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

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.

The Hourglass is Empty – Why Killing Will Horton Ends ‘Days’ for Me

I had heard the rumors, but decided that I wouldn’t believe them. Surely the powers-that-be over at the venerable NBC daytime drama Days of our Lives wouldn’t be so stupid as to kill off the character of Will Horton. But I suppose I was the one left with egg on his face; they were that stupid.

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Freddie Smith as Sonny Kiriakis and Guy Wilson as Will Horton on the characters’ wedding day in 2014. The ‘WilSon’ story was a powerful example of LGBT inclusion and that loss is the most poignant of all.

And let me tell you why…

There are a couple of things you need to know if you are working on a serial. First, people get attached to characters and families and pairings in different ways than they do in shows that only air once a week for half the year. Second, mess with the show’s “bible” and tent poles at your peril. Third, trying to recreate the “thrilling days of yesteryear,” as the old radio announcers encouraged, never, ever works.

Personally, I loved Will and Sonny. It was such a great, forward-looking, innovative pairing. It was very contemporary, yet very much rooted in the history of the show. Since he was born on-screen to Sami and Lucas (Allison Sweeney and Bryan Datillo, a storied DAYS supercouple themselves), Will always figured prominently in the show’s plotting — outrageous though it could be sometimes — and his slow, torturous coming out process was incredibly nuanced, garnering three Daytime Emmys in a row for then-portrayer Chandler Massey.

Meanwhile, Sonny, the never-seen-on-screen-before SORASed son of Justin and Adrienne (Wally Kurth and Judi Evans, another storied DAYS pairing) and nephew of Victor (the peerless John Aniston), came back to town as a happy, out young man with an entrepreneurial spirit and an eye for young Mr. Horton. Sonny was Salem’s “white knight” and actor Freddie Smith played him perfectly.

DAYS made headlines in 2014 when they pulled out all the stops and threw daytime’s first same-sex wedding when Will and Sonny got married. In all my soap-watching years I’ve never seen a better contemporary story or more emotional episode or anything approaching the meticulous plotting that came together in that show. It was first class all the way.

And then it all went to hell.

Of course, that’s really American serial drama’s M.O., but DAYS took idiocy to a new level when its new writers killed off Will last week and basically drove the gays from Salem. I’m furious about them lessening the presence of LGBT people on television and that’s enough to make me turn the damn thing off for good, but to also mess with the show’s core legacy? As a writer, I may even find that even more offensive — because it’s lazy storytelling.

You see, when you tell a long-term scripted story, you have to have central characters — often called “tent-poles” — to anchor the drama. Will Horton was a tent-pole character for the entire generation of young people on the canvas. Without him, you only have no direct named link to the original center of the family at the heart of the show, so that part of the tent just collapses and severely limits your storytelling ability.

There’s an old rubric out there for writers that says you shouldn’t be afraid to “kill your darlings.” In other words, if you can advance the story in a positive and compelling way, you shouldn’t be afraid to get rid of a character, even if it’s a shock exit. And while I believe that wholeheartedly, I also know that it’s a knife-edge. You can’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

The last time I remember some daytime writer/producer doing something this egregious (there have probably been others, God knows) was in 1993 when Guiding Light killed off Maureen Reardon Bauer and left an entire part of the core canvas floating around aimlessly. Honestly, there were some good storylines in the decade and a half the show had left, but it never really recovered completely.

And Days of our Lives doesn’t have 15 years. There are fewer and fewer people watching daytime television and as the ratings fall off a cliff, DAYS’ great idea has been to bring back some of the fabled supercouples of yore: Patch and Kayla, Bo and Hope, John and Marlena. And a few DiMera villains have been dusted off, too.

But, here’s the thing: it will bump up ratings a bit for the 50th anniversary next month, but it won’t sustain viewership. You may have been in love with Patch and Kayla when you were a teenager, but, you know what? You’re middle-aged now. You’ve got responsibilities. A job. Kids. You’re not sitting around reliving the 1980s every afternoon for the 60 minutes it takes to tell a 37-minute story.

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The late Frances Reid and MacDonald Carey as Alice and Tom Horton were the center of Days of our Lives when the serial began its run in 1965.

Besides, a bunch of heroes and heroines in their 50s and 60s is not going to play out very long. You can’t hang the entire canvas on that.

