TV Reviews

“Ziwe” Wants to Make White Women Uncomfortable

In Episode 1 of her new SHOWTIME and A24 series, "55%," Ziwe interviews Fran Lebowitz, Gloria Steinem, and makes white people cringe.

Ziwe on SHOWTIME

Ziwe Fumudoh's highly anticipated eponymous comedy show, Ziwe, premiered on Sunday, May 9th.

The Showtime and A24 collaboration brings the success of Ziwe's Instagram Live series, Baited, to television in a series which blends interviews with sketch comedy and musical numbers. Frankly, its so good it makes SNL all but redundant (if Elon Musk's cringey appearance as SNL host on May 8th didn't already prove that).

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Film News

What To Stream in May 2021

Here's the most anticipated original content coming to Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, SHOWTIME, and more

Ziwe on Showtime

May 2021 offers many promises: The new CDC rules for vaccinated Americans mean the return of a more normal social life, more activities, and less time spent indoors.

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TV

Why "Queer as Folk" Deserves a Reboot

"Queer as Folk" changed the media landscape for LGBTQ+ representation.

Showtime

In the early 2000s, Queer as Folk captivated audiences with its honest portrayal of the lives of LGBTQ+ men and women living in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

It also drew a lot of controversy through its depictions of the many issues gay men faced at the time, including homophobia, recreational drug use, underage prostitution, and bug chasers (people who intentionally tried to contract HIV). Queer as Folk tackled topics usually considered too taboo for television, pushing boundaries and making way for the shows that came after. Considering the show's lasting impact on LGBTQ+ representation in media, alongside its 20th anniversary coming up in December, Queer as Folk is long overdue for a reboot.

Based on the British series of the same name, the American version of Queer as Folk set itself apart from the rest of television. One aspect that advanced the show's representations of LGBTQ+ people in the 2000s was the writers' willingness to develop the characters beyond their sexuality. After all, sexuality is just one element of a person's identity, and not even necessarily their defining one. Michael is a comic book nerd and slacker, Ben is a college professor, Brian is an advertising executive and dad, and Ted is a reliable accountant before becoming a drug addict due to mental health issues. None of them are reduced to stereotypes, despite falling across a spectrum of flamboyance.

As time went on, shows carried on Queer as Folk's torch, portraying LGBTQ+ characters as complex people. Captain Ray Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Alex Danvers from Supergirl, and Omar Little from The Wire have shown that you can do anything as an LGBTQ+ person (obviously).

Queer as Folk Showtime

The proverbial "Ross and Rachel" of Queer as Folk was the undeniably cute pairing of Brian and Justin, who met at a nightclub and hooked up after the first episode. Nowadays, it would be like meeting someone on Grindr one night and forming a five-year-long relationship with them. Justin's teenage adoration of the independent Brian was interesting to watch as he grew up into his own man. In fact, they were one of the only couples on TV at the time who could be considered normal and functioning.

Of course, there were always issues for the couples in Queer as Folk to work through, but the characters handled problems like sensible adults. Even when their issues were considered taboo, they were always presented and resolved in a serious, respectful manner. For instance, Michael and Ben struggled with how to be intimate after Ben's HIV diagnosis, so they took their time and resolved their issue with care and compassion. Eventually, they even got married. Couples like Brian and Justin and Michael and Ben laid the groundwork for popular LGBTQ+ ships like Ian and Mickey from Shameless, Patrick and Richie from Looking, and Kevin and Scotty from Brother & Sisters.

In its final season, Queer as Folk did its best to enact real-world change by showing how Proposition 14 affected the lives of the characters that viewers had come to know and love during its five-year run. Since then, TV shows have not shied away from applying a pro-LGBTQ+ lens to politics. Drag Race has shown RuPaul and contestants making light of the Trump administration. Milk (a movie about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, won an Oscar). There's even The Politician, a Ryan Murphy show about a gay student who wants to eventually become President of the United States.

Queer is folk Showtime


That's not to say Queer as Folk was perfect. While there was an incredible amount of LGBTQ representation in the show, that was the only diversity present. The cast was almost entirely comprised of cis-white men, which definitely wouldn't go over well today. As a result, even though the show's subject matter was centered around a marginalized group, it alienated a large portion of the LGBTQ+ population by not including any people of color. Then again, that was pretty much the state of media in general during the early 2000s. Representation for gay white men was rare; but for LGBTQ+ people of color, it was nonexistent. We've made big strides in that sense, thanks to shows like Pose, Orange Is the New Black, Rupaul's Drag Race, and Sex Education.

