Judge Brett Cullum says this "arc" about the lives of gay black men really floats, thanks to believable friendships and performances.
America's first gay black series.
It was born in the mind of Patrik-Ian Polk who was at a West Hollywood night club when he thought about creating a show focusing on four black men in Los Angeles. The main character is Noah (Darryl Stephens, Circuit), a young struggling screenwriter who has romantic ideals and is new to having a boyfriend. His "arc" could be his story and journey, but it also represents the names of his three friends. We have Alex (Rodney Chester, Punks) the broad queen, Ricky (Christian Vincent, who appeared as a drag dancer in Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous) an unrepentant player, and Chance (Douglas Spearman, Payback) an uptight professor. Noah falls in love with a reluctant-to-come-out gay man named Wade (Jensen Atwood, Their Eyes Were Watching God), who at the series start is "straight."
Some crass pissy queens call Noah's Arc the black Queer as Folk and leave it at that. They're right in a stereotypical way, but the show breaks a lot more ground than you would first guess. The series was meant to be downloadable over the Internet and funded by viewers, but the independently-produced pilot was so successful at film festivals that gay cable channel Logo picked it up. It has been the fledging cable brand's most successful show to date and the series has gathered a strong vocal fan base. Yet Logo is not readily available in all markets, so Noah's Arc—The Complete First Season will serve as a great way to introduce more people to the series. It's a great thing, because Noah's Arc has a lot to offer to people searching for another gay drama to follow.
Many people don't know this, but gay society is often quite divided in many ways. Racially each ethnicity has its own designated bars and hangouts. Further divisions can be found between dance or leather clubs, and venues catering to transsexuals or drag queens. These divisions exist more prominently in major urban areas—places like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Houston. Small towns or less-populated cities often see a GLBT community that's more cohesive by necessity, so Noah's Arc had to be born in the L.A. gay African-American scene. Many viewers complained that Queer as Folk never featured a black character, but honestly four white guys in gay Pittsburgh probably wouldn't have tons of ethnically-diverse friends. So here's a show where the white guys are relegated to extras onset and the entire ensemble is black, gay, and proud of both. It's about freaking time. No apologies, no dudes on the down-low, and no gangsters. All the leads are gorgeous, and allowed to be real people and friends.
The first season is only nine episodes and it leaves you craving more. The series is obviously a project born of passion and everyone involved goes for broke. The actors don't have tons of experience, but they take to the characters easily and naturally. The writing feels authentic and there's a clear voice to each role. The production sometimes feels under budget, but that's to be expected considering this is far from network television. They make do with what they have and, surprisingly, parts of it look lusher than its budget should allow. Music is well done, often contributed by legendary rhythm-and-blues artists. This is a hip vision of black gay men living in an affluent and accepting world of Hollywood.
The series is not "in your face" with the sex scenes like Showtime's Queer as Folk or The L Word, and Noah's Arc is confined to half-hour episodes. These two elements help and hurt the show in equal doses. Without the explicit sex, the show has to make the relationships work; however, they only have 20 minutes to arc through a story in each episode. What's amazing is the show has to be made suitable for broadcast to air on Logo, but here on the DVD, we do get extended cuts which feature new sexier scenes with alternate scoring (often achieved by branching when a palm tree icon appears on the screen). The DVD versions are more aggressive, but still nowhere near the softcore elements of Showtime's two gay series. I like the friendships and relationships that feel real so I can believe them. I hate the fact they often have to be expressed in shorthand to fit the time constraint.
Logo did an awesomely fabulous job loading up this DVD. Not only do you get the aforementioned extended and uncut scenes, but also get a look at auditions and the early development of the show. Included is the original pilot, which is amazing not for how different it is, but for how similar to what made it on the air. Commentaries are provided for every episode with varying configurations of the cast and the creator (see the Accomplices section on the side bar for a breakdown). The transfer is clean, vibrant, and even widescreen. The bad news is it is not anamorphic, so it essentially comes out looking cropped no matter what you do other than zooming (which actually does crop it). Fans who have taped or TiVo'd every episode will still have to purchase this set to get all of the extras and the extended sexier scenes.
Noah's Arc is a great groundbreaking series, and thank God for Logo supporting and developing it. The world needs a positive portrait of black gay men and it definitely steps in the right direction. It also one-ups previous innovator Queer as Folk by making the friends real and sweet to each other. The DVD is a "must own" for people who enjoy GLBT entertainment. It's robust with extra features and really showcases the first inaugural season for all time. It's a triumph in many ways, and hopefully Noah's Arc will only continue to grow. I'm not a gay black man, but Noah's Arc made me want to be one.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary on Pilot and Episode Two From Creator Patrik-Ian Polk, and Actors Darryl Stephens and Jensen Atwood
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