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

Takei “Disappointed” in Gay Sulu

With all due respect to George Takei, whom we can all agree is awesome, I think the revelation that Hikaru Sulu is gay in the soon-to-be-released film Star Trek: Beyond is a fine thing.

Screenwriter and Scotty portrayer Simon Pegg says that it was done as an homage to Takei, who is openly gay, but Takei says he’s disappointed in the choice to take a character who has always been straight and suddenly make him gay 50 years after he was introduced in the original series. He says it’s against the vision of creator George Roddenberry.

Takei may have something there; after all, no one involved in the film reboot of the original series has had the benefit of knowing and working with Roddenberry. That said, I think if Roddenberry were alive today, he may well have approved.

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(clockwise from top left) George Takei as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek, the original television series, John Cho as Sulu in the latest Star Trek motion picture series, Zachary Quinto as the latest Spock, and Simon Pegg as Montgomery Scott, the chief engineer on the starship Enterprise. Pegg also wrote the screenplay for the latest film.

Zachary Quinto, who portrays Spock in the franchise had this to say, as reported on Towleroad:

I was disappointed by the fact that George was disappointed. Any member of the LGBT community that takes issue with the normalized and positive portrayal of members of our community in Hollywood and in mainstream blockbuster cinema…I get it that he has had his own personal journey and has his own personal relationship with this character but, you know, as we established in the first ‘Star Trek’ film in 2009, we’ve created an alternate universe, and my hope is that eventually George can be strengthened by the enormously positive response from especially young people who are heartened by and inspired by this really tasteful and beautiful portrayal of something that I think is gaining acceptance and inclusion in our societies across the world, and should be.

Quinto’s remarks buttress Pegg’s in The Guardian:

He’s right, it is unfortunate, it’s unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science fiction hasn’t featured an LGBT character until now. We could have introduced a new gay character, but he or she would have been primarily defined by their sexuality, seen as the ‘gay character’, rather than simply for who they are, and isn’t that tokenism?

Justin Lin, Doug Jung and I loved the idea of it being someone we already knew because the audience have a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by any prejudice. Their sexual orientation is just one of many personal aspects, not the defining characteristic. Also, the audience would infer that there has been an LGBT presence in the Trek Universe from the beginning (at least in the Kelvin timeline), that a gay hero isn’t something new or strange. It’s also important to note that at no point do we suggest that our Sulu was ever closeted, why would he need to be? It just hasn’t come up before.

Pegg continued, saying:

The viewing audience weren’t open minded enough at the time and it must have forced Roddenberry to modulate his innovation. His mantra was always ‘infinite diversity in infinite combinations’. If he could have explored Sulu’s sexuality with George, he no doubt would have. Roddenberry was a visionary and a pioneer but we choose our battles carefully.

And he ended the interview with a sentiment that, I believe, we can all agree with:

Whatever dimension we inhabit, we all just want to be loved by those we love (and I love George Takei). I can’t speak for every reality but that must surely true of this one. Live long and prosper.

For Trek geeks, I think the point that the TOS (the original series) timeline and the Kelvin (movie reboot) timelines are different and therefore the canon is different. For folks pushing for inclusion, I can’t imagine a better universe to do that in than Star Trek. Except, perhaps, for our own.


Somewhat Related Post from 2013: Here

Emmy Nods for EastSiders

Congrats to the EastSiders crew for their Daytime Emmy Award nominations. The second series, which debuted in October, was nominated in the new category of Outstanding Digital Drama Series. Van Hansis was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Digital Drama for his role as Thom. This is his fourth Daytime Emmy nomination, having been a contender three times for his portrayal of Luke Snyder on As The World Turns.

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Series creator/director/producer/co-star Kit Williamson may have had the best reaction, as evidenced by this Instagram post.

I’m glad that NATAS has seen sense and created the digital drama series categories. As we continue to uncouple “television”  from the “television set,” it’s important that we continue to recognize new ways to deliver content.

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Van Hansis and Kit Williamson in season two of EastSiders.

The content, though, stays the same. Well, let me reframe that thought. Most “entertainment” on traditional television stinks. Much of the best content is coming fast and furious in new delivery methods — EastSiders on Vimeo, House of Cards on Netflix, Transparent on Amazon — and I think while the death knell for traditional broadcast and cable networks has not yet sounded, the plans for the coffin may be being drawn up.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen EastSiders, what is the matter with you? Watch it now.

Finally, here’s some Daytime Emmy trivia for you. Who was the first daytime performer recognized with an Emmy? That would be All My Children’s Mary Fickett in 1972 in a special daytime category at the primetime Emmys. Fickett played AMC matriarch Ruth Brent Martin for nearly 30 years.

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Fickett in the early years of All My Children.

However, the first person to take home a daytime statue for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama was Elizabeth Hubbard in 1974 for her portrayal of Dr. Althea Davis on The Doctors. Hubbard won an additional Daytime Emmy in 1976 for portraying First Lady Edith Wilson in an NBC special, but astonishingly — and despite eight additional nominations in the category — she never won for her quarter-century of assaying one of daytime’s greatest roles: Lucinda Walsh on As The World Turns.

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Hubbard as Lucinda Walsh, one of the all-time greats.

Hubbard played Van Hansis’ grandmother on ATWT. She’s nominated again this year as Outstanding Actress in a Digital Drama, for her role in Anacostia, the web series co-written and co-produced by Martha Byrne, who played Hubbard’s daughter and Hansis’ mother on As The World Turns.

You can use all that next time you play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon!

