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Brian: It's just like old times, isn't it?
DVD ReviewShowtime's Queer as Folk, now beginning its fourth season, is based on a TV series that caused a sensation when it was launched on the UK's Channel Four in 1999. Set in London, that series' tales of love, sex, and drugs in the gay community was Americanized and debuted on cable the following year. At first, the American version hewed closely to the original stories (albeit in a more timid way), but of necessity eventually broke away and formed its own soap opera-like story threads.
The first season introduced us to the main characters: Michael (Hal Sparks), cute, sweet, and single, who works in a grocery store; his best friend Brian (Gale Harold), well-off, handsome, self-centered, and arrogant, whose sexual exploits are legendary; Ted (Scott Lowell), oldest of the friends, who works as an accountant, and looks exactly as you would expect an accountant to; Emmett (Peter Paige), small town boy, and the most confidently queeny of the lot; and their lesbian friends Lindsay (Thea Gill) and Melanie (Michelle Clunie), who have been together since forever. Centered around Pittsburgh's Liberty Street, the friends spend much of their time clubbing at Babylon and eating at the diner where Michael's mother Debbie (Cagney and Lacey's Sharon Gless) works. In Season One, we're also introduced to the 17-year-old Justin (Randy Harrison), who's dealing with his sexuality and his parents' and schoolmates' reaction to it, who takes up with Brian. Other plot threads includes Melanie and Lindsay's baby Gus, for whom Brian was the sperm donor, Michael's struggle to come out of the closet at work, Ted's near death from a drug overdose and his meeting and taking in crystal meth addict Blake (Dean Armstrong), and Michael's relationship with the handsome Dr. David, who upsets the delicate balance of friendship and desire between Michael and Brian.
In the second season, we follow Justin's mental and physical recovery from a traumatic beating, Ted starting a live porn web site (with Emmett as the main attraction), Michael quitting the Q Mart and opening his own comic shop, Melanie and Lindsay's ups and down as they try to arrange their wedding, the discovery of the body of a murdered teen in a dumpster, and Debbie's budding relationship with police detective Horvath (Peter MacNeill). There are also plot threads with Justin working at Babylon to pay for art school, Michael's new relationship with hunky professor Ben (Robert Gant), Justin's flirtation with violinist Ethan (Fabrizio Filippo), and Ted's declaration of love for his best friend Emmett.
By the third series, things had pretty much settled down to a formula in Queer as Folk. The novelty of fairly explicit gay sex scenes, prevalent in the first season, has worn off, and they aren't featured as prominently. By no means are they gone entirely, and there's certainly a large amount of flesh on display, including full frontal nudity. Drug use continues unabated, but the temptation of addiction and consequences of abuse (as opposed to use) are explored once again. Visually, there isn't that much to distinguish one episode from the other. Club scenes are usually filmed with a combination of quick cuts, unusual angles, and lots of ramping (sudden speeding up/slowing down of the motion, often accompanied with corresponding brightness in the image). Drug-induced states are filmed with a variety of techniques, often with slow-motion and visual and auditory distortion. But the scenes of day-to-day life are mostly filmed functionally, letting the characters ad stories speak for themselves.
(Note: the following episode descriptions necessarily contain some plot spoilers, but certain fewer than the text screens that accompany each episode on the DVD. The episodes themselves have no official titles, so I've mostly used selections from Debbie's seemingly endless collection of amusing t-shirts. Those are in quotes, and the titles without quotes are simply made up.)
Episode 301: "Sex Complicates Things. So?"
In black and white footage, Brian slugs best friend Michael, and we flash back to the events leading up to this surprising turn of events. Justin has taken up with Ethan, so he dumps Brian and moves out of Brian's fabulous loft apartment. The friends analyze what went wrong, the consensus being that Brian didn't give Justin the one thing he needed—love. Ted and Emmett decide they're going to consummate their new relationship, and in one of the funniest moments on the show, the song lyrics "You've got the magic touch" come up on the soundtrack as Ted picks out the perfect dildo from his rather large collection. And that punch? You'll just have to watch. It gets 3 cosmopolitans.
Episode 302: "Never Waste an Erection"
Lindsay and Melanie argue over whether to have another baby, and Justin and Ethan's relationship continues to develop. Since he's no longer with Brian, who was paying his art school tuition, Justin has to drop out, but may find a not-so-mysterious benefactor. Emmett's tempted by a hot African-American flight attendant who promises him complete satisfaction. Michael's spending all of his time going out to Babylon with the newly-single Brian, much to Ben's distress, and Ben even contemplates moving out. Justin and Michael decide to continue their collaboration on their gay super hero comic. There's a lot of humor is this episode, so it gets 3 cosmos.
Episode 303: "Friend Don't Let Friends Line Dance"
Brian's up to his usual tricks, this time demanding a cut of the profits from a fund raiser, but his corporate contacts seal the deal. Melanie and Lindsay decide that they do indeed want another baby, but Brian donated the sperm for their first baby, and he's not to keen on Melanie, whose turn it is to be the mother. Ben gets bad news about his ex, who gave him HIV. Debbie's nervous about her first sexual encounter with Detective Horvath, so gets an expert lesson in how to give oral pleasure from Ted, Emmett, and their massive dildo collection. But she may be too good a student!
