Gay Times Reviews XVII
My mistake. I thought this was a comedy. Blackly humourous, yes: but a comedy? I watched all four hours of Residents in one sitting, equally grasped and estranged. The entire plot was ominously plausible, yet the twists and turns were plainly visible. Maybe I ought to explain.
There was a marvellously illustrative tracking shot in the first, hour-long, episode that summed up an affliction that is a by-product of our society: nuisance neighbours. As the Conans (barbarians, of course!) rolled their flatback truck past horrified elderly residents, curious and supercilious tenants, gawping community members and fearful faggots, you might have nodded sagely, imaging a wife-battering husband, a trollop daughter, drug-dealing youngsters, a special needs teen, a bulldog called Balls, and the attendant hue and cry.
As the series moved on, these nightmares became a dreadful reality, but something even darker began to emerge: the reaction of the established community. The shenanigans of the Conans paled before those of the Nut family: racist homophobe Roger, husband to Hilary (an alcoholic and suicidal housewife), father to Tarquin (a cross-dressing teenager) and Elspeth (pregnant by her Asian boyfriend, Jeet, whose own father was an equal bigot to Roger).
Along the way, the Conans upset Brian, an ex-soldier haunted by his tour of duty in Bosnia; Tony and Guy, a gay couple mismatched by the former's distrust of the latter's straight history; buppies Dave and Sally (she so desperate for a baby that the put-upon husband snatches one from a café); single mum Lesley, who gives head via phone to support her child Nel; George (a man wrestling against the ennui of retirement) and wife Edy; and the tenebrously absurd Banjo (a perpetually stoned, agoraphobic, conspiracy theorist) and Cain, a man made melancholy by a crushingly dependent alliance with his room mate.
Add to this a dead body under the bedding plants, illegal fireworks, pornographic videos, a child trapped in a back garden well, and you can understand why some contemplate navigating the high seas in a dinghy.
It is not a criticism that Tony Basgallop's starkly observed piece resulted in quite disturbing viewing, with its incisive portrayals of the dark underbelly of a cosy yet very provincial parish. There's no complaint that, at times, the humour was sacrificed to the friction between the residents either. What it revealed so brilliantly was the fear and reflex prompted by the notion of 'What would the neighbours think?' The excess of the upright and proper neighbours in the face of a rag-tag bunch of reprobate was chillingly accurate. It was a delight to behold, despite its black countenance.
Big Brother 2 Ch 4 & E4
Well, bang goes my summer! I'll be sentinel over E4's 18 hours a day coverage of the newly IKEA'd up Big Brother house focused on the 'gay interest', Brian (or watching the omnibus repeats, or Big Brother's Little Brother and twice daily synopsise, or glued to the internet webcams, or reading official Big Brother emails or getting news updates via WAP with the Big Brother theme tune as a ring tone and the eye as a logo).
Nicknamed Bambie, this 22 year-old, 5'10" Irish cabin crew supervisor from Bishop's Stortford is described on the website as 'bubbly; intelligent, bold, tidy, and honest': he says 'slushy, dipsy, stupid and loud'. It doesn't appear to have harmed his chances of the tumescent £100,000 prize. At the time of writing, the popularity poll says he has 26% of the vote, over twice as many as his nearest 'rival', curry loving 'real geezer' Bubble, who peeves the hell out of me. Amma, a 23 year-old table dancer, admitted she preferred kissing girls, but it's doubtful she will indulge in any tongue sandwich action with the other women. It would also be nice if the TV companies accept that the type of adults watching this (kids won't: they'd get bored) won't be offended because one of the housemates says 'Fuck', and not turn the microphones off.
So, the chap who I described to a friend as looking like 'a gay Ardal O'Hanlon' has edged himself into the Big Brother house with campaign promises of nudity (as if we need to see more flesh laid out on the decking!) and naughtiness.
Josh Raftner, who won the majority of 300,000 telephone votes to become the 11th house mate, is a 32 year-old company director from London. Actually, he's the director of Outlet in Soho, pretty much the biggest gay letting agents there is. This is the chap who 'made a million and lost a million' on 'organising some music festival'...
While it is rumoured Raftner once appeared on Songs of Praise other 'inside information' has him labelled as a 'Virgin Viewer' who only applied to Big Brother at the badgering behests of his friends. He also had to do a quick round of coming out as he didn't want his family to find out via the small screen. (I would have thought the gym queen's job would have given them a hint...)
Still, two gay men in the house, eh? You know the wires are singing with the potential of that parley! However Josh, even as wildly well liked as he seems to be, will have to toil hard to displace Brian: Bambie's popularity rating has climbed to 31%. I voted for Anne.
Tattoo You UK Horizons
I've been thinking about inking myself a second time, so when I spotted this, I thought it might finalise my decision. I have to say, it hasn't but that's because I got it wrong. I know, I was shocked too.