The State of the LGBT Storyline & Characters on Days of Our Lives

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Christopher Sean, Freddie Smith and Guy Wilson played “the gays of Salem” on Days of our Lives. They are seen here at the 26th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in 2015.

The cut below is from a good article by Jim Halterman regarding the loss of the big LGBT storyline on NBC’s Days of our Lives.

While I understand new writers coming in with their own objectives and vision for the show as well as the preoccupation with celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the show, the fact that the LGBT presence (which has brought the show accolades over the past few years) is dwindling is definitely disconcerting.

Source: The State of the LGBT Storyline & Characters on ‘Days of Our Lives.’ | XFINITY TV Blog by Comcast

Like many people, I was extremely invested in the so-called WilSon story over the last four years and DAYS’ blockheaded move — certainly in my estimation — to take this story off the table led me to say good riddance to the show and stop watching.

Here again is my take to augment Halterman’s.

Homo TV: How Far Have We Come Since Jack Tripper?

Here’s an interesting look at gays on TV from Matt Baume. Like Baume, the depiction of gays in the media is something that I’m extremely interested in. As someone who grew up in the 70s and came of age in the 80s and who had absolutely no role models on television, I sometimes marvel at the broad spectrum of LGBT inclusion on the airwaves today. I mean, it’s still minute — six percent of all characters on TV were LBGT, was the last number I saw — but at least it’s there.

I’ve written about this issue several times on this blog. Like HERE and HERE. Click on “television” in the tag cloud at left and you can scroll through a lot that touches on this topic. “Web series” as well.

The importance of talking about this issue is not to talk about the “bad old days” but to show that while we have made enormous strides — like adorable young teen boyfriends on The Fosters — we have a long, long way to go — like any Republican presidential candidate debate.

My Emmys List

The 2015 Emmy Award nominations were announced today. Here’s a rundown of my initial thoughts. This is not a predictions list; this is more of a “wish list,” by and large. There are a few gaping holes here. Why? Because I watch most of my TV not on TV these days, so I am clueless about some of these shows. Here goes nothing; let’s see how well I do come September when Andy Samberg (what?) hosts the awards show.

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Image: emmys.com

Outstanding Drama Series
Never bet against Downton Abbey; though I think it should be Orange is the New Black

Outstanding Comedy Series
The sentimental favorite may be the always-excellent, late and lamented Parks and Recreation, but I would hope that it would go to the amazing Transparent.

Outstanding Lead Actor (Drama)
I thought Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom was outstanding but I think this may be Kevin Spacey’s statue.

Outstanding Lead Actor (Comedy)
I can’t imagine it won’t go to Jeffrey Tambor, but I am such an unabashed Shameless fan that I can’t not put my money on Bill Macy. And for the record, it’s a crime that only two members of that cast were nominated. Why is Noel Fisher overlooked every year? He’s the finest supporting actor on television right now, bar none.

Outstanding Lead Actress (Drama)
I’d like to see it go to Taraji P. Henson for Empire, but I’d be happy if Viola Davis got it for How to Get Away With Murder. I’ll be upset if Elisabeth Moss gets it as a Mad Men sentimental favorite. Not that Ms. Moss isn’t terrific; but those other women are fierce.

Actress Lily Tomlin poses for a portrait at the Four Seasons Hotel on Friday, March 15, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

The indomitable Lily Tomlin. |Image: Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

Outstanding Lead Actress (Comedy)
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie. I’m kind of surprised Jane Fonda is not on this list for the same show. I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, but I think Fonda’s a bit better. Tomlin’s funnier, but Fonda, well, she’s Jane freakin’ Fonda, man! There is a part of me that would like to see Amy Schumer walk away with this one, though.

Outstanding Supporting Actor (Drama)
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones. There. Done.

Outstanding Supporting Actor (Comedy)
This is a tight category for me, but I think I would pull out deadpan gay police captain Andre Braugher from Brooklyn Nine Nine. He’s just as good in this as in his Emmy-winning role as Det. Frank Pembleton in Homicide: Life on the Street, my all-time favorite police drama. Keegan-Michael Key is another in this category that should be rewarded. Tony Hale is hysterical on Veep.

Outstanding Supporting Actress (Drama)
How odd is this? I have no opinion here.

Outstanding Supporting Actress (Comedy)
Again, a very strong category but I really like Allison Janney here. Jane Krakowski is wonderful on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but I feel it’s a bit of a rehash of her 30 Rock character.

Outstanding Limited Series
I have a feeling that HBO’s Olive Kitteridge is going to walk away with awards in this sub-category. Why? Because I thought it was dull as dishwater and deadly boring. I fell asleep twice and then just gave up.

Outstanding Variety Talk Series
Any one of these six nominees could walk away with this one. Will it be Letterman as the sentimental favorite? Or Jon Stewart? Or Stephen Colbert? If it were up to me, I’d hand that golden girl to Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series
I would be happy with Key & Peele, Inside Amy Schumer or Drunk History. Saturday Night Live and Portlandia? Meh.

William H. Macy and Joan Cusack in Shameless, my vote for the best series on television. |Image: Showtime.

Outstanding Guest Actress (Comedy Series)
Joan Cusak, Shameless. In my mind she has no competition. There’s never been another character quite like Sheila Jackson. She’s just epic in that role. Epic!

Outstanding Guest Actor (Drama Series)
There’s a lot of heavy hitters in this category. I’m going to say Alan Alda for The Blacklist.

Outstanding Guest Actress (Drama Series)
No contest: Cicely Tyson, How to Get Away With Murder. If she does not take home the Emmy, there is something deeply, deeply wrong with the system.

There you go. Do with that what you will.

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.