IMAGE CREDIT: FX
Why Creating a Pose-Type Show in the U.K. Would Fill a Huge Gap and Bring L.G.B.T.Q.+ Culture/Discussions to the Mainstream
I am not against all T.V. shows in this country...
PHOTO CREDIT: @sveninho/Unsplash
but I think are better when it comes to theatre and music. I have never been a fan of our iconic comedy shows - and feel they relied more on gentle humour rather than anything sharp and genuinely memorable – with a few exceptions. The same goes for our sitcoms. We are not great at family/friend-based shows and I find them so formulaic, laboured and lacking in humour. We have a couple of wonderful comedies/comedy-dramas, Fleagbag and This Time with Alan Partridge, but the former is more synonymous with its dramatic elements and the latter, I feel, relies too much on a sense of discomfort and rooting for this lovable loser – something British comedies have become more known for since The Office. Both provide moments of brilliance but neither is a patch on the best from the U.S. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is returning for a sixth season; Family Guy still has plenty of juice left in the tank and The Goldbergs is a sharp and warm show. I also love The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and, whilst we are waiting a third season, this comedy-drama is much funnier than most of our ‘comedies’. There are some bad and average U.S. comedies – including Schooled and The Big Bang Theory: they have some pretty s*it others, too – but the best from the American stable is much stronger than anything we are providing. The same is true of drama. I think this is where the biggest discrepancy exists.
We are excited about seeing Line of Duty back on our screens but, essentially, it is not that inventive and different to any police/criminal dramas. Killing Eve – written by Fleabag creator/star, Phoebe Waller-Bridge – is a genuinely great drama and one that we need to model the rest of our work on. Look at the rest of our schedules and it does not vary much between criminal dramas, family tensions and the same old thing. Every new trailer than comes along bores me and I wonder why we lack such imagination and originality. We are obsessed by family dramas and focusing on very narrow themes. Most of the T.V. I am watching and enjoying is American and I feel we have the talent in the country to rival their best but the concepts that keep coming through are predictable and completely uninspiring. Music is an area that has always been under-exposed when it comes to drama and I do not know why. We have a lot of the same sort of dramas about but not a lot that goes beyond the same friends-family-deceit constructs that T.V. broadcasters are obsessed with! Big themes like teaching L.G.B.T.Q.+ lessons in school and political tensions makes me wonder whether this is being represented on screen. How about a drama that uses music/a music theme as its core and builds from there? How long since we have seen something like that on T.V. at all?
What I find when it comes to U.K. drama and comedy is how lifeless and beige it is. We are ultra-serious and struggle to make anything that is colourful, bold and has a great leap of imagination. The sooner we get out of the same moulds and formats; we can actually then expand the palette and create something startling. It is a shame this happens because we have some great actors and directors but I do find our comedies and dramas are somewhat unspectacular. I would not normally be attracted to a show like Pose but, within a few minutes of watching the first episode – last night on BBC 2 – I was hooked. The show was created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals and it is a huge-hearted, queer drama that has these amazing scenes and colours. Its budget is huge – which may mean it is hard to replicate here; we do not have such deep pockets and established studios – and features a large trans cast and set of writers – the largest in T.V. history, I understand. If its story is not exactly mould-breaking – a fairytale-like narrative where characters can be themselves and express themselves freely – then its script and look definitely is. In the first episode, we were introduced to the House of Abundance where it was led by the ‘Mother’ (Dominique Brebner plays the Elektra Abundance): a formidable leader who rules with a strict fist but is an inspirational figure.
She and her house compete in underground ballroom competitions before one of her ‘children’ breaks away to form her own house – she recruits her own members and they compete with the House of Abundance (they lose in the first face-off but have plenty of talent and fire in the ranks). Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista (Mj Rodriguez) is the character who forms her own house after she discovers she is HIV-positive. By day, she works in a nail-bar but she harbours dreams of stardom and making something of herself. Ryan Jamaal Swain plays Damon Richards-Evangelista, a gay dancer who is abused and rejected by his family when he reveals his ambitions to become a dancer. He lives on the street and is discovered by Blanca; she takes him in and, before long, new members come into the house. He amazes judges and committee at a New York dancing school – after being reluctant to audition – and we sort of end the first episode with hopes that this House of Evangelista will square up to the formidable House of Abundance and gain fame in the clubs. I have summarised the plot but we see looks inside a Trump-era business – maybe a satire against the current U.S. President – and an office worker (Evan Peters plays Stan Bowes; he works in Trump Towers and his boss, Matt Bromley (James Van Der Beek), is all kinds of off-putting) who gets this big job but cheats on his wife with a trans prostitute; a look at late-1980s New York and how gay culture was largely confined to the underground.