The emphasis turned out to be less on the 'tattoo' and more on the 'you' an attempt to dispel the myths of the violent tattoo'd biker, scary goth, or leather queer. To wit, one Ainslie Foster guided us from Diamond Jack's in Soho (it used to be Denis Cockell's, where I had my tiger tat done) and Tattoo in Fulham, talking to the owners and the people they tattoo'd and pierced between.
Ainslie is something of a rarity on TV: a croaky-voiced, bleached blonde, middle-aged woman on a micro scooter, and is naively inquisitive and exceedingly sometimes gratingly enthusiastic. Her constant gasps of amazement at the sight of a pierced nipple did rapidly wear thin: you've seen one skewered nip, you've seen them all. Her astonishment on seeing a Celtic symbol inked onto a dickhead was quite asthmatic. If she has a favourite phrase, it appears to be 'Look at that!' when a ring, stud or tat is revealed, said with mouth agape and eyes a-bulging. She was eternally dumbfounded too by the pain tolerance levels of people being pierced, frequently asking, 'And that didn't hurt?'
When Ainslie wasn't gawking and gasping, she seemed determined to matchmaker for Henry, the gay LA tattooist now at home in Soho, or tagging along after a Stoke Newington SM Queen and her Swedish paramour. There were sporadic snippets on how tattoos and piercings are accomplished, usually accompanied by a waveringly out of focus shot of an arm, stomach, or dick. In fact, the camerawork did scant justice to the artwork, replicating the sensation of a drunken lecher, wobbily fixated on a body part.
And I still don't know what tattoo to get...
Ugly Ch 5
'UGLY, you ain't go no alibi, you're ugly, hey hey! You're ugly...' Ah! Childhood memories, brought so starkly back to life by this behind the scenes look at a 'model agency with a difference'.
Ugly specialises in 'individuals': models whose looks may not mirror those of Cindy, Kate, or that Herb Ritts' Mr Muscle, but who are very much in demand for 'character' work. It has over 900 models on its books: Treacle, a 75 year-old exemplary gurner, has been there for 22 years, and Del, a bike courier, is the world's first 'international ugly supermodel' and the only model ever to front campaigns by Levis, Diesel and Calvin Klein.
This was one of those 'stick a camera in their face and see what happens' style shows. Treacle sucked his face in on itself during a few photo shoots. Del lounged on a sofa with a 'hot' girly model and got rather bored. Big Jon (a 'dangerous but cuddly' 6'4" 350lb security guard) tested some hospital mattresses and provided 'muscle' for yet another American boy band's video. And poor Hazel (a widower 'not considered high on the ugly scale') was planted on a deck chair at the edge of the Thames, in a rain hat, to advertise Home And Away.
So, given that nowadays the public face of gays is chisel-jawed, moisturised, and on a perpetual search for a perfect set of pecs and abs, why I am mentioning it here? Because our very own Amy Lamé described on the voice over as being employed on a 'local radio show' made an appearance, stating with glee, 'I get a kick out of being a big, fat, lesbian and no one knowing.'
The fact this place even exists gives those of us on the lower rungs of the ladder to becoming a Flawless Fag hope. The documentary, while interesting enough, didn't really play down the 'freak factor' associated with the agency and its models. The truth, as put by Amy, is that Ugly's models are 'more sustainable' than yer average blonde, but did it really need an hour to prove it?
I'm beginning to think the producers of Reality TV programme have it in the remit to include one queer. The American winner of Survivor was a gay man, and on the desert island of Pulau Tiga in the South China Sea, the choice is Zoe, a 29 year-old 'trained actress' and bartender from London. Zoe, part of the Ular tribe, said she would miss her girlfriend Sindy (although the website profile claims she is single), while enduring rats, torrential rain, and crocodiles. She took a toothbrush as her luxury item to cope with a potential 40 days in this tropical wilderness. Other than that stimulating fact, there's not a lot to say. He stabbed backs, ate rat, shark and corpulent maggots, survived a nasty bite by a razor-toothed eel and narrowly avoided being voted off the island.
© July 2001 Megan Radclyffe
Will & Grace E! USA / Living UK
Autumn 1998, and NBC made the 'bold move' of airing the premiere of Will & Grace, the network's first programme featuring a gay lead, and the first new queer American character since Ellen. Making sure the viewing public knew there was 'nothing political' about the show (while at the same time ensuring spectators knew it was in fact 'making a political statement'), NBC rubbed their hands with glee. The added attraction of James CheersTaxiNYPD BlueFrasierFriends Burrows as executive director did little to harm its perception.
It was a unadorned formula: the life, times and erstwhile loves of gay Manhattan lawyer Will Truman (played by the 'definitely straight' actor Eric MacCormack) was one of those 'instant ratings winners'. His flatmate, the slightly neurotic decorator and token straight Grace Alder (Debra Messing), with gay friend and aspiring luminary Jack McFarland (the irrepressible um, straight actor and stand-up comedian Sean Hayes) completed the 'offbeat' cast. The late inclusion of Megan Mullally (personally, I thought her uncustomarily superb in the indy film Superstar), as bisexual oddball Karen Walker, saw the show's repute escalate. Each episode comprises two storylines, with the 'issue stuff' brought to the viewing public's attention 'through the back door'.