As for the show's depiction of drug use and the club scene, it's clear from watching the first episode of Queer as Folk that things were a bit different in 2000. Everyone was just coming off the club scene of the '90s, so dance music, neon clothes, and coke were essentials for any party worth talking about. Unfortunately, this is where the idea that all gay men were rampant drug users came from. Going out to bars and clubs were how you met people, since Grindr and Tinder hadn't been invented yet. As homosexuality was still very much a "bad thing" to most of the world––remember gay marriage didn't even become legal in the United States until 2015–drugs and parties were a way to openly express your marginalized and stigmatized identity.

In late 2019,

The L Word, a show about the lives of LGBTQ+ women in Los Angeles, received a reboot. Queer Eye has also returned. It's finally time to revive Queer as Folk, too. As one of the most influential pieces of LGBTQ media–a show that helped shape the following decade of LGBTQ+ representation on television–it would be meaningful to see how the characters adapt to the downfall of wild nightlife and the rise of internet dating, as well as an overall shift towards greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in America. Queer as Folk showed the country that people in the LGBTQ+ community are equal to everyone else, and now that America has changed under the Trump administration, it would be great to see how Queer as Folk could adapt to give us a reminder.

TV

How "The L Word: Generation Q" Demonstrates the Changing Nature of LGBTQ+ Language

Does anyone really identify with the word lesbian anymore?

It's difficult to overstate the importance that The L Word held for the lesbian community after it originally premiered in 2004.

Never before had there been a show featuring a full cast of lesbian and bisexual characters. In fact, there'd been very few gay women (in this article the word "woman/women" denotes anyone who identifies with the term) on TV at all. In 2004, America had barely become comfortable with the "gay best friend," which, as problematic as that trope is, at least worked to familiarize the public with the concept of homosexuality in men. But female-on-female sex and romantic relationships, though sometimes culturally less maligned than male-on-male relationships, were still firmly taboo, seen as a mere waypoint on the road to settling down with a man or fetishized by the male gaze. Then, at last, The L Word showed a mainstream audience a community of women who loved women without shame. It also helped define a vocabulary of words for LGBTQ+ people. It was important, but it certainly wasn't perfect.

The original "The L Word" cast The original "The L Word" cast

Many of the cast members were notably feminine and played by straight women, which in and of itself isn't necessarily an issue, but it did often serve to make the frequent sex scenes feel absolutely sodden with the male gaze. Between the lacy lingerie, liberally applied makeup, and pornographic noises, a lot of gay women felt that the show didn't reflect the less picturesque realities of lesbian identity and sexuality. Even worse, the endless dramatics of the soap opera-esque show sometimes seemed to imply that lesbians are compulsively promiscuous, prone to extreme drama in their relationships, and even likely to come unhinged (as seen in the truly bonkers storyline of Jenny Shecter). And while we're at it, it's worth mentioning that the characters were almost exclusively upper-middle class, white cis-gendered women (not to mention the deeply problematic portrayal of transgender individuals when they did try to broach that topic). Still, flawed representation is often better than no representation, and despite all the show's faults, a generation of both budding and seasoned gay women watched The L Word with devotion and gratitude.

Now, the beloved show is getting a 2019 style makeover in the form of eight new episodes called The L Word: Generation Q. A lot has changed in the gay community since The L Word's final episode premiered in 2009—perhaps most notably, the language LGBTQ+ people use to describe themselves. While many wonder if this new reboot can atone for the sins of the original series while still capturing its particular magic, one thing is clear after the first two episodes: Things are a lot less black and white than they were in the early aughts of Dana and Alice drama.

Already, the series has introduced two openly transgender characters played by actual trans actors, Leo Sheng as Micah Lee and Brian Michael Smith as Pierce Williams, a refreshing change from the at times downright offensive transgender character of Max from the original. Additionally, while we have a femme gay couple (Dani and Sophia) at the center of the story, we also have Finley, a self-described "traditional lesbian when it comes to tools," complete with an affinity for short sleeve button ups and using the word "dude."

Finley "The L Word: Generation Q" Finley

But even with these more inclusive identities, we get much less anxiety over labeling, which the original series could never escape. Within the first few episodes, the 2004 series made it clear who saw themselves as a butch lesbian, a femme lesbian, a top, a bottom, bisexual, and who was still on their way to one of these concrete identities. Besides Finley's single mention of being a "traditional lesbian," we see less of this need for definition in the new series. Instead, we simply see who each character is attracted to in a given situation, placing them all in a vague space of queerness—which is a much more realistic depiction of fluid sexual identity.

Indeed, regardless of what your feelings about the show are, comparing the reboot with the original is a fascinating study in the changing nature of LGBTQ+ language. We learn that Micah is Dani's ex, making it clear that, despite his amorous connection to a gay man in the first two episodes, he does not exclusively date men. This plot point is never harped on but merely accepted, something that would have been an impossibility in the original series, which spent ample time parsing out the exact nature of each character's sexuality. Even the adjusted title, "Generation Q," obviously denotes this major difference, as today's gay community is composed of people who feel less pressure than their forebearers did to claim a single term to define their sexuality. Instead they reclaim previously derogatory terms like "queer," which Merriam Webster defines as, "Use of the word queer as referring and relating to sexual orientation, and, more recently, to gender identity, has changed dramatically since the 1980s. Formerly used only as a strongly pejorative term, queer is now commonly used by some as a positive self-descriptor. The word is also prominent as a neutral term in academic contexts that deal with gender and sexuality."

