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.

Buena Suerte, Chad Allen

Out actor Chad Allen has decided to leave “the business” behind. Allen has been acting professionally for about 35 of his 40 years and now he wants to try something new.

He’s been working as a clinical psychologist of late and is pursuing his doctorate. This really shouldn’t come as any surprise: Allen has long been a passionate advocate for equality, for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention and helping LGBT kids. By all accounts, he’s a modest sort and all in all a good egg.

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Chad Allen as hard-boiled gay detective Donald Strachey opposite Sebastian Spence as his partner, Timothy Cunningham.

I have to say, I think my favorite of his many roles was his portrayal of gay private detective Donald Strachey in four made-for-TV movies that aired originally on the Here network. Based on a series of books written by Richard Stevenson, Strachey is something of a pioneer: one of the first — if not the first — out, gay lead character in detective fiction. They are quite good books and Stevenson’s pairing of Strachey with former seminarian Timmy Cunningham is the gold standard by which all other gay couples in genre fiction are judged against.

As Strachey, Allen’s easy-going demeanor was in evidence. He played the character with nonchalance and intelligence and, with Timmy, genuine love and affection mixed with that shot of exasperation that comes when you have been with someone for a very long time. H/T to director Ron Oliver, who helmed this quartet of films, as well.

One grace note, on five episodes of the daytime drama spin-off, General Hospital: Night Shift, Allen played a gay man dying of some mystery illness (I forget what) who falls for his doctor, played by Adam Grimes, who sends him away to find a new liver or some such, so that they could live happily ever after. Or something like that.

Anyhow, most of Allen’s lines were delivered from his hospital bed, but it was a heartfelt performance and, frankly, that was in 2008, and I still remember it.

Good luck and godspeed, Chad Allen. Thanks for sharing your gifts with us.

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P.S. — Do you remember the great series St. Elsewhere? Remember how at the end of its run, Tommy Westphall, the autistic son of the hospital’s director of medicine, was playing with a St. Eligius Hospital snow globe? And it seemed as though the entire series may have all been in his head? That was Chad Allen.

Shamelessly Looking for Something Else: Real Talk About Pay TV Gays

HBO announced today that it was pulling the plug on its sophomore drama, Looking. The network says it will button the series with a movie.

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Frankie J. Alvarez, Jonathan Groff and Murray Bartlett were the original trio at the center of HBO’s “Looking,” which was cancelled at the end of its second season. |Image: HBO

I’ve had a rocky relationship with Looking ever since it debuted. I wrote some critical things about it when it originally aired and I wrote it a love note later on in its first season. I was excited about the second series but, with a few exceptions, the season left me cold.

It’s puzzling. I love Jonathan Groff as a performer. He’s a very easy, very natural actor. Russell Tovey was always that Brit that no one else knew and who left me gobsmacked every time I saw him. Raul Castillo I didn’t know pre-Looking, but I found him to be a lovely performer; smart, nuanced. And in spite of all of it’s positive elements, I just didn’t care enough about the main characters. And that was Looking’s Achilles Heel, I suppose,

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Daniel Franzese and Frankie J. Alvarez assayed a lovely, memorable plot about love and redemption told with humor and honesty — and a little something in the eye. It was the highlight of Season 2 of “Looking.” |Image: HBO

I found Groff’s character, Patrick Murray, as written, a self-absorbed, self-critical, immature stereotype. There was nothing there to like. Nothing there to root for. I mean, were we supposed to urge him to leave his lovely, smart new boyfriend (Castillo) to become the boy-toy of his boss, Kevin (Tovey), whose relationship he broke up? Were we supposed to feel for him when Kevin announced he’d like to try an open relationship on the day that they moved in together? No. You weren’t man enough to date the nice barber who you were really into because of some misplaced post-suburban narcissism since you felt deep down that he wasn’t good enough for your pampered lily-white ass. No. And no, thanks.

I was far and away more interested in the season’s B-plot: the redemption of Patrick’s roommate Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) and his blossoming romance with HIV+ bear Eddie, played to a fair-the-well by the extraordinary Daniel Franzese. If the whole series had been half as interesting as this storyline, I would be mobilizing the mob protesting its cancellation.

But, I just don’t care enough. Besides, I’m too busy obsessing over Shameless, Showtime’s powerhouse  what? — comedy — drama? — dramedy? — tragicomedy? — television theatre of the absurd? Whatever the hell it is, this defiantly unclassifiable show is like nothing else on television.

And there’s such a level of authenticity in the heartbreak and the love and the yearning of these characters — even in the most twisted of situations — that it makes you care for them on a visceral level. Never got that from Looking.