The success in the States is so that Will & Grace: Inside & Out featured regularly on the E! Entertainment channel, along with that all-important prime time slot. In the UK, it features six times a week on Living, and is rumoured to be joining Channel 4's American stable of Yankee champions later this year.
To be honest, I found it all rather... well, bland. The deliberately urbane dialogue was as innocuous as Will's 'flawless' West Upper side apartment. Even the inclusion of 'subtle phallic symbols' was hardly ingenious. Yet still, celebrities have flocked to make guest appearances: Joan Collins, Gregory Hines, Debbie Reynolds and Sidney Pollack (playing Will's parents), and Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser playing an 'ex-gay') have been wildly applauded as they stepped onto the set. The show even won 'Best Comedy' at the Primetime Emmys in 1999 and 2000, but then the definition of 'American comedy' is anything to fill spaces between basketball and gridiron 'football'.
It seems our cousins just adore those lovely little gays now. They still hate dykes tho: the lesbian couple here were so stereotyped the writer ended up apologising. Instead of rewriting tho, they were simply and quietly dropped. From the armchair I occupied in the US, I would rather turn on to CBS's newest gay highlight - Some Of My Best Friends - which sees Danny Nucci (Leonardo Di Caprio's bunkmate in Titanic) as a straight Italian rooming with straight-acting Warren, played by (straight) Jason Bateman. No plans as yet for a UK showing, for shame. Would this review win a prize for mentioning straights so many times, do you think...?
Murder In Mind BBC1
Hmmmm. This would be a case in point for BBC trailers eclipsing the actual programmes, methinks.
David Suchet kicked off a series of seven individual plays dealing with murder from the killer's purview, played a widowed head teacher: bespectacled, balding, seemingly rather sanguine in his beige macintosh, and a Volvo-owner. Nothing too scary there. Even the fact that he cruises around looking for a rent boy would probably cause only a paltry shock. Of course, once the respected academician decides it's 'a terrible mistake', the rent boy turns violent and abusive. Of course he does. They all do, obviously. He pulls a knife, there's a struggle, (stretches), the 'dirty and disgusting' teacher stabs (yawns) the youngster and flees. But oh dear! He dropped his credit card. Even the promise of a hooded witness did little to rouse me from my lassitude. Turns out he's just a junkie blackmailer (yawns loudly).
To wrap this up quickly: Suchet tries to end it all with exhaust fumes after hallucinating the rent boy bleeding over a pristine playground. He's found - saved! - by his lovely daughter, a nurse. His defence is a lacklustre 'I didn't mean to!' The hooded extortionist appears, and demands a grand in his hand. The police appear. And wander off again, muttering. Here's the twist (yah, like we didn't see this coming): the daughter decides to inject the blackmailer with a mix of methadone and diazepam, retrieve the incriminating evidence and hoorah! Daddy gets off scott free! I mean, how many ways can YOU see that this would fail or succeed?
It failed, of course. Daddy sternly told his daughter that murder was 'wrong' (hmm, touch of the kettle calling the pot black), but luckily the poor bugger got fried anyway in a 'mysterious fire'. Those sagacious bobbies found a knife or something that linked the hooded man to the victim yadayadablahblahblah and teacher kills himself anyway. What stunned me most was the fact that Mal Brookside Young was behind this, a chap who's work I have always respected. But then, I suppose anyone can have a rotten day...
That Gay Show BBC Choice
With the advisory of 'strong language, nudity and strobe lighting', That Gay Show appears, its tongue 'lodged firmly in someone else's cheek'. Presented by Kristian Digby, planted in front of a dreadful pub-style carpet background and faced by a pendulum camera, which, combined with that scenery was quite nauseating. And again, maybe it's just my perception, but do we really need the information repeated six times over three days? Is the advent of sound bites and internet speed information making us that forgetful?
Anyway. That Gay Show utilises some actors for vox pop (as well as a 'male choice choir' of real queers): a fag called Angel, a moustachioed chap in leather, and a Gym King, and - rather a lovely touch which should be used more often on TV - name checks the music being used. The show does, however, seem to place a great deal of value on the body, the look, of gay men. Maybe this is reverse exploitation, but I'm no expert on finely honed brawn: it could be just what the viewers cry out for.
As for content, it's all fashion (stripes are back) in an item oh so wittily called Shirtlifters; 'Pub Turns' (nominate the tasty tight barman you fancy at your local rathskeller); an incredibly bitchy pair of TV critics, seen only in silhouette; and Scott Capurro who, this time, tried out male wrestling ('Oh ee ah grrr!').
This is the millennial baby of Gaytime TV, the bratty grandchild of Out. And, for all its niggling little annoyances, no doubt a useful guide for gays (gay men that is: not all queers, just queens it seems) about town.
© June 2001 Megan Radclyffe
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