May 16, 2015

TV Talk: Louis, Lily, Ru & Jane Are At The Top Of Their Game

Jane Fonda as Grace Hanson and Lily Tomlin as Frankie Bergstein in the Netflix original series "Grace and Frankie." The graphic contains the quote "If anybody is going to sit on Ryan Gosling's face, it's gonna be me," which is taken from the series.

Louie, RuPaul’s Drag Race, & Grace and Frankie, Personify The New ‘Golden Age’ Of Television


by Roy Steele

A complete stranger sent me an email, and asked if I was the "gayest" person I knew. I know that the email was meant to insult me, and I disappointed the sender because I thought it was funny. I think I’m a complex person with varied interests that stretch far beyond my sexuality. Being gay is a large part of who I am, though I don’t think my sexuality defines me.

Regular readers of this blog might think that I’m a gay man, who is gay gay gay, because I live in a very gay city, and heartily endorse frequenting gay businesses, and have a geopolitical view of the world that some might view as militant and inflexible and in your face. While some of that is true, largely the opposite is true.


Don’t get me wrong, if there was a gay utopia somewhere, I’d probably be living there. I’ve lived in New York, West Hollywood, London, and San Francisco, and also been somewhere over the rainbow, and have yet to find that perfect place. There is no perfect place for an LGBTQ individual to live. You will find homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, and every other phobia, in every city or town in the United States, and I think that stinks.

It’s impossible to live in a gay bubble, and I don’t think I’d choose that even if such a garden of gay eden existed.

It wasn’t that long ago that our community was starving to see positive portrayals of LGBT characters in television and film. If there were movies with gay characters, their lives ended in a tragic death. We never went to the cinema and watched a gay film where the LGBT protagonists met and fell in love, and lived happily ever after. We still don’t see that scenario in movies, and you only have to look to Brokeback Mountain and a suicide, or MILK and an assassination, to know what I’m talking about.

One of the best tools that our culture has to fight homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia, is television programming.  Today we do get to see positive portrayals of LGBT people on television that reflect the real world. While it’s few and far between, if I only watched television that had a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning character in the show, I wouldn’t have much to watch. But the existing programming with LGBT characters is pretty damn good, and television programming in general is the best it’s ever been.

Critics and historians used to write and talk about the “golden age of television” in the 1940’s and 1950’s, where TV network programming consisted of good stories and good writing, and a consistent standard of excellence across the board, both in front of and behind the camera.

I would argue that today’s television content providers are doing a phenomenal job in producing programs that are of the highest standard, and that we’re living in the true “golden age” of television right now. With an emphasis on character driven storylines, and excellent writing, acting, and directing, and high production values, we return to the great shows that we love to watch.

I’m a cord cutter with subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Sundance Documentary Channel, and Sling TV (includes HBO). Instead of cable or satellite, I rely on my Roku 3 to stream the programs I want to watch, and I’m spoiled for choice. And it’s not just me, as all Americans are spoiled for choice, regardless of how you consume television content today.

The new seasons of the FX series Louie starring Louis C.K., and Logo TV’s RuPaul’s Drag Race starring RuPaul Charles, and the Netflix freshman series Grace and Frankie tackle LGBTQ issues head on, and we all should be watching.

The poster for Season 5 of "Louie" starring Louis C.K. on the FX Network, and the graphic says "Louis C.K.'s Louie is a TV Show that's consistently excellent and highly entertaining. It's the best 30 minute comedy on TV today. Roy Steele jiveinthe415.com"

Louie


Louie is a “dramedy” (dramatic comedy) that airs on FX, that was created by comedian Louis C.K. in 2010.

Louis C.K. is one of the most brilliantly talented individuals working in television today. He writes, directs, edits, and stars in his eponymous show, which is no small feat.

Louis C.K. plays a fictionalized version of himself, a stand-up comedian and divorced father of two daughters living in New York City, who shares custody of the kids with his ex-wife.

Season 5 of Louie  began airing on April 9, 2015. I’ve watched the first three episodes of the new season, and the first episode “Pot Luck,” features a lesbian story-line. Judy Gold delivers a brilliant performance as Marina, and Louis C.K.’s talent as a master storyteller, is on full display in the three episodes I’ve watched.

Season 5 episode 3 - “Cop Story” is one of the best written and performed 30 minute episodes on television this year. “Cop Story” features actor Michael Rapaport as a New York City Cop, and both he and Louis C.K. give performances that will stay with you long after you turn off your TV.

Louis C.K. produces a TV show that’s consistently excellent and highly entertaining. It’s the best 30 minute comedy or dramedy on TV today.

