Review: ‘Queer as Folk’ portrays honest look at gay life in America

Maya Hamid
Contributing Writer

Scott Lowell of “”Queer as Folk”” autographs DVDs for fans Scott Jorgenson (left) and Luis Salas during a signing at Borders Books. Photo by Erik Unger/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Queer as Folk (US)” was a television show that ran on Showtime from 2000-2005. It was one of the first genuine looks at gay life from a gay perspective to ever air on American television.

It follows the lives of five gay men and two lesbians living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the fictional gay borough of “Liberty Avenue.” It centers the subtle progression of the group’s relationship from friendship to familial, while also showing distinct and important parts of LGBT culture in the early 2000s.

“Queer as Folk (US)” is a reboot of the British series created by Russell T Davies, best known for the Doctor Who franchise. While the British version only had eight episodes, the American version ran for five seasons and became one of the number one shows on Showtime’s roster, paving the way for shows like “The L Word.”

“Queer as Folk” hit many milestones in its run, like showing the first intimate scene between two men to ever be seen on American television. The series contained frank discussions and storylines with some surrounding hate crimes, HIV/AIDS, cruising culture, bug-chasers (those who actively try to infect themselves with HIV), workplace discrimination and same-sex parenting, amongst many others.

It was one of the first genuine looks at three-dimensional gay characters where they were not treated as “clowns or eunuchs” as the creators of the show Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman put it. They meant for it to be an honest and explicit view of gay life in an urban setting, not to be flattering or unflattering, but instead to be true to the experience of LGBT people at the time and the experiences Cowen and Lipman had as gay men themselves.

In an interview with OUT, Cowen and Lipman explained that the backlash they received was a surprise, as it mostly came from parts of the LGBT community themselves.

“That was always an issue of contention for us. Those people who were primarily concerned with, ‘What are straight people going to think of us?’ And that was something Dan and I were not concerning ourselves with. We were concerning ourselves with being truthful,” Cowen told OUT.

The show presented these anti-assimilationist views through all its characters, but primarily through the character of Brian Kinney (played by Gale Harold). Throughout the show’s run Brian slowly became the main character amongst the leading cast. He was meant to represent the classic “club-boy” seen throughout gay life and would go on to have one of the most transformative characters arcs over the five seasons, but throughout his character arc, he remains staunchly anti-assimilationist, stating many times that he has no care for what straight people think about him or the community and acts as a mouthpiece for Cowen and Lipsman’s earlier statement.

While a minorly dated piece of media, “Queer as Folk” still remains a monumental spearhead in the presentation of gay life in American television and is something that anybody with interest in gay history, culture or character writing would enjoy.

It can be streamed on Showtime, Amazon Prime or bought on YouTube and is rated TV-MA.

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