Dani and Sophie "The L Word: Generation Q" Dani and Sophie "The L Word: Generation Q"

But reclaiming previously derogatory words isn't actually new. The reboot highlights the changing nature of the titular "L" word itself. As Lit Hub points out, "Lesbian and tribad and invert and sapphist were all still being used relatively interchangeably at the turn of the twentieth century; in some literature, lesbian was the female equivalent of sodomite, itself a negatively charged legal term." So in the same way that "queer" is no longer a slur, the word "lesbian" was reclaimed by previous generations of women who loved women. As such, the original series took the word to mean women who loved and slept with other women, regardless of the strictness of this preference.

But now, LGBTQ+ individuals have a much larger vocabulary at hand to describe their sexuality. While one might think this means that labeling is becoming even more important for this generation, it actually has the exact opposite effect. In fact, there is so much language available to define one's sexual identity that words are actually becoming less important and more inclusive. Words like "queer," "pansexual," "bisexual," "asexual," "aromantic," and "fluid" all offer a sense of validity to those who may identify with them, but they also offer an openness to interperpretation, which is highlighted by the fact that the new generation of The L Word isn't harping on terminology at all. While characters like Dana, Alice, Shane, and Jenny all clung to "lesbian" as an identifier of their sexual preference and often as a sort of membership card in a counterculture, the new cast of Generation Q exists in a much more amorphous, queer space. It's just understood that the characters are not exclusively attracted to cis-gender people of the opposite gender, and beyond that distinction, they are all comfortable existing in the malleable, ever-changing, identifier of "non-straight," each presumably ascribing to various words within the LGBTQ+ identifier.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that few LGBTQ+ femme individuals who are attracted to other female-identifying individuals use the term "lesbian" anymore. As Christina Cauterucci puts it in Slate, "In other words, we shared a common sexual orientation [with lesbians], but little, if any, cultural affiliation. In the space between "lesbian" and "queer," my friend and I located a world of difference in politics, gender presentation, and cosmopolitanism." In fact, Cauterucci isn't the only one who feels this way, and the use of the word "lesbian" online has decreased notably since 2015, as shown in the graph from Nexis Unis below.

Nexis Unis

In many ways, the term is becoming antiquated, particularly as our perception of gender changes. And isn't that a good thing? Isn't the ultimate goal of expanding our understanding and acceptance of various sexualities to make specifying language obsolete, leaving people to love who they love, without question or stipulation? For all of the ways The L Word has let us down in the past and may continue to do so in the future, at least it serves as an accurate portrait of the changing language of LGBTQ+ people.

MUSIC

Best TV Shows to Discover New Music

The people in charge of curating some of the best music on TV describe what they look for when designing a show's soundtrack.

Polygon

Your Spotify Discover Weekly playlist is probably trash.

But even if you're a convicted felon, a scream-sneezer, or the co-worker who eats fermented foods in a crowded office ( DAN Kahan), you deserve better music recommendations. For new discoveries, look at today's premium TV. We're having "a peak year for music in media," with HBO and Netflix delivering snappy, emotive soundtracks for their hit series, from Westworld to Stranger Things. In fact, TV's finest storytelling is guided by the music supervisors who curate distinct soundtracks that sync with the shows' emotional arc.

These five series range from dramatic to absurd. Largely foregoing established acts and major labels, they've even introduced new or underground artists before launching some of them to fame.

Big Little Lies

Sue Jacobs, the show's Emmy-winning music supervisor, weaves the series' soundtrack with the characters' own playlists. Jacobs described her approach to Deadline, "This is about emotional beats one needs to hit during a certain scene. I think of it more like a color box. It finds its way through the devices that he has already woven into the script, which I think is why the music pops so well—it's woven in there. It's purposeful." At the end of the series premiere, Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) begins a piano duet with her daughter, which opens Agnes Obel's "September Song." The instrumental track bridges the scene's domestic intimacy with foreboding cuts to the ocean.

Agnes Obel - September Song - Big Little Lies youtu.be

Atlanta

Music supervisors Jen Malone and Fam Udeorji curate one of the best of soundtracks in modern television. Malone named Gizzle's "Oh Na Na" from the rapper's 7 Days in Atlanta EP as one of her favorite tracks from season 2: "I was just really excited to have a female rapper in the show. Of course, we've had Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, but Gizzle is different because she's a very prolific songwriter who's also a performer in her own right."

