The Real Goodbye

Well, the only gay-themed network sitcom got the axe last week, as ABC cancelled The Real O’Neals after its sophomore season. I didn’t find TRO a groundbreaking sitcom or really even a terrific piece of entertainment, but we have so few outlets for LGBT inclusion in mainstream entertainment these days, I felt compelled to watch.

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Martha Plimpton, Jay R. Ferguson, Noah Galvin, Matthew Shively and Bebe Wood were the O’Neal family, a Chicago-based Roman Catholic brood based loosely on the teenage years of Dan Savage. | Image: ABC

What I found was that it was a series with some flaws, but it also had heart. The actors, directors and producers seemed to genuinely care about the series and they didn’t do a lot of corner-cutting. They did challenge some sitcom norms, but at the same time, they did fall back into some annoying sitcom tropes from time to time. I’m not sure who to fault here, but my bet would be the network.

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Many out guest stars appeared on TRO, often in one of main character Kenny’s fantasies, including Robbie Rogers and Gus Kenworthy as themselves, urging Kenny on compete on the school wrestling team in season two. | Image: ABC

I liked young Noah Galvin, who played main character Kenny O’Neal, the middle child who comes out in the pilot episode. He and TV-siblings Jimmy and Shannon (Matthew Shively and Bebe Wood) had terrific chemistry and their characters and relationships developed early on.

The ensemble was anchored by the always-stellar Martha Plimpton as Eileen, the very Catholic mom who gets a divorce and then begins an inappropriate relationship with her children’s vice principal, played to a lunatic fare-the-well by Matt Oberg.

The writers seemed not to know what to do with Dad after season one and, consequently, Jay R. Ferguson, always a rock-solid performer since his own days as a child actor, was sadly wasted as was Mary Hollis Inboden as wacky Aunt Jackie.

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Sean Grandillo (l) played Kenny’s first “real” boyfriend in a multi-episode story arc in the second season of TRO. | Image: Variety

Sensing what was coming, the writers buttoned up the series nicely, but I’m sorry to see it go. Given the tenor of the times, I suppose I should be grateful that ABC stuck with it for two seasons (well, two half-seasons), but I want more. I want young LGBT kids to see much, much more of themselves reflected back on TV than my generation did. I fear we’re never going to get there.

Here’s some cute bits from TRO, courtesy of NewNowNext:

Source: The 15 Gayest Moments On “The Real O’Neals” | NewNowNext

Grace Notes — Netflix’s ‘Grace & Frankie’

I spent much of my free time over the last week binge watching the first season of the new Netflix comedy Grace & Frankie starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. There are 13 episodes, each just a little bit better than the last.

Here’s the set up, in case you haven’t heard of this already: Grace (Fonda) is married to Robert (Martin Sheen). Frankie (Tomlin) is married to Sol (Sam Waterston). Robert and Sol are law partners. Grace and Frankie tolerate each other on their best days, Robert and Sol confess to Grace and Frankie that they’ve been having an affair — with each other! — for the last 20 years. And that’s your set up.

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Waterston, Tomlin, Fonda and Sheen are the talented quartet that lead the superlative new Netflix series Grace and Frankie. |Image: Indiewire.

It’s a fairly straightforward sitcom fish-out-of-water plot, albeit with a modern twist, and in the hands of average actors, the material — which is, by the by, crisply and tightly written — would do just fine, but this is an example of what happens when you hand a script to a quartet of the finest actors you can imagine and just let them run with it.

Fonda and Tomlin haven’t lost a beat since they last acted together in 9 to 5 three and a half decades ago, Tomlin is as gifted today as she was on Laugh-In the 1960s. There is such a dearth of good, meaty roles for older women and this show is the perfect example of what can happen when good material ends up in the hands of women who can show you how it’s supposed to be done. They are such a pleasure to watch. There are plenty of good scenes in this show, but the two-handers with Tomlin and Fonda, well, you feel like you are peeking in on something truly special. And you are.

And another thing: Jane Fonda is 77 years old. She is, without a doubt, the sexiest 77-year-old in the world. Luminous. Utterly and completely luminous.

I saw an early notice where the writer said that Sheen and Waterston seemed uncomfortable with the physicality of their roles. After seeing a few episodes, I went back to that. This person is not an older gay man, I concluded. And I was right: the author was a young woman.