You can watch Louie on FX every Thursday night at 10:30PM

RuPaul Charles and Sanrio's Hello Kitty pose for the camera in Hollywood, California during the taping of the Season 7 episode "Hello, Kitty Girl"

RuPaul’s Drag Race


Season 7 of RuPaul’s Drag Race began airing on LOGO TV March 2, 2015. RuPaul’s Drag Race is a reality competition show produced by World of Wonder, starring RuPaul Charles as the host, mentor, and inspiration for the show. It’s billed as the search for “America’s next drag superstar,” and features 14 drag queens competing for the $100,000 grand prize.

The audience continues to grow for Drag Race, and it has been renewed for an eighth season.

Season 7 was off to a slow start compared to the prior seasons, because the cast didn’t have the big bossy bitchy personalities that were in the cast in previous years. It took a few weeks for Pearl (Matt James) and Violet Chachki (Jason Dardo)  to start coming out of their shells, and fan favorite Trixie Mattel (Brian Firkus) was sent packing way too early.

The drag queens are still getting along with each other on Season 7, and the cat fights and drama is sorely missed. We always got to see the backstage tension during prior seasons on RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked, and this season the format changed, and with the change went more of the behind the scenes drama. I hope that they return to the old format next season.

Regardless, RuPaul’s Drag Race is the best reality competition show on television today. This little gem of a TV show has helped the art of drag rise again like a phoenix, and both LGBT and straight audiences alike, have a new appreciation for the art form.

RuPaul Charles has done more to raise the visibility of the LGBT community, and drag queens in particular, in a positive way, than any other individual in our culture today.

I get excited to watch Drag Race every week, and this week’s “Hello, Kitty Girls!” was the most entertaining episode of the season. It was hard to watch Katya (Brian McCook), who is immensely talented, sashay away.      

There are 4 contestants left in the competition, Pearl (Matt James), Violet Chachki (Jason Dardo), Ginger Minj (Joshua Eads Brown), and Newark, La Guardia, Kennedy Davenport (Reuben Asberry Jr.) with two episodes to go before the finale, and the crowning of the winner.

While there were clear winners the past two seasons, this year is different. Will RuPaul go “old school” and choose Ginger or Kennedy, or “new school” and choose a pretty and young drag queen like Pearl or Violet.

We will find out on June 1, 2015. Stay tuned!

You can watch RuPaul’s Drag Race every Monday night at 9PM on LOGO, or watch full episodes at logotv.com


The "Grace and Frankie" cast (Left to Right) features Sam Waterston as Sol Bergstein, Lily Tomlin as Frankie Bergstein, Jane Fonda as Grace Hanson, and Martin Sheen as Robert Hanson. The photograph has a caption that reads "We are living in the real 'golden age' of television now."

Grace and Frankie


The Netflix produced comedy series Grace and Frankie is one of those special shows that don’t come along very often. The writing is excellent, and the cast so talented and beyond any superlatives that I can think of.

The show was created by Marta Kauffman (Friends) and Howard J. Morris, and playing the title roles are Jane Fonda as Grace Hanson and Lily Tomlin as Frankie Bergstein. Sam Waterston plays Sol Bergstein and Martin Sheen plays Robert Hanson.

The pilot episode begins in a restaurant, where Grace and Frankie await the arrival of their husbands for lunch, who happen to be law partners. Grace is an uptight former cosmetics company executive, and Frankie is a hippy dippy art teacher with a penchant for kaftans and illicit substances.

When Sol and Robert arrive, they say they have an announcement to make. Their wives are expecting them to say they are retiring. The husbands have a different agenda and announce that they are leaving their wives, because they are gay and in love and want to get married. That’s when the bedlam starts.
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin co-star as two women forced to reinvent their lives in this funny, honest new Netflix Original series. Elegant, proper Grace and freewheeling, eccentric Frankie aren’t friends, even though their husbands Robert and Sol (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) have been law partners for decades. But when Robert and Sol announce that they’re leaving their wives for each other, the two women start to bond in ways they never expected.
Just like Orange Is The New Black, and Transparent, the smart and funny critically acclaimed streaming series that premiered on Netflix and Amazon.com respectively, Grace and Frankie features good writing and great acting. The writers avoid the clich├ęs and stereotypes that usually accompany a show that has two older women or two gay men at the center of the action. The dialogue is fresh, honest, and funny, and it’s a treat to see these seasoned actors do what they do best.

If you don’t have a Netflix subscription, you’re missing out on a special treat. Jane Fonda looks amazing for a 77 year old woman, and Lily Tomlin tackles her role with boundless energy and a lightning wit for a woman of 75.

You can binge watch and stream all 13 episodes of Grace and Frankie now at Netflix.com.

straight talk in a queer world.            jiveinthe415.com

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