Pose even managed to squeeze in a Kate Bush tune in the first episode – Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) was played a few times throughout! Critics were amazed by the liberating and unique vision of Pose. This is how The Guardian assessed the opening/pilot episode:
“New York City. 1987. Glitterball. Vogue hands, as any Madonna fan of my generation will know them. Sometimes the right television series comes along at the moment you need it and Pose (BBC2) is just that: shimmering balm for the Brexit-eroded soul. For an hour and a bit, all the cynicism and rage evaporates and you rise from the sofa on a cloud of killer lines dropped from the hard-won lips of black trans women; the sound of Donna Summer; and sheer, fishnet-tights-clad resilience.
But this show is far more sophisticated than escapism. It’s like falling in love: heightened, revelatory, bruising. Pose is that good.
Above ground, we enter the stultifying world of straight, white, executive conventionality, embodied by Trump Tower, which is even more monstrous considering what the man who built it presides over now. Stan Bowes gets a job there while falling for trans sex worker Angel. In a masterful scene that could be straight out of Mad Men, he asks Angel what she wants from life and while she whispers the answer in bed – “I want a home of my own. I want a family. I want to take care of someone and I want someone to take care of me. I want to be treated like any other woman” – the scene cuts to Stan arriving home to his wife and kids. The life of conformity, of passing, that Angel craves is killing him. How does the scene close? With the opening synths of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill...
Pose treats with respect, pathos and love both the glamour of the ballroom and the guts of the Aids crisis, transphobia, sexism and racism. It’s a charismatic dance-off between appearance and reality, in which both sides are equally matched. Pray Tell might say “the category is … paramount realness!” The pose, in other words, is the realness.
Abundance by night: one of several teams competing in the underground ballroom scene, populated mostly by black and Latino trans and gay people. The houses are run by formidable “house mothers”, defiantly and poignantly recreating the families that once rejected them. Then there’s New York, the most iconic house mother of all, who welcomes everybody into her bosom and stands for both nurture and danger.
When Blanca finds out she is HIV-positive, she tells ballroom MC, Pray Tell, “At least now something in my life is for sure.” He replies, “You ain’t dead yet”.
It is early days but Pose has been met with huge affection in the U.S. – where more episodes have been featured – and I know it will succeed here. There are a number of reasons for me believing in this. For a start, against the sometimes-brutal and shocking scenes – domestic assault and young creatives struggling to find acceptance in America – there is an actual spirit of hope and togetherness. The music side of things is why I am including this feature in my blog.
IN THIS PHOTO: The standout Ryan Jamaal Swain stars in Pose as Damon Richards, a gay, homeless dancer/PHOTO CREDIT: Lexie Moreland/WWD
I cannot recollect the last time we showcased something as giddy, bright and original on our screens when it comes to drama. The performances are uniformly excellent and the fact there are trans actors/writers gives Pose authenticity and insight. The interaction between the lead actors is incredible and the script mixes pathos/tragedy with lighter moments brilliantly. I love the arc of the pilot episode and how, in just over an hour, we got a great insight into the gay scene in 1980s New York. It is about the clubs and the freedom of the underground; the way trans performers (and queens) had a space where they could be themselves and not have to hide it. Even today, society is not as accepting and open as it should be and shows like Pose are going to be positive and powerful when it comes to changing attitudes. Against rather dry lessons and literature, T.V. shows like this provide a genuine experience and education. I have seen a lot of tweets recently regarding to schools and whether they should include L.G.B.T.Q.+ themes in their curriculums. A lot of children are scared of revealing their sexuality because there is not enough tolerance, discussion and love. Music is at the heart of Pose and, together with dance – the show is, in essence, about dance culture and voguing (a little bit before Madonna helped bring it into the mainstream with her Vogue single in 1990) -, we get this captivating and catchy world. You do not need to be trans or gay to appreciate the show and what it is trying to communicate.
