Case Number 04402

QUEER AS FOLK: SEASON THREE

Showtime Entertainment // 2003 // 630 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // May 13th, 2004

The Charge

"Mourn the losses because they're many, but celebrate the victories because they're few."

Opening Statement

I'm not an avid watcher of Queer as Folk. I've seen a few episodes from the first two seasons, so it was quite nice to have a chance to watch this entire third season. And, you know what? Homosexuals lead the most fascinating lives! You've never met a group of people who get to experience so many things in life, especially in Pittsburgh. Who would have thought gays in an old rustbelt city would be living the high life? Okay, all sarcasm aside, QAF is nothing more than a glorified soap opera focusing on the homosexual community. Filled with too many events for any group of people to experience in one lifetime, QAF is highly engrossing because it is a soap opera. Any person who sits down to watch a soap will, after a few episodes, be sucked right in...and this show is no different. But labeling QAF as a soap opera isn't meant as an insult, although it does do the show a great disservice, belittling its superb job in showing the gay community in a positive light and portraying gays as "normal" people and its noble effort to address the bias against that community (not too far from real-life events).

Queer as Folk may come across as a soap opera in many ways, but the show is far more than that. It has many strengths and some weaknesses, and, in a perfect world, it's a show that everyone should watch at least once.

Facts of the Case

It's another turbulent year for the denizens of Liberty Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Brian, Justin, Michael, Ben, Ted, Emmett, Mel, Lindsay, Debbie, and Vic each face many triumphs and tragedies as the world turns. As mayoral elections loom on the horizon, a leading candidate, and current police chief, spearheads an anti-homosexual movement, threatening the way of life for our friends. This hovers over everyone's head as Justin and his new boyfriend Ethan find happiness, as Michael and Ben settle down, as Ted and Emmett begin to date, as Mel and Lindsay discuss having another baby, as Debbie and Carl get serious, and as Vic finds a new love.

In this year of ups and downs, everyone's world will dramatically change.

The Evidence

There are two ways to interpret the multitude of events that happen throughout this season. My original thought was how one person faced and dealt with hitting bottom. Another way to look at the same events is how relationships are tested in the face of adversity. And, in this case, I actually believe either interpretation is correct because our cast of characters is so closely tied together that one person's tragedy almost instantly ripples to all of them. Further, as just about everyone in this group does have a significant other, no one is alone in facing the pain.

Without going into too many (if any) details and ruining the potential experience of watching these episodes, season three is a pretty dark one for the show. Just about every character faces an enormous challenge and ends up hitting bottom. Perhaps the only people to truly escape the brunt of it are Vic, Lindsay, and, to an extent, Mel. But everyone else faces at least one significant test in this season. It's like the writers didn't want our friends to find complete happiness. The people we knew from the past two years won't be the same people at the end of these 14 episodes. And, it's really quite dramatic how all the characters find adversity in just 14 episodes. Shows that run 10 episodes longer don't pack as much into a season as QAF did this year. (With the exception of 24, which crams an unbelievable amount into each hour.) And it does it cleverly, too; it's fascinating to see how everyone's problems interact and bubble around the group.

And, as much of a soap opera as the show is, it's far more than that because of the often-realistic portrayal of the pain. (I'll get to my criticism of the series's lack of reality in a bit.) Most certainly, the show does take a few shortcuts along the way -- you know, those far-too-convenient coincidences that just rectify (or set up) the situation -- but, in the grand scheme, there's not a lot of fluff. The characters react honestly, situations expand realistically from person to person, and everyone is affected as they would be in real life, not like in the false reality of most shows in the TV bubble. I like the fact that the show tries to present things in this fashion. I like that it's trying to educate the viewer along the way. It's good to see a show attempting to bridge the gap between the straight and gay communities, even if only a mere handful of straight people tune in to watch. (That's my presumption, as I've never researched the show's demographics.) QAF presents a facet of television that is necessary in today's homophobic society. It presents a group of people who just happen to be gay. Their lives are just about the same as yours, and they face the same joys and hardships as anyone else out there. The show wants you to know that gays aren't really all that different from straights, and that love is a wonderful thing to behold, no matter what package it comes in. Tolerance is a good thing for everyone to practice.