Episode 304: Kids Say the Darndest Things
Brian has to babysit his bratty nephew John (Gage Knox), and when he catches John stealing his money, John's head and Brian's toilet bowl have a close encounter of the flushing kind. The kid cries "sex abuse" to his mom, and Brian is soon in trouble with the law. Even worse, his reputation at Babylon suffers as a result. Ben's spending most of his free time at the gym, and Michael's suspicions are aroused when Ben starts bulking up rapidly and become increasingly aggressive. Emmett moves in with Ted, but predictably, disaster ensues for these gay versions of Oscar and Felix.
Episode 305: "My Other T-Shirt is a Versace"
Ethan loses a prestigious violin competition, but is approached by a talent scout who promises him fame and fortune, with one catch: Ethan has to pretend he's straight. Justin's upset, but agrees that there's nothing noble in being poor. Michael, who has been chosen by Lindsay and Melanie as the sperm donor for their second child, has a little trouble with his duties, but Ted's porn site comes to the rescue. Meanwhile, Brian proves once again that he is self-centered, this time by offering his advertising skills to Police Chief Stockwell (David Gianopoulous), who's running an old-fashioned "family values" campaign for mayor. Ted and Emmett buy a house. This is a visually interesting episode, and it gets 3 cosmos.
Episode 306: "I Need Someone Bad. Are You Bad?"
Brian creates his first television commercial for Stockwell, who's rumored to be targeting porn sites, so Ted makes sure that the police won't find any problems with his. Ethan's concert with the Harrisburg Symphony is a smash success, but Justin has secretly followed him and is upset to see Ethan go off with a cute guy. Michael and Ben argue about Ben's steroid use. Ted and Emmett meet their chirpy next-door neighbor, who invites them to a cocktail party to welcome them to the neighborhood. The neighbors are taken aback by Emmett's flamboyance, but at least one of them says that he loves that TV show "Gay as Blazes!" Just when you think they're going to be accepted, Stockwell's crackdown hits home. This is one of the funniest episodes of the season.
Episode 307: "I'd Keep an Open Mind, But My Brains Would Fall Out"
Ben blames their relationship problems on the difference in his and Michael's HIV status, which leads Michael to consider some risky behavior. Ted's been arrested because one of his employees was under 18, and Emmett (in a touching performance by Peter Paige) begs Brian to use his influence on Police Chief Stockwell to help Ted. Brian refuses, but beneath his cynical exterior there still may be a heart. Justin is contrite about suspecting that Ethan was unfaithful, but when the guy that Ethan went off with at the concert shows up on the doorstep, flowers in hand, Justin walks out and spends the night at a friend's.
Episode 308: For $200, You Can Do It Without a Condom
Events move along quickly as Lindsay takes a new job at an art gallery and flourishes in her newly-found responsibilities. Due to Stockwell's police campaign to make Pittsburgh "family-friendly", the teen hustlers who usually ply Liberty Street have moved and now set up shop on Ben and Ethant's street. Ben takes pity on one of them, 16-year-old Hunter (Harris Allan), defends him when he's beaten up, and lets him stay the night, much to Michael's distress. Meanwhile, Justin gets an internship at Brian's advertising firm, but he should know better than to undermine Brian's authority.
Episode 309: "Clean"
Mayoral candidate Stockwell is the prime mover and shaker in this episode, as his actions to "clean up" Pittsburgh have increasingly negative effects on our characters' lives. After his police goons shut down a strip club, Debbie organizes a protest, which makes her boyfriend Detective Horvath look bad. Out of work and broke, Ted's behavior becomes increasingly erratic, as he turns to drink and drugs. Justin and Brian are back together, and this time, when an escort arrives at Brian's loft when Justin is leaving, Justin doesn't bat an eye.
Episode 310: The Paradise Motel
Stockwell turns the screws tighter and closes down not only the bath houses, but also Brian's favorite spot, the back room at Babylon. Justin decides to take action, in the form of posters depicting Stockwell as a Nazi, but the ever-deceitful Brian finds a way to turn the situation to Stockwell's advantage. Ben's surprised to get a call from the hospital—it seems that Hunter has told them that Ben's his uncle. Emmett decides to take Ted to the country for a weekend, but when Emmett has to stay behind, Ted changes plans and goes to a sex party at a seedy motel instead. This episode uses interesting effects to depict Ted's state of mind as he tries crystal meth for the first time. Three cosmos.
Episode 311: Happy Families
Stockwell's campaign to eliminate freedom of association is nearly complete, and the only sex party Brian and Justin can find is in the back of a freezing, empty semi trailer. But cracks are beginning to show in his campaign, as Justin's posters are having an effect on Stockwell's standing in the polls. When Stockwell finds out that Justin is seeing Brian, he accuses Brian of helping to undermine his campaign, and Brian gets fired from his well-remunerated position. Ben gives Hunter some bad news, discovered during his stay in the hospital, but offers to let him stay at Ben and Michael's apartment, much to Michael's distress. Ted gets worse and disappears, and so do the funds from Lindsay and Melanie's college fund for baby Gus, which Ted was managing.
