Queer As Folk Perfectly Blends Tradition and Innovation
Queer As Folk (2022) Season One Review
Peacock’s new Queer as Folk is an impressive example of adaptation done right. The show clearly honors its source material while also carving out its own distinctive identity and pushing the series forward. It also manages to create a beautiful, vibrant, and downright stunning portrait of modern queer lives and communities.
Queer as Folk is an adaptation of the 1999-2000 Russell T Davies show, which also had an American adaptation that ran from 2000 to 2005. The pilot opens with sexy, stylized psychedelic dance scenes that look like they’re lifted directly from the past US version. However, the psychedelic aesthetic is quickly revealed to be a fake-out, and the show immediately flips to a modern setting and visual style. However, despite the lack of 2000s-era dance scenes, the episode makes it clear that everything fans truly loved about the original series will still be there. The sex scenes are graphic, the drama is messy, the clubbing is loud and sweaty, the humor is biting, and the politics are pointed and unapologetic. This is a series that can proudly claim the title Queer as Folk, while taking that title and pushing it in bold new directions.
Queer as Folk also takes a major risk that, if handled poorly, could have destroyed the entire show and alienated viewers. The previous Queer as Folk iterations were known for their ability to balance humor, celebration and melodrama with much more heavy topics like politics, violence, drug use, and trauma. The new Queer as Folk starts off by delving immediately into an extremely sensitive topic. The pilot depicts a nightclub shooting, clearly referencing the Orlando nightclub shooting at Pulse that killed 49 people and wounded 53 more. The shadow of this event then hangs over the entire 8-episode run.
Framing the series around a nightclub shooting is a dangerous choice. In the wrong hands, this decision could turn Queer as Folk into a clumsy, ham-fisted jumble like some episodes of Glee or a self-serious mess of tragedy porn like This is Us. Luckily, the team behind Queer as Folk sidesteps potential pitfalls to create a show that handles the shooting plotline respectfully without sacrificing everything else that viewers expect from a Queer as Folk iteration.
The series does not settle for easy closure, and characters spend the first season navigating grief, trauma, and recovery in vastly different ways. However, much like real-life tragedy, life still goes on: characters continue having sex, falling in love, dancing and clubbing, and getting wrapped up in deliciously pulpy drama that will keep viewers engaged. The traumatic event is not simply shrugged off after the end of a very special episode and then forgotten, but it is also not totalizing in a way that reduces the characters to nothing but tragic victims, martyrs, and role models. Instead, the show chooses a nuanced approach that sidesteps the problems with both of these responses, explicitly tackling grief head-on while maintaining room for hope and joy.
Even if the demographics, cultural references, and specific issues addressed in Queer as Folk are updated for a 2022 audience, the underlying themes and structures persist. The show is unapologetically loud, proud, and queer as fuck. It never pulls punches with its humor, drama, or politics, and it is adamant about ensuring that even its most serious issues are always tackled in a way that still allows characters to find room for celebration and laughter.
The cast is absolutely phenomenal. While the series has an ensemble cast, med school dropout Brodie Beaumont (Devin Way) emerges as an unofficial protagonist. The nightclub shooting, along with most of the show’s interpersonal conflicts, happens shortly after Brodie returns home to New Orleans after leaving med school. Brodie’s attempt to rejoin his community after a long absence is a central framing device, and his presence acts as a catalyst for much of the drama that ensues. The character is nuanced and compelling, and Way’s performance is absolutely spot-on. Episode Seven, “Problemática” is one of the most powerful episodes of television that has aired in a while, and Way’s phenomenal work is a major part of its success.
Other highlights include Johnny Sibilly as disillusioned lawyer Noah Hernandez, who finds renewed hope through his romantic relationship with Brodie’s brother Julian (Ryan O’Connell). The characters develop beautifully through a meaningful relationship that pushes both of them to question fundamental beliefs they had about themselves and develop more confidence and self-understanding. O’Connell and Sibilly are perfectly cast.
Also stellar is the couple Ruthie (Jesse James Keitel) and Shar (CG), who find themselves questioning their values and relationship as they become parents to newly-born twins. As Ruthie questions whether she’s ready to give up her life of partying for a life of diapers, Shar starts to question whether Ruthie is the right partner to accompany them through this new journey. Keitel and CG are possibly the most compelling two performers in an already-stacked cast, and they bring wells of emotional depth to every scene.