Granted, Sheen and Waterston have a few decades on me, but I absolutely see the truth in these men, who have finally come to terms with who they are so late in life. It is not yet fluid to them. They are very affectionate, but a bit more reserved, a bit more tentative. They have lived through a time when showing too much affection was a recipe for a beating. Or death. I understand their reserve more than people younger than I, but I also cannot comprehend the terror that that generation faced. They are effortless, exceptional performers and I think this is the best, most authentic portrayal of older gay men we’ve yet seen on television.

The first thirteen are not tied up in a pretty bow. There’s a bittersweet little twist at the end of the last episode. There are belly laughs aplenty, but this show is much deeper than a traditional sitcom. There are places where hard subjects are tackled and the drama that informs the comedy is allowed to play out. It’s a smart, smart series. I wouldn’t expect anything less from this bunch.

So, do yourself a favor, watch it. You’ll be glad you did.

The Straight Years — A New Website and a Look Back at How it Used to Be

Got this tweet this past weekend from LogoTV —

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Of course, I had to check it out.

The premise is people who are out now showing old pictures of themselves when they were pretending to be straight — or simply hadn’t figured out how to come out of the closet.

Back when I was a pre-teen/teenager, there were three people on television that I knew were gay: Paul Lynde on The Hollywood Squares, Charles Nelson Reilly on Match Game, and Billy Crystal’s character, Jodie Dallas, on Soap. And that was it! At least that was it in my little insulated corner of the planet. No one talked about gay and straight. Were these my role models? No, thanks. That’s not it. I’m not like ANY of these men. (Although, I LOVED Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly — they were the epitome of hilarious to me in the 70s — I did not connect the dots.)

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Charles Nelson Reilly made the 70s a little bit funnier on Match Game. A gifted actor, teacher and director, the Tony-winning Reilly filmed his autobiographical stage show, The Life of Reilly, shortly before his death. |Image: nndb.com

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TV’s center square, Paul Lynde, was bitchy and campy and threw out one double entendre after another on The Hollywood Squares for years. Also known for stage and TV work, including memorable turns as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, Lynde died of a heart attack in 1982 at age 55. |Image: crewmagazine.

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Billy Crystal as Jodie Dallas in Soap. Allegedly gay throughout the series’ 1977-81 run, Jodie had several relationships with women. Granted the show was an over-the-top spoof on soap operas, but commercial director Jodie was nobody’s idea of a role model.

Things weren’t that much better in the 80s, when Steven Carrington on Dynasty was television’s gay standard bearer. Carrington — played by Al Corley and then recast with Jack Coleman — like Jodie Dallas before him, had far more romantic entanglements with women than any gay man I’ve ever met. Then again, “conversion therapy” and attempts to go straight were seen as serious back then, as ridiculous as it sounds now. There was no touching, no actual affection shown between two men on TV then; not in those days when, after his 1985 death, the world was shocked to learn that Rock Hudson was gay.

Looking back on those “straight years,” I think that simply because they were there and we could have a conversation about them, Jodie Dallas and Steven Carrington began to pave the way for networks like HERE and LOGO and superstars like Ellen Degeneres and Rosie O’Donnell and Zachary Quinto and George Takei and Anderson Cooper and Neil Patrick Harris and shows like Glee and The New Normal and Will & Grace and Brothers & Sisters and The L Word and Queer as Folk on cable and the networks and Husbands and The Outs and Eastsiders and Submissions Only and Hunting Season online and iconic couples like Kevin and Scotty,  Luke and Noah,  Lindsey and Melanie,  Will and Sonny and, hell, Jack and Doug on Dawson’s friggin’ Creek just to scratch the very tip of the iceberg.

I finally figured it all out in my mid-20s and came out publicly after attending the 1993 gay march on Washington. Being surrounded by the largest crowd I’ve ever seen on the National Mall, I decided that I wasn’t alone. I had back up in case coming out was a terrible idea.

It wasn’t. It NEVER is. I just wish my “straight years” hadn’t lasted quite so long. Maybe they wouldn’t have if I could have seen more of myself on television, in the movies or in literature back then.

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The Corner Bar was a 1972 summer replacement series on ABC that is credited with the first recurring gay character on American television. Played by Vincent Schiavelli, “Peter Panama” was reviled by gay activists at the time for playing up all of the worst gay stereotypes. Schiavelli, far right, is pictured with cast members Gabriel Dell, J.J. Barry, Shimen Ruskin, Bill Fiore and Joe Keyes. |Image via sticomsonline.com, watermarked argentaimages.

How “Husbands” Predicted The Future For Gay Marriage And Digital Hollywood

How “Husbands” Predicted The Future For Gay Marriage And Digital Hollywood.