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Fans refer to them as #Gallavich. Cameron Monaghan is Ian Gallagher and Noel Fisher is Mickey Milkovich, perhaps the most improbable couple in the improbable world of Showtime’s “Shameless.” | Image: Showtime

When Shameless put Ian Gallagher and Mickey Milkovich together in the first season, there was no indication that they would become one of great television romances of all time. There’s been a lot of talk over the years of the stellar talents of young Cameron Monaghan as Ian, the instigator of this relationship and his nuanced development of the character over five seasons — and trust me, this takes nothing away from his electric talent — but the real unsung hero of this show is Noel Fisher, who brings a depth and beauty to Mickey that almost takes your breath away. There is a pathos there that can physically make you ache. Also, he’s funny as shit.

Here’s the thing: in lesser hands — with lesser writers, with lesser directors and with lesser actors, Shameless had the potential to become an absolute pile, but it didn’t. Instead, it became one of America’s most memorable series ever. (Thanks, Great Britain!) Warts, fistfights, evil newfound daughters, absent mothers, drugs, ‘hand whores,’ Sheila Jackson’s collection of dildos, and all.

To me, Patrick and Kevin’s story has been told a million times and I just don’t care anymore. Ian and Mickey’s story you’ve never seen and that’s what keeps me glued to the pay cable. It’s fresh and alive and a little dangerous.

See, I don’t want to have a cocktail with Patrick Murray in a trendy San Francisco bar, but I’d have an Old Style with Mickey Milkovich any day of the week.

It’s not the safe, politically correct thing to do. And that’s why I like it better.

Team Gallavich

I hope to God you’re watching Shameless, the knockout Showtime series that is halfway through its fifth season on the premium cable network. If you’re not: start.

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Noel Fisher (with gun) and Cameron Monaghan play improbable couple Mickey Milkovich and Ian Gallagher in the Showtime series Shameless. The couple’s fans use the portmanteau “Gallavich.”

Shameless, based on the long-running U.K. series of the same name, tells the story of the Gallagher clan of Chicago’s South Side. Led by alcoholic single dad, Frank (William H. Macy), the Gallagher children have mostly raised themselves, with the help of oldest sibling Fiona (Emmy Rossum) acting as surrogate parent in place of actual mom, bi-polar Monica, who comes and goes as the mood strikes.

This is a brutal show. This is a comic show. This is a bleak show. This is a whip-smart show. And this show is often hard to watch. It’s about the most astonishing thing on television right now. And what drives it for me is the relationship between Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) and neighbor Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher).

At the beginning of the series, teenaged Ian comes out to his older brother ‘Lip,’ and soon begins a relationship with Mickey, scion of a family that makes the Gallaghers look normal. Actually, relationship is entirely the wrong word. What Ian and Mickey do is have sex. Often brutal, often carnal, often animalistic, but love doesn’t enter into it. Mickey, at this point, may not even be capable of love. Ian is, however, and he slowly begins to fall for Mickey.

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Ian and Mickey after getting beaten up in a bar fight by Mickey’s father after Mickey comes out in Season 4 of Showtime’s “Shameless.”

Cameron Monaghan and Noel Fisher have tremendous chemistry and their performances have grown throughout the show. It’s been terrific to watch these young actors sink their teeth into this dense, layered material and see what they do with it.

Through twists and turns and near-death experiences, Ian and Mickey’s relationship slowly begins to shift. Ian slowly begins to change Mickey and Mickey slowly begins to realize that he is capable of love, of caring for another man, of loving Ian, but he doesn’t know what to do with that. It is information that he can’t process. He couldn’t even say the word gay in reference to himself, even though he was desperate for the physicality of the tenuous bond with Ian.

Season 4 is lovely because Ian keeps making demands of Mickey and each time Mickey refuses before almost immediately acquiescing and at the end of the season, Mickey finally comes out, announcing to the patrons at the local bar, “I want everyone to know, I’m fucking gay. A big old ‘mo.” He does it because Ian was going to walk away. He did it for love, to protect the one thing that he loved in the world, the one person who dared to love him. And then he immediately got beaten to a pulp by his father.

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Gallavich fans have created astonishing fan art. This piece is by Steorie.

But, Mickey was free and, because this is Shameless, his happiness lasted basically until the next morning when he awoke to Ian’s descent into the bi-polar abyss, a gift from his unstable mother. When he learns from Fiona what is likely wrong with Ian and that Ian may need to be hospitalized, Mickey is adamant: no hospital. He will take care of him. The tables have turned. It is now Mickey’s turn to be the strong one because, thanks to Ian, he now knows what it means to love and be loved.

Again, it’s Shameless, there’s no Pollyanna-ish moments coming. In Season 5, Ian’s bi-polar disorder makes him spiral further and further out of control. Finally, at the mid-point of the season, Mickey realizes that Ian needs more help than he can give him and he and Lip and Fiona convince Ian to commit himself. Like everything else, expect Shameless to confront mental illness head-on and without, well, shame.

Watching Mickey say goodbye to Ian and let him go into the mental hospital will simply rip you apart. Noel Fisher gives one of the most raw and most truthful performances I’ve ever seen on television in that scene. He’s utterly magnificent.