But a show like this could be a complete disaster. Take the wrong approach and you'd have a heavy-handed propaganda piece. Luckily, QAF isn't like that. It's a show that's serious, but it's also fun and funny. It's populated by instantly likeable characters that, even if you're straight, you can relate to...in some fashion. Hey, I see some of my competitive drive in Brian, and I see some of my generosity in Michael. These characters are real, and you'll like them. And that's a big compliment to the actors who portray these characters, for, surprisingly, not all of these people are gay in real life -- they just portray them on the show. And unlike Will Truman on Will & Grace, these characters are gay and not just fussy and flamboyant, so these actors must get into the parts and the lifestyle. QAF doesn't flinch while highlighting the homosexual lifestyle, and the viewer will be immersed in that culture. In addition to lesbians, drag queens, flaming queens, and just effeminate men, you'll also see lots of male buttocks, an occasional penis, a breast or two, and lots of same-sex grinding, touching, feeling, kissing, and the like. And, again, some of these people are honestly straight, but you'd never guess it from what they do onscreen. That's an amazing testament to the dedication of these people to create an important show, one that tries to tell it like it is.

And in this world, there is an abundance of hatred for gays. There's also discrimination, a lack of understanding, and a healthy serving of misguided religious dogma. Add to that HIV and AIDS, and it's not easy being a homosexual in America. QAF doesn't avoid these difficult subjects, but instead embraces them and incorporates them. To create an informed opinion across the populace requires the nerve and tenacity to tackle the hard subjects. It's not all sunshine and roses, and being gay is hard; and QAF is the most honest depiction of homosexual life out there. It works to overturn and erase the animosity toward the homosexual community, and for that it receives its greatest applause.

In watching this five-disc DVD set, I was a little disappointed with the video transfer. I've had a chance to watch parts of episodes on Showtime HD (high definition), and these discs didn't live up to that level of clarity. The anamorphic video is good, but it lacks the depth and level of realism on that channel. It just didn't jump at me quite the same. Still, it's not a bad transfer because of the accurate color palette from crisp whites to dark blacks, nice detail, and solid definition. It's still one of the better TV shows ported to disc that I've seen.

On the audio side, you pretty much have just one choice: a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. That is, unless you happen to speak Spanish; then you can indulge yourself in a DD 2.0 track. The audio fares much better than the video, with crystal-clear dialogue and aggressive use of the surrounds and the subwoofer. In each scene set in Babylon, my apartment started to shake from the bass, and I like that!

There's quite a bit of bonus material on the last disc of the set, but here, too, I was not impressed. I didn't care for most of the items because they didn't give me more information on the show. I felt that I didn't learn anything about the show, the morals, the causes, and related ideas. The items were a bit too superficial:
* Audio Commentary with Cast and Crew: Contrary to assertions on Amazon, I could only find one commentary track in this set, and it's on the final episode of the season. The episode is reduced a bit in size, and a smaller box comes up on the bottom right of your screen, showing everyone during the taping. Just about "everyone" involved with the show joins in for this track, but that doesn't make it a winner. There's far too much talk about the obvious aspects of the episode with precious little new behind-the-scenes information.
* Behind the Camera -- The Directors (15.5 minutes): This disc arrived slightly damaged, so I couldn't watch this entire feature. What I did see seemed to attempt to talk about what each director brings to the show. Oddly, most of this feature ended up talking about season one and season two episodes. Regardless, I found it dull.
* Behind the Camera with Cast and Crew (26 minutes): Again, I couldn't watch every minute of this feature, but what I saw was again dull and not especially insightful. This is a compilation of various candid behind-the-scenes snippets (as filmed by Thom Best), but it also focuses too much on seasons one and two.
* Hot Summer Days (32 minutes): The oddest feature in the batch, this is a "day in the life" piece that follows five actors from the show during the summer hiatus between seasons three and four. You get to meet the real Hal Sparks, Thea Gill, Robert Gant, Scott Lowell, and Peter Paige. It really has nothing to do with QAF, but you do get a taste of who these people are off-screen. In most cases, I don't think I liked the conclusions I made for the actors. I prefer their characters.
* Wrap Party Reel (11.5): A montage of bloopers, behind-the-scenes silliness, and some promo dance clips.
* Enter Babylon -- Los Angeles (12 minutes): The Queer as Folk Babylon tour hits Los Angeles, and you can see them put the show together and see hundreds of real gay men come and shake their groove thing in a recreation of the infamous Liberty Street club.
* "Some Lovin'" Music Video: It's a video...in Dolby Digital 2.0. *snooze*
* Quotes, Folks, and Notes: A text-based collection of biographies and articles from "The Advocate" related to the show.
* Animated Photo Gallery (4 minutes): I'm not a fan of photos as a bonus feature.
* Season 4 Sneak Peek (4 minutes): Whet your whistle for the next season of QAF.
* Trailers and Spots: "HIV/AIDS Empower Yourself," "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone," and Penn and Teller: Bullshit!.
* Party in a Box Bonus Disc: I'm not certain if this is a limited bonus item or something that will be in all sets, but this is an additional disc for your PC. It gives you templates for invitations and whatnot to throw a QAF themed party.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Now it's time to make note of a few critical odds and ends, the most important being that the show, as realistic as it strives to be, also comes across as incredibly clichéd at other times. At some point, every gay cliché makes an appearance onscreen, from drag queens, to backrooms, to orgies, to poppers, to flamboyance, and beyond. Not only is every male on the show in fantastic shape with rock hard six-pack abs, but every person is a horny slut. I think it's this sidestep that makes the show into the soap opera I mentioned.