Less immediately compelling is teenage rebel Mingus (Fin Argus). This is not to fault Argus’ performance: they do their best with a somewhat thinly-written character who is essentially a cut-and-paste stereotype of a moody teenager who is constantly embarrassed by uncool parents. Luckily, Mingus starts to develop more depth as the season goes on. By the seventh episode, they are set up as a much more nuanced character. If the show is renewed for a second season, there is promise that Mingus will become more compelling, particularly because of Argus’ strength as a performer.
Fans will also be delighted by supporting characters Brenda and Judy, played by icons Kim Cattrall and Juliette Lewis. While it may have been sad to learn of Cattrall’s absence from And Just Like That… her talents are much better spent on a much better show than the divisive Sex and the City reboot. Cattrall is absolutely stunning, and her whirlwind of a performance is a delight every moment she is on screen. Both Cattrall and Lewis prove why they are so beloved, providing classic showstopping performances that give the series a huge boost.
Also stunning is Armand Fields as drag performer Bussy, who seriously deserves to be bumped up from recurring character to principal cast after Fields’ phenomenal work with the character. Fields has big shoes to fill, even for a drag queen: the role was originally intended for beloved drag performer Zavion Michael Davenport (also known as Chi Chi Devayne) before Davenport’s death in 2020. Fields does Davenport proud, doing honor to the performer who inspired the character. Eric Graise also shines as Marvin, a disabled man who ends up dating a sex worker named Ali (Sachin Bhatt). The two characters’ navigation of boundaries, power dynamics, and issues of self-esteem are compelling, and there is a lot of potential for the characters’ future. Rounding out the cast is Chris Renfro as the youthful, fun-loving Daddius: Renfro’s performance is amazing, and the character’s involvement in the story becomes meaningful in an unexpected and compelling way as the season progresses.
While Queer as Folk is extremely strong as a whole, it does choose to follow some classic TV plotlines that haven’t aged particularly well. Some of the drama seems too contrived: characters often fail to communicate for no real reason other than the fact that it’s convenient for the plot. A major rift in Ruthie’s relationship with Shar is Ruthie’s decision to lie when she sneaks out at night to go clubbing. However, there is never any real reason for Ruthie to lie, and viewers might be confused as to why Ruthie doesn’t just tell Shar that she wants to go to the club; the two never seem to have established a “no clubbing now that we’re pregnant” rule. Ruthie seems to be lying more because the writers needed her to do something scandalous rather than because she would actually benefit in any way from lying.
This plotline is clearly meant to resemble that of Melanie (Michelle Clunie) and Lindsay (Thea Gill) from the original US version. Mel sometimes longs for her old days as a motorcycle-riding party girl, while Lindsay is more invested in cultivating a domestic lifestyle. The two often clash because they can’t figure out how to negotiate their new lives as parents with their more spontaneous past. To a contemporary audience, this plot may seem dated, since “growing up” is less frequently tied to normative narratives of quiet, domestic lives. As Sex and the City proved, you can be well over 40 and still party wildly at the club; you don’t need to settle down to be an adult or even a parent.
The one other problem with the show is simply a product of its length. 8 episodes is simply not long enough to deal with some issues in detail, meaning that some pretty intense plotlines get underdeveloped. For example, Noah is revealed to have a problem with crystal meth, but this plotline is given almost no screen time or development. While Ted in the original American series is given the same plot, that series’ seasons were anywhere from 13-22 episodes long, giving it time to flesh out its subplots in a bit more detail. Crystal meth is, obviously, an extremely serious issue, and having it shrugged off as an afterthought is a bit concerning; Noah’s story and his relationship with drugs clearly need more time to be fully developed so the topic can be given the respect and sensitivity it warrants.
Above all else, Queer as Folk is about family and community. It’s about the chosen families that queer folks build for themselves and the larger queer communities in which they live. Episode 1, like the first episode of the other 2 Queer as Folks, involves a scene where an unconventional family unit all gathers in a hospital after someone gives birth. This scene sets the tone for a beautiful portrayal of the power of the unique structures of family, community, and culture that queer folks have developed, and the ways that these structures prove to be lifelines for the people within them.