Back in Ye Olde Timey Times, the theatre where I worked was the most prolific producer of the plays of George F. Walker in the U.S. George is a Canadian playwright. He writes savage plays, hilarious plays and plays with characters that you never see on stage. He always said he wrote about a group of people he called “the articulate poor.” These are people, he said, that exist in every corner of the world, but we don’t put them onstage. And if we do, we seldom understand their reality or their needs. Just because you don’t have money, George argued, doesn’t mean you don’t have big ideas, dreams, knowledge, desires, wants. (George is the reason that I unequivocally believe Shakespeare was a glover’s son from Stratford-upon-Avon and not that bullshit about the Earl of Oxford.)

He also said that his characters never have subtext because the poor don’t have time for subtext. Everything is right here, right now. Only the rich can recline and ponder. And perhaps what I love most about Shameless is that there is no damn subtext. It’s all: right here, right now, what the fuck is that?, Jesus Christ move already.

The back six of the 12-episode fifth season begins to air on Showtime on March 1. You should watch it. I will be; right down front in the #gallavich section.

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Second Look(ing) – HBO Drama Gets Second Season Pickup

Glad to report that HBO’s drama, Looking, focusing on three gay friends in San Francisco has been picked up for a second series. The seventh of the original eight half-hour episodes airs this weekend.

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One of my favorite British imports, Russell Tovey, who plays Kevin in HBO’s Looking. He’s been upgraded to a series regular for the second series. The final two episodes in the first season begin airing March 2 in the US.|Image: HBO

I’ve become a real fan of this series after it had a pretty rocky start for me. I’m still of the opinion that the creators and HBO really screwed the opening. When they needed a home run — or at the very least a triple — they walked a guy. (Look at me with the baseball metaphors!)

That’s why it got the “boring” wrap. It wasn’t. It isn’t. It was just packaged incorrectly. The first two episodes needed to be one hour-long episode to hook people. There were no hooks in episode one. Some of us came back because we needed more gay content than just Will and Sonny — not that we don’t LOVE Will and Sonny, but you’d never get the equivalent of Looking Episode 5 on daytime!

Anyhow, even better, main character Patrick’s hottie Latino love interest, Raúl Castillo, his hunky English boss, Russell Tovey, and Dom’s hilarious roomie, Lauren Weedman, have all been upgraded to regulars for the new season.

Here’s a great piece, including an interview with series creator Michael Lannan, by Jim Halterman. I’m pretty much in agreement with Halterman’s assessments of the show.

Previous Looking Post … And the one before that.

Looking at ‘Looking’ Again: A New Look

We’re now halfway through the first season of eight episodes of the new HBO series Looking and I thought it was time to cast another critical eye in its direction.

The show has opened to mixed reviews, including a few that were downright hostile. And today, unlike a few years back, much of the audience has its own platforms on which to weigh in, as well. (Hi, howya doing?!) A lot of those unsolicited reviews and comments have bandied around this dreaded word: boring.

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Murray Bartlett, Jonathan Groff and Frankie J. Alvarez in Looking on HBO. |image: John P. Johnson

In my initial take, I did not use that word (you’re welcome), but I wasn’t overly positive, either. That was after one episode.

After the second episode I was not sure whether I was coming back for a third time. I did, though, and I was glad of it. I felt that Looking was beginning to find its footing in the third episode. It made me eager to come back for number four.

That episode, Looking for $220/Hour, did not disappoint. In addition to continued realistic and nuanced performances from all of the principals, Groff’s palpable tension with guest star Russell Tovey (someone whom American audiences have seen far too little of), a nuanced little turn from Scott Bakula and another utterly captivating taste of Lauren Weedman’s Doris, we saw a storyline pull together that had been set up in the previous episodes, but the strings were just revealed here.

A lesser series, I am sure, would have had Groff’s Patrick falling in bed — or into those office chairs that could have so easily doubled as sex swings — with Tovey’s Kevin instead of letting us feel Patrick’s rocky emotional footing during the “fried chicken” scene leading to a reunion with Richie (Raúl Castillo) that was both beautifully executed and sexy as hell without being overt.

Actually, I think the problem was in how the series was originally packaged. Often, I think Americans expect “more, more, more” and expect that more to be better. Of course, that’s not always the case. (Generally, it’s not, in fact.) I do think that a half-hour is the right length for these episodes, but I do think that packaging the first two together would have given the series a stronger basis to build upon. (And I would have re-written them a bit, too, but maybe that’s just me!)

Groff told Michelangelo Signorile that he believed in Looking more than anything else he’s been a part of. Good for him. I think he should. For whatever faults it has, this is an intelligent series. Smartly written and directed and chock-a-block with canny performers.

So, boring? No. Well done? Yes. Worth another look? Absolutely.