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Is there any other way of describing Showtime’s new sitcom “Queer as
Folk” more aptly than USA Today, which came out with: “There’s never
been anything else like it on TV” — leading off a full page of ecstatic
ads in the New York Times this week?

Right on the noggin. No, there certainly has not been anything like
“Queer as Folk” to hit the television screens of this land. Now,
Newsweek found it “honest, engaging … wonderful.” The Washington Post
called it “Outrageous, heartbreaking and bitterly witty.” The Wall
Street Journal noted, “it pushes the small-screen envelope …
refreshing.”

“Queer as Folk” indeed does push the small-screen envelope right to
the ripping point. Based on a popular British series, “Queer as Folk”
is slated to run for 22 installments — the first two of which ran back
to back last Sunday on Showtime pay-cable network, eliciting extravagant
enthusiasm from our nation’s TV critics.

We’ve had gay characters aplenty on TV until now, but none where the
homosexual characters and their sex lives have been so vividly
portrayed. In the first two episodes, with exception of a couple of
very minor characters, everyone is homosexual or lesbian, if you except
the mother of one of the principals, who thoroughly embraces her son’s
lifestyle.

A fairly large portion of the opening sequence is devoted to the
pretty-detailed bedding down of a high-school boy, Justin, who says he
is 17, and is played by 20-year-old Randy Harrison, who looks like a
15-year-old blend of Matt Damon and Kevin Bacon. Anyhow, it’s a pretty
sticky scene watching the lad experience homosexual intercourse for the
first time. In Great Britain, the character of Justin is supposed to be
15.

Justin’s seducer, a 29-year-old named Brian, is shown to be a
successful ad agency executive, cold and cocky. He nails a married
client in the men’s room, shoving him brutally into a stall, before the
camera cuts away to another part of the story line. But from one detail
and another, we’re to led to suspect Brian may not be as cold as he
appears. Maybe he’ll discover a heart by the end of the series.

We are shown he has donated sperm to a lesbian friend so she and her
girl friend can have a baby. Indeed, the baby is born on the same night
Brian sleeps with Justin, who he brings along to the hospital rather
than leaving a strange kid alone in his plush apartment. “So,” purrs
the lesbian girl friend, spotting Justin, “you had two babies tonight,
Brian.”

The plotline bounces merrily along: gay guys cruising in a gay
disco, gay guys bonding, gay guys consoling one another, a gay guy whose
co-workers at a supermarket who don’t know he’s gay inviting him out for
a beer. “It’s alright,” he says gamely to a gay pal, “I can talk about
Oscar de la Renta with the boys OK.”

“You mean Oscar de la Hoya,” corrects the pal.

Don’t ask me how non-gay audiences will respond to the series. The
homosexual community out there will no doubt find comfort in having
their own soap, as it were. The tone of the show — set in Pittsburgh
rather than in England’s Manchester — is kindly, the humor gently camp
with an occasional dash of bitchy wit. The men are, on the whole,
good-looking with Brian and Justin being the most attractive in a
male-model sort of way. Only one character plays it camp — and not too
flamboyantly at that. Only one lesbian is attractive, for what that’s
worth.

What with “Will and Grace” and “Normal, Ohio,” mainstream American
audiences have had an opportunity to adjust to aspects of homosexual
culture, but “Queer as Folk” is certainly a first for introducing –
well, at least to the folks who pay for Showtime — to something
resembling a full worldview of this particular minority.

Incidentally, in the first two hours, no mention is made of AIDS,
although Brian makes a point of using condoms In one of the “tasteful”
sexual interludes, he has Justin put the condom on him. No, you don’t
actually see anything, but you do hear their dialogue and do get to
watch the expression on Justin’s face as he slides it on.

So, the little kids are in bed by 10 p.m. but plenty of teens sure
aren’t. Reportedly, the series was shown to the rating board of the
Motion Picture Association of America for vetting and, supposedly, some
small cuts were made at its recommendation.

It’s your money. Nobody’s forcing you to partake. But it and that
full page ad in the New York Times emphasizes how far down the slippery
slope our culture is moving. Unsettling.

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