Fortunately, Husbands has not had to worry about suffering from performance issues. When Bell and Espenson launched it two years ago as a web series on YouTube, it won a rave from no less than The New Yorker, and generated enough of a passionate fan base that the duo was able to raise $60,000 on Kickstarter for a second season. That season, which debuted on YouTube last year, saw a roughly 35% boost in viewership. “Everybody has access to the ability to make their own product now,” says Espenson. “It really is ‘the best will thrive.’ Like, whole networks are set up to guess what people are going to like. You don’t have to guess anymore. You can put it up and see what they like. That’s what we did. And they liked us.”

Excellent article and interview with Bell, Espenson and Hemeon about the impact of Husbands and finding new venues for content.

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Husbands’ co-star Sean Hemeon is flanked by series co-creators Brad Bell and Jane Espenson at the 2013 Entertainment Weekly San Diego Comic Con party. The much-lauded marriage equality series centers on Hemeon and Bell, who play a hilarious mismatched married couple in the crisply written show. | Image: Chelsea Lauren/WireImage.

It’s very interesting to me that the trio no longer use the phrase “Web series” to describe the show, now beginning its third season (and this time on CW Seed, the companion site to the broadcast network), but rather simply call it a “series.”

I think they are right — and it’s very interesting to see language and usage change — sometimes practically overnight.

Says Espenson: “There’s nothing on YouTube that you can’t see on your smart TV. There’s nothing on TV, essentially, that you can’t find online in some form. So [saying “Web series” is] like saying, “I heard a radio song” vs. “a CD song!” Well, what’s the difference? You can get it either place.

I’ll have to start checking myself.

Meanwhile, you can watch — please do; it’s terrific!! — the new season of Husbands on CW Seed.

Watch the first two seasons and some behind-the-scenes videos HERE.

Read some of the Husbands-related posts I’ve made over the last year HERE, HERE, and HERE.

‘The New Normal’ Star Justin Bartha Talks About The Show’s Cancellation

“The NBC executives get a lot of critique from the press but they should be applauded for putting us on the air in the first place, because we still have a long way to go with equality in this country and around the world.”

via ‘The New Normal’ Star Justin Bartha Talks About The Show’s Cancellation.

I’ll agree with that. Good show. Good actor. Sad it’s gone. I certainly wish NBC had more balls.

M*A*S*H Finale — Most Watched Program Celebrates 30 Years

Ken Levine: ‘M*A*S*H’ 30th Anniversary Finale: Looking Back On The Event.

340px-Mash_signGood God. Really? Thirty years? I have a story about this….

I was a freshman in college. My roommate and I had a television — my television — a small back-and-white set from Sears, complete with CABLE (we were on the cutting edge of high tech!!) in our dorm room!

A bunch of friends gathered in our room that night to watch the finale and say goodbye to Hawkeye and BJ and Col. Potter and Klinger and the rest of the 4077th, characters that had defined our childhoods. And just as the program began, the geeks next door, geeks with no sense of collective pop culture, but geeks with a dial-up handset modem for their handmade “computer” fired that sucker up and wrecked our signal. We went crazy, beating on their door, screaming for them to turn it off.

They finally did and declined our invitation to watch with us; perhaps the only people in America that night not tuned in to see the goings-on in “The Swamp” one last time.

The Outs – Very In

The Outs.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with this web series, but if you haven’t seen it, I do urge you to give it a look.

Tommy Heleringer as Scruffy and Hunter Canning as Jack, two of the adorable stars of the web series The Outs.

The Outs is the brainchild of Adam Goldman who wrote the six-episode series with Sasha Winters. Both of them act in it as well. The show features nuanced acting, creative camera work, and something that you find too little of — especially in made-for-the-Web-stuff — excellent lighting. (I know, I know. That’s always the dead giveaway in theatre reviews — talk about the lighting instead of giving a bad review.)

But I’m telling ya, it’s lit great and it highlights these performers.

The writing is smart, edgy sometimes, gritty, unflinching, real. These characters speak as real people speak. So refreshing to see.

I love the web series Husbands, too, but for entirely different reasons. Husbands is the parfait of a sitcom I wish was on television in prime time. The Brooklyn-centric The Outs is the great indie project that only you and a few savvy friends have found and it makes you feel good for having some knowledge that the rest of the hoi polloi don’t deserve to care about.

Well, watch The Outs. And tell somebody smart to watch it. These talented folks deserve our support.