The next Tom and Alice could easily have been Will and Sonny. You could have created a new, inclusive contemporary Salem dealing with contemporary problems and situations and you could have still had Julie Williams popping in to be a nuisance a couple of times a year and you could still hang the ornaments on the Horton Christmas tree and make Alice’s damn doughnuts.

Well, you won’t, though. And you won’t have me watching. When Will died, so did my interest. I simply loved the Will and Sonny storyline and I loved Freddie Smith and Chandler Massey and Guy Wilson and I loved how it all reflected the real world and I loved that it was a touchstone for people who had no other way into LGBT issues. Nothing carves those pathways as well as continuing drama. It’s sad we won’t have that any longer.

And, I suspect, we won’t have Days of our Lives much longer, either. Everything they are doing now smacks of desperation. I’m actually glad I won’t be around to see the end of DAYS. I suspect that it will be terribly painful. And completely unnecessary.


Previous
I Do: The WilSon Wedding, Playing the Long Game and Celebrating the Zeitgeist
Congrats, Freddie Smith, DOOL on Emmy Win, Inclusion
‘Sonny’ Skies or Clouds on the Horizon? The New Normal Comes to Salem

More Sands Through the Gay Hourglass — Revisiting and Revising

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.

Indiana Loons

sticker,375x360Lots of flap about Indiana’s new “religious freedom” law that was signed into law this week by Gov. Mike Pence. And for many years, television has set the quirkiest and oddest sitcoms in the Hoosier state. Leslie Knope and her band from Parks and Recreation, the Hecks from The Middle, “Indiana Mole Woman” Kimmy Schmidt … it seemed as though every looney tune came from Indiana.

When I lived there, I took great umbrage at that.

Now? Turns out TV was right!

Christopher Sean and Seeing More Asian Men On Television

Excellent interview with Christopher Sean on BuzzFeed:

The Actor Who Is Changing How We See Asian Men On Television.

Sean has been making waves on daytime television as a spanner thrown in the works for Will Horton and Sonny Kiriakis, the first gay married couple on NBC’s Days of our Lives. Sean is a terrific actor and has terrific chemistry with both Freddie Smith and Guy Wilson, who play Will and Sonny. I think the introduction of Sean has reinvigorated the Will and Sonny storyline and has created an additional cheering section rooting for Sean and either of the guys, but especially Sonny.

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis' Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver's death was central to the plot of the show's finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis’ Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver’s death was central to the plot of the show’s finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

Something similar happened in the now-iconic Luke/Noah pairing on As The World Turns. When the writers introduced Eric Sheffer Stevens as Dr. Reid Oliver, his chemistry with Van Hansis as Luke Snyder was palpable and it upset the fandom applecart in quite unexpected ways. In fact, ATWT’s headwriter at the time, Jean Passanante, noted that if the show had not already been cancelled that the actors’ chemistry could have easily led the writers to create a longterm romantic triangle. By the time the show came to an end — in qintessential soapy fashion when Reid was killed by a train but lived long enough to make sure his heart was donated to save the life of Chris Hughes (don’t ya love it! LOL) — the Nuke (Noah and Luke) and the LuRe (Luke and Reid) camps were already being drawn up.

Christopher Sean as Paul Norita on Days of our Lives. Sean plays a former professional baseball player who is wreaking good-looking havoc in the relationship of iconic couple Will and Sonny. |Image: Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

Christopher Sean as Paul Norita on Days of our Lives. Sean plays a former professional baseball player who is wreaking good-looking havoc in the relationship of iconic couple Will and Sonny. When Paul came out to his Japanese grandfather on air, he spoke to him only in Japanese.|Image: Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

On Days, Sean’s recently out ex-pro baseball player Paul Norita, has already slept with Will, saved Sonny’s life and it looks like he’s about to be exposed as Will’s grandmother’s stepson! Oh, did I forget to mention he’s Sonny’s ex as well? It’s a lot of soapy froth and I get a kick out of it. Sean’s chemistry with Smith was noticeable from their first scenes and Team WilSon (Will and Sonny) and Team PaulSon (Paul and Sonny) are already getting their standards made.

I am a hardcore member of Team WilSon, but I do love what Sean brings to the table. He’s a great addition to the cast and I love that he’s moving the needle on bringing more hues to a too-white canvas. And, dammit all, he is NOT hard to look at either!