Oh Na Na youtu.be


Grey's Anatomy

Over the course of 15 seasons, the Grey's Anatomy soundtrack has jump-started the careers of emerging artists from Snow Patrol and The Fray to Feist and Mat Kearney. Music producer Alexandra Patsavas has also curated the emotional soundtracks of The O.C., Mad Men, and Riverdale. She told Entertainment Weekly, "Shonda [Rhimes] wanted the songs to tie scenes together, and to act as a score. She didn't just want short bursts of sound. She wanted music with a purpose. This directive gave me an opportunity to look under every musical rock and stretch my choices into both the emotional and the sassy."

New covers of Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" have been the musical backbone of many of the show's most emotional moments. Its first appearance will always be associated with one of the series' most dramatic deaths.

Grey's Anatomy 2x27 'Chasing Cars' youtu.be

Rick & Morty

Show creator Justin Roiland was a fan of the indie synth band Chaos Chaos for years before approaching the band about using their emotional song "Do You Feel It?" in season 2. One of that season's standout plots is Rick's genuine connection with a former flame, Unity. But after being rejected and experiencing a spike of self-hatred, Rick attempts suicide while the entire song plays. Asya Saavedra, one half of Chaos Chaos' sister duo, says "it's been amazing to see how people have reacted so emotionally – or felt so intensely – from watching it. That episode really sat with people." Since the show has no music supervisor, Roiland later asked Chaos Chaos to collaborate on some of the show's weirdest and most beloved original tracks, including "Terryfold."

Rick and Morty - Do You Feel It? youtu.be

Terryfold Full Music Video Chaos Chaos Featuring Justin Roiland youtu.be

Shameless

Since 2011, Shameless's music producer Ann Kline has defined the series' soundtrack as "messy, rebellious, and different." Foregoing major labels, she only seeks out unique indie rock bands from her underground connections or local Chicago clubs (where the show is set). For instance, years before they won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2019, Greta Van Fleet's debut single, "Highway Rules," was first played during season six of the show. But out of nine seasons, one of the show's finest moments was in the season one finale, when the Gallaghers' emotional fallout with each other was underscored by the upbeat rhythm and depressing lyrics of Cake's "Long Time."

Shameless - Long Time (Cake) www.youtube.com



Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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Goodbye Fiona: Our Favorite Emmy Rossum 'Shameless' Moments

As the Showtime hit says goodbye to its leading lady, we remember some of her best moments over the years.

If you've kept up with the chaos of the Shameless crew since the show premiered in 2011, you know how much has changed over the nine seasons of the critically acclaimed Showtime drama.

Audiences have watched the Gallagher kids grow up, get into trouble, connive their way out of trouble, and then inevitably get into even bigger trouble. Through it all, Fiona Gallagher, the eldest sibling and most consistently responsible, held the family together with love, compassion, and the occasional violent act. But as season nine comes to a close, fans have to adjust to the idea of Shameless without Fiona, as actress Emmy Rossum moves on from the show.

To say goodbye to one of the best characters on TV, we've compiled five moments that capture what we love most about the most badass Gallagher sibling.

Fiona never took any shit. If you were nice to her, she'd be nice to you, but if you started something, she wasn't afraid to finish it. Southside doesn't back down.

SHAMELESS: FIONA BADASS MOMENT! www.youtube.com

While a big part of what makes Shameless so good is the high quality acting from every cast member, Emmy Rossum was always a standout. This monologue is one of the finest moments of dramatic acting in recent television history and shows Fiona's inner strength in conflict with her vulnerability, part of the dynamic that makes her such a fascinating character.

Shameless US | Fiona's Speech to Monica www.youtube.com

As tough as she is, Fiona also has very human moments. In this scene, you see Fiona find out that their deadbeat mother stole the family's emergency funds.

She goes through a range of emotion, from panic to anger, to despair, and delivers the performance so viscerally she brings the audience on the journey with her.

Shameless US - Fiona finds out about the money www.youtube.com

Even when things got complicated, Fiona got things done. When Monica died, the whole family dealt with a lot of complicated feelings, but not Fiona. Her mother had been dead to her ever since she abandoned the family, so getting her buried was merely another thing on the to-do list.

Shameless | 'Get Her Into the Ground As Soon As Possible' Official Clip (Ep. 12) | Season 7 youtu.be

While she may make mistakes, Fiona always acted out of love. She didn't need to sacrifice her life to raise the other Gallaghers, but she did, and this emotional speech, that ultimately won her custody of her siblings, shows why.

Shameless Season 3: Episode 7 Clip - Family Comes First youtu.be

Fiona knows how to have fun. In this scene, she enjoys a rare moment of alone time and dances in her underwear, showing a glimpse of the carefree youth she may have been if life hadn't dealt her such a difficult hand.

Shameless - Fiona Dancing [8x8] www.youtube.com


Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.


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