Also, Brian is not the bomb. He's just not that hot and hunky and should not be the man that everyone wants to sleep with. And if you try to say it's his confidence, that can't be it either; for he's beyond confident, he's arrogant and cocky. (Is that really attractive?) Beyond all that is that Brian is a loathsome, self-centered man. It's just old and repetitive when he constantly finds redemption in the closing minutes. To paraphrase Debbie, how many times does he have to teeter on the edge of damnation before he finally missteps and can't come back? When will he simply shed some of his cynicism and just be a more likeable character?

Lastly, there's Hal Sparks. I was first introduced to him when he took over Talk Soup on E!. I loved that show when Skunk Boy was on, and I thought Hal did a hideous job, tainting my opinion of him. On QAF, that opinion softened a bit when I caught a few episodes of seasons one and two, as he does a pretty good job with his character. But he has his flaws and is a touch milquetoast. But then I saw his work on the I Love the '80s shows, and I thought he was absolutely hilarious. My entire opinion of him changed to the positive, and I liked him much more on season three. Then the bonus feature "Hot Summer Days" made me go back to not liking him so much. I think I need to flip back over to VH1 again.

Closing Statement

With nary a doubt in my mind, I know very few of our readers watch this show, and I know even less will be interested in buying this set. As powerful as I believe this show to be, as charming as the characters are, and as realistic and important as the situations presented are, I cannot recommend this set for purchase. While wonderfully acted, directed, and written, this is an extremely dark season. I cannot believe that many people would want to come back to this year, pop in a disc, and watch Teddy spiral to his lows. It's a nicely crafted set, and there's not much to quibble about there. It's simply a matter of the long-term rewatchability of this season that gives it a negative recommendation for purchase. But, on the flip side, as I said earlier, I truly believe this is a show that everyone should watch at some point. With rampant homophobia spreading from the conservative portion of our nation, people need to be reminded that gays are people too. They live, they love, and they just want to be treated fairly. By watching an episode or two, it just might open the eyes of a few people to realize the truth of my statement. However, I know that my hopes are but a dream. Maybe one day this awful intolerance can be eradicated with the help of shows like Queer as Folk.

The Verdict

All charges brought against Queer as Folk are found to be without merit and without basis in law. Intolerance will not be tolerated.

Case dismissed.

Review content copyright © 2004 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 90
Audio: 92
Extras: 70
Acting: 95
Story: 85
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 630 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Audio Commentary with Cast and Crew on Episode 14
* Behind the Camera: The Directors
* Behind the Camera with Cast and Crew
* Hot Summer Days
* Wrap Party Reel
* Enter Babylon: Los Angeles
* "Some Lovin'" Music Video
* Quotes, Folks, and Notes
* Animated Photo Gallery
* Season 4 Sneak Peek
* Trailers and Spots
* Party in a Box Bonus Disc

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0262985/combined

* Official Site
http://www.sho.com/queer