cry and claim that she ‘felt very attacked’. In fact, on numerous occasions, Laganja was able to complete misread the room and the intentions of her fellow queens which ostracized her from all except simple Gia Gunn and culminated in her elimination; in which she acted bitter and upset.

What was worse, was that this whiny, extreme, self-obsessed mess was allowed to stay weeks longer than we needed her to. While everyone has their favorites, this season more than any other raised the questions ‘why is she still here?’ and ‘are they just doing this for the drama?’

Which leads me to…

  1. Darienne Lake.

Darienne swaggered in to represent the big girls this year. Happily I spent the first few episodes rooting for Darienne and thought she could be top three material, even when she made some questionable fashion choices.

Then, quite abruptly, she decided to start verbally attacking fan-favorite Ben de la Crème on a regular basis and without any clear reason. What made this even more confusing was that Ben was completely unaware of this hate directed at her as she Darienne saved her venom for her diary moments.

This culminated in the, now season regular, ‘The Library Is Open’ reading challenge; where the queens get to verbalize what they really think of the other queens but in a funny and lighthearted way.

Darienne targeted Ben de la Crème and uttered ‘You remind me of a Russian Doll…Full. Of. Yourself.’ Actual coughs and splutters occurred. What had Ben done to deserve this? It seems nothing, other than being better at the challenges so far.

Subsequently, the two found themselves up for elimination and RuPaul’s Drag Race tradition they had to lip-sync for their lives.RuPaul chose to re-use a trick from the previous season and didn’t send either of them home.

But just a few challenges later, as Ben was beginning to excel and Darienne was crashing and burning, they had to do battle once again. This second time, Darienne stayed and Ben went home. Why? It makes no sense. Is it just to get a big girl in the top three? It seems that the decision to both, keep Darienne Lake in then and previously were based on her ability to start a feud for no reason.

Thankfully, a week on, the viewers are still questioning the decisions purpose and merit, as well as, whether the show is choosing faked drama over the actual competition.

On a calmer note…

  1. Trinity K. Bonet.

Initially, Trinity filled viewers with dread and we wondered if she would be another  Tyra Sanchez the Season Two winner who moaned and pissed off the other Queens and won by turning out flawless looks week after week.

Trinity constantly seemed to be struggling and was very resistant to help from the other queens. It got old quickly, but didn’t go too far before something changed and she revealed what was burdening her. Trinity K. Bonet explained that she is HIV+ and told the queens, and the world, that she wanted to be a role model and to show how you could be happy and healthy while being HIV+. She is the first Queen to say this on the show and it took courage and class to do what she did. Hopefully this will shine a light on what it means to be HIV+ and take some of the stigma away.

Within the competition, each week Trinity presented exquisite, poised, perfected outfits on the runway, giving a range of different and outstanding looks that, had she stayed until later, could certainly have landed her in the top three.

So why wasn’t she in the top three? She left just as her ‘‘secret’’ was revealed. It seems that this time, the producers decided that her time was up, rather than she her performance did. Nevertheless, Trinity was gracious in defeat and left more highly respected because of that.

  1. You’ve got She-mail/ Female or Shemale

One of the main parts of RuPaul’s Drag Race that has not changed over the first five seasons is Ru’s introductory message to the theme of the week, through a coded joke. The ringing bell for ‘oooh girl, you’ve got she-mail’ played on the female impersonation of drag and the word email. It was a fun and largely unnoted quip that really started the ball rolling for each episode.

Then there was a ‘Female or Shemale’ identification mini-challenge which asked the queens to guess from a close up whether it was a ‘biological woman or psychological woman’; i.e. cis woman or drag queen. Although I thought it innocent enough, some members of the trans community, and their supporters, took issue with how it played on femininity in relation to gender identity. Those who disputed this interpretation came both from within the trans community and outside of it. It was debated heavily but with emphasis on whether RuPaul’s Drag Race, as an LGBT show, was making fun of a trans issue.

As fans of the show will know, there have been a few trans contestants on the show and trans guests, but the damage was done and so the decision was made to remove the section of the episode and remove ‘You’ve got She-mail’ from all future episodes. Some call this bowing to a few disgruntled people who don’t ‘‘get the joke’’, but in the end the show aims to be progressive and inclusive and it was the right thing to do.

  1. Bianca Del Rio

I cannot think of a single queen who embodies such polished talent and caring, nasty (in the good way) character as Bianca Del Rio. She swanned in and casually barbed with the other queens who never seemed to know how to respond to the lightning quick quips that she pulled from her ‘rolodex of hate’.

She is both a talented seamstress, making wonderful gowns, and a hilarious comedian/ienne(?) with an eye-roll that the waves on the sea shore are jealous of. She proved to be feisty and hard-working when she needed to be BUT was the first to help and one of the few queens to show a genuine softer side that made her even more loveable.
A special note should be made for her relationship with Adore Delano which once it began to blossom, flourished into a perfect sweetness that delights. (Though, that description is probably too sickly for the both of them.)

In addition, there has never been more call online for a contestant to have their own show (especially as no-one asked Alyssa to bother but now we’re going to have one.) Bianca’s Drag Race anyone?

All that being said, I was hooked throughout the season, even when I was screaming confusion and tweeting my opinions; which I suppose is the point? Hopefully next season will see the show evolve once again and that we get a return to a show about a competition and less of the Real Housewives docu-drama realness.

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