A lot has happened in the 13 years since Queer as Folk premiered in December of 2000. Celebrities are out of the closet, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is dead, gay marriage is legal (sort of), and tons of shows have gay characters. However, homophobia is still a global issue, gay bashings are rampant, and HIV stats haven’t gone down. HBO’s new series Looking offers a glimpse at gay men on the other side of those 13 years. But is it an upgrade or a downgrade from the Showtime series?
Queer as Folk is an American version of a popular British series. It is historical for having the first sex scene between two men on American television. Despite (or possibly because of) its graphic sex scenes and unabashed drama, it became a flagship series for Showtime. It’s a precursor to other addictive series like Dexter, Weeds, Homeland, and new series Masters of Sex. Looking, on HBO, follows the ever-popular Girls on Sunday nights. It is vastly different in tone, format, and content from Queer as Folk. But is it a sign of tolerance towards the gay community or a step backwards for representation of gay men in the media?
LocationQueer as Folk is set in Pittsburgh but shot in Canada, and gives a fantastical version of the small Pennsylvania city’s gay population. Conversely, Looking is set in San Francisco, actually films there, and gives an honest portrayal of life in the city. This gives a more balanced view of gay men’s lives beyond stereotypical expectations.
Gay Cast MembersThe bulk of the cast of Queer as Folk was straight. Its stars Peter Paige, Randy Harrison, and Robert Gant are all out actors, but they reached their notoriety because of the show. Conversely, Looking's Jonathan Groff and British actor Russell Tovey are coming to the show established out actors. Their stardom is a definite draw to the show.
More RealisticLooking opts for a more realistic approach to portraying the lives of its characters. It’s more of a slice of life and less a soap opera or sitcom. The characters have real jobs, have long involved discussions about relationships, and just hang out. This differs from Queer as Folk’s exaggerated world of constant clubbing and consistent sex. Furthermore, Looking offers insight into awkward experiences only gay men can have. Most often, Patrick (Groff) will get into an uncomfortable verbal exchange with a potential lover or boyfriend. It humanizes the characters and makes them more relatable.
Smaller CastLooking zeroes in on three friends and the people in their lives. That differs greatly from the large cast of Queer as Folk. This allows for the characters to be more fully developed and to focus less on having to give everyone a storyline each episode.
Ignores IssuesThere isn’t pressure for Looking to get super political. As the first gay-themed show on television, Queer as Folk takes the opportunity to unabashedly reveal all kinds of issues affecting the gay community like drug addiction, HIV, and gay bashing. Looking ignores safe sex, HIV, and homophobia, which are still important issues worldwide, even in San Francisco. It doesn’t need to dwell on them but should at least acknowledge they exist. It takes a second for a character to grab a condom or mention using it.
Smaller Spectrum of the Gay CommunityQueer as Folk offers a United Colors of Benetton composite of the gay community. The core cast includes men on various parts of the masculine/feminine spectrum, lesbian cast members, and straight allies. San Francisco is renowned for its large gay population, queer activists, and transgendered men and women, but Looking only seems to follow a group of mostly-masculine, Grindr/OkCupid-obsessed, white-washed, gay men... with beards. That doesn’t give a very balanced view to the audience at large.
Race IssuesQueer as Folk is not a trailblazer of ethnic diversity. Looking actually has more people of color in the main cast than the Showtime series. However, the men on Queer as Folk were race-blind in their choice of sex and romantic partners. They never exoticized them or commented on their race. Looking sloppily brings up race and sex but it doesn’t open up a discourse about racism in the gay community; instead it marginalizes people of color.
TamerQueer as Folk is fueled by sex, nudity, and relationships. Looking opts for fewer sex scenes and less nudity. It is a great attempt at diminishing stereotypes of gay men being sex obsessed, and yet, the characters on Looking mostly discuss sex and check Grindr and OkCupid obsessively; plus, Patrick hits on every guy he meets. If the end result is still the same then why not opt for the sex scenes? After all, sex sells.
The end result is a draw. Queer as Folk is a show with no prior frame of reference for representations of gay men on television. It’s not perfect, but it’s a guilty pleasure that opens a dialogue about important gay issues. Thirteen years later, Looking opts-out of politics and some stereotypes while furthering others. However, it doesn’t have the luxury of not knowing any better.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.