Episode 312: "Dirty"
Ted reappears and apologizes profusely to Lindsay and Melanie, but Mel won't accept it, and things are definitely not back to normal, since Ted's continuing his crystal meth use. Hunter recognizes a poster of Jason Kemp a.k.a. "Dumpster Boy," who is one of many gay victims of unsolved crimes, and recalls who Jason left with the night he was killed—a cop. Brian realizes that if he can find the killer, Stockwell's campaign will be ruined. He tries to set up the alleged killer with Justin, in order to get a DNA sample, but Hunter is one step ahead of them.
Episode 313: "Drugs Lead Nowhere, However Scenic the Route"
Hunter returns with the needed evidence, but overhears Ben and Michael saying that they're just about to give up on him, because he won't keep his curfew, and shows no interest in giving up hustling and returning to school. Quick as you can say "That's $50 for oral," Hunter's cleaning the apartment and decides that he'd rather spend time with video games than peddling his body. Ted is becoming more and more tweaked out, and insists that Emmett throw a party for him and his new drug pals, but his motive, far from being hidden, is "crystal" clear. This is one of the best episodes of the season, visually inventive and filled with dark humor. Five cosmos!
Episode 314: Thanks to Rage, the Streets of Gayopolis are Once Again Safe for Perverts
Stockwell's efforts to impose a fascistic police state are complete: we see black and white footage of Liberty Avenue swarming with cops. But there's a mysterious commercial on TV, laying out the facts in the "Dumpster Boy" case and accusing Stockwell of overseeing a police coverup—and who would have the $100,000 needed to pay for its air time, especially when he's out of a job? Hunter's mom tracks Hunter down, and it looks like both she and Hunter are being less than honest, but when she shows up with the police to take Hunter back, Michael has to take drastic action. After four days of being awake on crystal, Ted finds himself the star attraction in a sex tape, and checks himself into rehab, where he meets an old friend. It's nail-biting time as family and friends gather to watch the election results.....
Since its inception there have been numerous complaints that Queer as Folk, with its emphasis on sex, clubbing and drugs, really isn't an accurate depiction of the gay "subculture," and presumably, a reasonable part of its audience. But pick any prime time show and ask yourself if it's an accurate portrayal of anything, other than reflection of what the networks think will draw in the viewers. This ain't art, it's entertainment, and Queer as Fok continues to do that well in its third season.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: It's always a treat to see a television show in widescreen, and these great anamorphic transfers don't disappoint. Colors are strong and realistic, and black levels are excellent. There is a minor amount of grain in most of the shows, but it's never distracting.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The house music at Babylon comes through powerfully in the Dolby 5.1 mix, which has excellent range, clarity and spaciousness. There's lots of thumping bass, but not at the expense of the high end, and you could only get TV sound this good from a high-def broadcast. The two-channel Spanish soundtrack (which decodes to mono) is predictably flat and uninteresting in comparison.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 84 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, Penn & Teller: Bullsh**!
Packaging: Box Set
The tedium continues in Hot Summer Days, which follows five of the show's actors over the course of a single day during the show's 2002 summer hiatus. The only value in this 32m:38s yawnfest is that it reveals that the actors' everyday lives (except for Hal Sparks') aren't much more interesting than most of their viewers'.
There's finally some fun in the seasion 3 Wrap Party Reel, which shows bloopers, flubbed lines, the actors clowning around, and mishaps with flimsy sets. The letterboxed footage is faded and includes time codes from the editing deck, but there's some pretty funny stuff in its 11m:32s. Enter Babylon: Los Angeles is also interesting, as we see the setup for QaF's travelling "Babylon Tour" as part of 2003's gay pride festival in L.A., and footage from the party and stage shows. Its 12m:14s also includes interviews with DJs Tracy Young and Peter Rauhofer. Christine W.'s music video for "Some Lovin'" (3m:59s) is only interesting because it include several of QaF's cast members, although house music fans may enjoy the music.
Quotes, Folks and Notes features extensive text bios of most of the cast members and the producers, as well as two interviews with Peter Paige and Randy Harrison from The Advocate, and an article on the promo tour for the DVD release of QaF's second season. It's the meatiest extra on the disc, and it's interesting to hear the cast members' opinions on why the show doesn't win any "big" awards.
The 4m:10s Animated Photo Gallery consists of production photos that are panned and zoomed, set to music. The nonanamorphic Season 4 Sneek Peak runs for 4m:22s, and its name adequately describes it. Finally, there is a short collection of public service announcements and promos for other Showtime series and DVDs.
A CD-ROM is also included, which has a sweepstakes offer (I didn't win, so go buy the set!), Acrobat® documents that have posters, name stickers, and everything else you need for a QaF party, and weblinks to partner sites and online offers.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsIn its third season, Queer as Folk's depiction of an urban gay milieu continues to interest and entertain, with both amusing and serious plot lines and character arcs, although it's not as visually interesting as the first couple of seasons. The bonus materials are mostly filler, but the shows themselves shine, in great anamorphic widescreen transfers and Dolby® 5.1 sound.
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