Judge Brett Cullum takes a look at the radical series that made the whole world turn gay.
Stuart Alan Jones: "I'm the king of the world!"
When the original UK series of Queer as Folk hit the airwaves in 1999 it felt like a new era had dawned. Once it was out there you could never take it back, and that was a weird and wonderful feeling. The show was sexually graphic, unapologetically gay, well acted, and very smartly written. Of course now we all know Russell T. Davies as the man who reinvented Doctor Who for the new millennium, but this is where he started. He is a brilliant writer, much like Joss Whedon here in the United States, and this is where he gets to shine with his own slightly autobiographical story. And if you are out there and only know the slick Showtime adaptation that came a year or two later, this set should serve as a reminder of the vastly superior original incarnation of a familiar story.
Facts of the Case
Stuart Allen Jones (Aidan Gillen, The Wire) is sexually free and ravaging Manchester's gay scene with wild abandon, as if AIDS and heterosexuals never existed. Every night is a party ending up in a carnal hold with several naked men. His square sci-fi nerd best friend Vince Tyler (Craig Kelly, Titanic) is the only person he hasn't had casual sex with, although you get the feeling instantly that Vince sure wouldn't mind. One night Stuart ends up with the underage Nathan (Charlie Hunnam, Children of Men) and suddenly the entire world changes. It's time for the men to ask if their life is enough, and if the rest of the world is ready for them.
Queer As Folk: The Complete UK Collection assembles the first eight episodes of year one and the double length two episodes that comprise year two. Odd to think this entire series was only ten episodes in total when you consider the American counterpart ran five lengthy seasons. But don't be fooled, because the first year is perfectly paced for the story it tells. Davies claims he was strong armed to add the second year coda by the network, and it does feel like an add-on. Still, it has some nice moments that keep it true to form. Taken as a whole, it is a great story about two men who face a crisis of wondering whether their lives are good and worth living as they have designed them.
There was much controversy and debate over whether Queer as Folk was good for gays when it debuted. It showed men who had promiscuous sex, featured a minor in the mix, didn't mind showing drug use, and pushed the envelope of what could be shown on television. After a decade of apologizing for being gay, the show couldn't have picked a better time to come out. It was fun, witty, and not at all somber except when it had to be to serve the story.
Watching Queer as Folk a decade later is odd. The club scene that is so dear to Stuart and Vince has all but disappeared thanks to the Internet and iPhone apps that have replaced cruisey dance bars and bathhouses. Things have changed, but it's nice to see them back on the screen larger than life for a while. You realize that it was indeed good for gays, because it made it tough to make them invisible or neutered ever again.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only beef with this release is that some key things are not included here and extras from overseas are not added in. This set is pretty much just the 2003 releases of the DVDs that were put out here in America once before. There are key differences from this version of the series and what ran in Britain. Some of the sex is trimmed just a bit here and there, and almost all of the music is changed due to copyright issues that are different in the United States. Unfortunately, a big part of the original charm of the show were the dramatic club anthems showcased so well that they spawned a couple of hit albums.
Extras include deleted scenes for both years with optional commentary from Davies and his producer Nicola Shindler. There is a rather lengthy look at the entire series called What the Folk? which talks about the production and the controversy surrounding it all for both years. It has a peculiar interview with Joel Schumacher who wanted to adapt the series for the United States as a show about people from New Jersey slipping into Manhattan. Also included is the infamous response to the pilot that was broadcast, with the show being attacked by a gay man and lesbian who claim the series simply played into dangerous stereotypes. There are promotional spots and photo galleries as well. A very nice twenty page booklet is included to round out things.
Yet there are some key things that are not here that viewers are finding if they purchase this in Europe. Missing from the set are the series-long commentary that Davies and Schindler provided for a recent English complete series release and that original soundtrack. You would do best to get a region-free edition of the original broadcast versions, but I suppose in a pinch this edition will do. The story is here as is the great acting, but some elements are absent. The club scenes truly fall flat with the generic music rather than tracks like Air's "Sexy Boy" playing over the speakers.
This is earth-shattering television done right, and mandatory viewing for anyone with an interest in GLBT issues. This is the show that blew the closet doors off the hinges, and it paved the way for a whole new world of entertainment where gays and lesbians do what comes naturally for them with no apologies. It's smart, slick, and it feels painfully real. That authenticity is what made this version superior to the sudsy melodrama that became Showtimes Queer as Folk and to Showtime's other GLBT series, The L Word. As good as those shows were at times, they never quite felt as honest or grounded as this one. It's too bad that for an American release they have to change up the music and trim some seconds off the graphic sex. At least the story still plays out well with the great writing and capable acting, but it does feel a bit like a cheat not to have the original intact.
Guilty of making every fag understand what shag meant for real.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
• Deleted Scenes
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