PHOTO CREDIT: @paul_1865/Unsplash
Pose beautifully unleashes this world that does not need to lecture and pander; it does not assume the viewer is aware of ignorant of the world in which it lives: instead, we get a really accessible look at gender politics and life in late-1980s New York. I am a heterosexual male and it definitely spoke to me. Great dramas like this can appeal to a wide demographic and create that balance between education and entertainment. Looking head-on at the HIV/AIDS crisis in America and the glamour of the ballroom is a difficult thing to do when it comes to hooking people in. The realness and authentic voice of Pose makes every scene come to life and get into the head. It is the giddy mix of sounds and movements that appeals to the artist and journalist in me. I love the selection of songs employed and we had a nice balance of dance-worthy jams and, as I said, Kate Bush. One does not need to know about the ballroom scene and the Disco elements; the glitz and camp to appreciate the show. I think L.G.B.T.Q.+/trans issues are as important in music as they are society at large. I know quite a few L.G.B.T.Q.+ artists and still feel there is a stigma and lack of recognition. Think about the mainstream and how easy would it be for a queer artist, let’s say, to get their voice heard?!
IMAGE CREDIT: iStock
Maybe a U.K. show that walks the same as Pose would not need to explicitly tackle that but I think there is a lot of talk and discussion happening regarding L.G.B.T.Q.+ areas in schools and the nature of sexuality. Aside from particular playlists and fringe plays, I do not think we get a real sense of the sexual spectrum and different identities in this country. One could argue that the U.S. is not so open-minded when it comes to sexuality but I think they are ahead of us. At any rate, their studios are more adventurous and willing to open up conversations. I know Pose is groundbreaking but we need not look at trans/gay artists in the U.K. It (a drama) could explore sexuality among school-aged children or roll the clock back to the 1990s and the culture then. Queer as Folk is still talked about and that was first broadcast back in 1999! Music would play a central role in any venture: the heart and soundtrack that need not be specific to that culture. By that, I mean the music does not merely need to be popular to the trans/L.G.B.T.Q.+ communities. Instead, there could be a blend of commercial/traditional music and LG.B.T.Q.+-focused songs. With so much political chaos and talk going on, I wonder how long it will be before the dust clears and we can have a chat regarding matters such as trans dancers/children; the L.G.B.T.Q.+ experience and bring that to the screen.
Pose is capturing the American population with its mix of heart, inspiration and hard-hitting authenticity. I feel we are too mired in the same old ruts and niches here. Every advert for some domestic drama makes me think the same: the fact we have seen this all before and we are not pushing boundaries. It’s great Line of Duty is coming back but look at all the other police/crime dramas and it is the same mix of plots and characters. The same can be said with comedy and I know, with talents like Phoebe Waller-Bridge about, we can create our own Pose. There are other great writers/wits, such as Caitlin Moran, who could write a great show; maybe Russel T. Davies – a gay screenwriter whose iconic shows include Queer as Folk – who could help bring about some sort of revolution. I feel it on the fringes and there is the desire for mainstream exposure and revelation. In terms of setting/period, why not London or Liverpool during the 1980s/1990s. We would be spoiled for choice when it comes to great songs and, though we do not have the same budget as U.S. studios, we could turn in something decent. One of the other strengths of Pose is the fact that it is a largely-black cast.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
There are few dramas/comedies in the U.S. or U.K. that have a large black cast so, in another way, Pose is ground-breaking. I do get bored of our T.V. and, although some Alan Partridge awkwardness is entertaining, I am looking for something bigger, more glamorous and important. We need to laugh and come together but we can do that in a comedy-drama that wears its heart and fabrics like Pose. A U.K. drama does not need to look at a particular scene or culture: instead, it can fictionalise or look at trans/L.G.B.T.Q.+ characters finding their way against the changing music/club scene in the U.K. – maybe trying to form an underground following against House, Rave or Britpop. There are endless possibilities but they are not being explored enough. Pose’s following, popularity and five-star reviews show that, if done right, there are plenty of accepting, passionate and committed viewers who have been looking for a show like this for a long time! I don’t know. I do love our biggest T.V. shows and feel creators like Phoebe Waller-Bridge are incredible. She is one of the best writers and actors we have and I feel she could help spearhead something Pose-like here with her blend of cutting wit and dramatic flair. A lot of our dramas seem stuck and rigid; we are too samey and grey and, when we look at the U.S. and what their brightest minds are coming up with, it seems like the time to make that change and...
IMAGE CREDIT: FX
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