IAt a time when queer representation is increasingly common, if often flawed, in the media, Peacock’s new reboot of the classic might be difficult for the young target audience. Queer as Folk imagine that a show following a group of gay men in Pittsburgh living relatively average lives could have created a new paradigm for how gay stories would be told on television. But just over 20 years ago, the original incarnations of Queer as Folk He did just that, first in the UK in 1999 and then a year later in the US.
So often referred to as “revolutionary” that the description might start to sound trivial if it weren’t so true, Queer as Folk bring gay people and gay stories to the forefront in a way that even other media of the time would prominently feature gay characters, like will and grace, had not yet done. In doing so, he has played a significant role in directing other quintessential queer dramas, including The word I, the L word to restart (Generation Q), Joy, Gender+ionand even, yes, Euphoria.
Queer as Folk also contributed to wider shifts in public opinion towards the queer community in the US and UK, and provided many young gay men’s first exposure to homosexuality not presented as a mildly interesting side attraction to the sides of the “true story” of a straight person or an abject tragedy. Although the concept of “representation in the media” is often paid lip service, Queer as Folk was the real, ridiculous, sexy, messy, multifaceted thing.
Restarting Peacock’s Queer as Folk was released on June 9. Here’s what to know about the previous US and UK releases.
How two versions of Queer as Folk have been done
the original Queer as Folk was created in the UK by writer and producer Russell T Davies, perhaps best known for his work on Doctor Who— and was almost called Queer like F-ck. The slightly less vulgar eventual name is a play on the colloquial Yorkshire phrase, “Well, there’s not as much homosexuality as there are people anymore” (in essence, “People are weird” ).
Davies was eager to write something that he felt accurately captured not just the realities of being a gay man in Manchester, but the wider experience of growing up and finding out who you are. The show premiered in 1999 on Channel 4 and followed three men and their friends through the Canal Street area of Manchester, known as the Gay Village. It had an initial run of six episodes, with two more made later, bringing the total to eight. The show attracted 2 million viewers on Channel 4, topped only by IS.
The American version of Queer as Folk was created by Daniel Lipman and Ron Cowen when another show they were working on for Showtime flopped, and they decided to cast Queer as Folk in its place. They had just read an article in the Los Angeles Time about the UK version, arguing that nothing of its outrageous kind could ever exist in the US because it featured too much sex, too many drugs, too little use of condoms, etc. Lipman and Cowen got their green version and swore they would make it even hotter than its British counterpart.
United States Queer as Folk is set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and follows a similar but expanded cast of characters: five men and their families, friends, and lovers. After its first season, Queer as Folk was Showtime’s highest-rated show, garnering a much higher viewership than the network had anticipated. It ran for five seasons, earning six GLAAD Award nominations and one win, for Best Drama.
What were the characters?
Both versions of Queer as Folk followed by homogeneous main casts of white and cisgender people, most of whom were in their twenties and thirties. Although each version provided unprecedented gay representation, the lack of diversity in racial and gender expression in the series rules out any representation of trans people and people of color in the queer community. On the contrary, both versions of Queer as Folk sum up the pervasive similarity of television portrayal in the late 1990s and early 2000s – another convention that is slowly and imperfectly beginning to change, with shows like Laid and Our flag means death.
The UK version of Queer as Folk followed a main cast including Stuart Jones (Aidan Gillen), a successful and aggressive advertising executive, Vince Tyler (Craig Kelly), his best friend who is also in love with him, and Nathan Maloney (Charlie Hunnam), an arrogant but naive 15-year-old – whose young age drew negative reactions from viewers from the start of the series. Among the supporting cast are their friends and family members, including Stuart’s friend Romey Sullivan (Esther Hall), a lesbian who uses Stuart’s sperm to conceive a baby with her partner.
The American version closely copied this pattern, and the series’ longer runtime gave it ample opportunity to explore and give depth to its characters. Stuart became Brian Kinney (Gale Harold), Vince became Michael Novotny (Hal Sparks), and Nathan became Justin Taylor (Randy Harrison) and gained two years, aging him to a little less outrageous and PA-legal-17. Romey became Lindsay Peterson (Thea Gill), and she and her partner Melanie Marcus (Michelle Cluney) feature prominently on the show. The core trio’s expanded group of friends includes the shy and somewhat cynical Ted Schmidt (Scott Lowell) and the effusive and more effeminate Emmett Honeycutt (Peter Paige). Michael’s mother Debbie (Sharon Gless) is also a vital part of the cast, embodying the loving mother hen energy that too few LGBTQ people have.
How was Queer as Folk received?
As expected, the UK and US Queer as Folkits received a rather mixed reception from conservative forces unhappy to see a gay-centric show airing on a major network, and queer people who felt the show relied too heavily on stereotypes and lacked diversity. Beck’s Brewery, a brewing company originally slated to sponsor the UK version, withdrew its support midway through the first season in response to conservative backlash, then tried to reverse its cancellation after facing backlash from people queer people disappointed by the company’s initial decision. .
During the UK race Queer as Folk, the House of Lords of Parliament was debating whether to equalize the age of consent for sex between men with that for heterosexual sex. In 2001, Parliament established an equal age of consent. Looking back on the decision in an interview with The GuardianDavies said: “I don’t think for a second that Queer as Folk was responsible, but it was part of a cultural moment. The UK version was also criticized for not featuring the AIDS crisis in its storylines, given the severity of its impact on the gay community at the time the show was made.
The American version used its five seasons to more fully address the issue, through the experiences of multiple characters – a portrayal that many considered deeply meaningful. When the show premiered, same-sex marriage was illegal in every state nationwide, and 14 states had sodomy laws. Three years after the show debuted, then-President George W. Bush stood at a podium in the Rose Garden to state his strong opposition to same-sex marriage.
Both versions of Queer as Folk addressed issues beyond sex and romance, delivering meditations on parenthood, aging, friendship and identity that were decidedly, inherently queer and decidedly universal. Plus, it was good television—vibrant, silly, sometimes witty, often over the top, and just the right amount of unrealistic. Both versions are remembered by many today as deeply, personally significant, and culturally iconic, a deep legacy that the reboot aims to continue.
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