A Place Both Wonderful and Strange… and a Little Bit Queer.

22 10 2014

“Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee.”

Aficionados of the groundbreaking and short-lived television series, Twin Peaks, have undoubtedly found resonance in that indelible quote from the charismatic Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). However, in this instance, the month of October saw series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost bestow said presents onto their loyal fan base. Not only was a third season set to debut in 2016, but an accompanying novel (penned by Mr. Frost) would reveal the fates of the town’s memorable denizens since we last saw them… twenty-five years ago.

To say that the characters and situations introduced in the brief, original run of Twin Peaks were peculiar would be an understatement. Referring to them as “queer” might be a bit more on point. This is not to say that the mysterious little haven in the Pacific Northwest was teeming with homosexual activity. It merely suggests that the basic definition of “queer” ( adj: differing in some odd way from what is deemed usual or normal) is arguably more appropriate.

However, amid the murders, dancing dwarves, and cryptic giants, the series still managed to serve up some LGBT-centric queer moments… and some damned good cherry pie.

Catherine Martell: From head-bitch-in-charge to scheming Asian businessman.

Catherine Martell: From head-bitch-in-charge to scheming Asian businessman.

The character of Catherine Martell (flawlessly portrayed by Piper Laurie) is remembered for many things… blackmail, attempted arson, accounting fraud, enslaving her sister-in-law, faking her own death, dressing up in full Asian businessman drag in order to swindle a plot of land out from under her ex-lover’s feet. Yes, Catherine “Tojamura” Martell… crossplaying before it was cool. So dedicated was she to her cause that Catherine altered not only her gender, she managed to tweak her stature, mannerisms, and voice. Her transformation so well-done that most newbie viewers were completely unaware of Tojamura’s true identity until the big reveal.

During the second season, the cast of Twin Peaks added to its ranks an actor who would eventually go on to portray one of the most famous FBI agents in sci-fi television… David Duchovny. It is perhaps this reason that he is best known for the role of Fox Mulder on The X-Files instead of a DEA agent on Twin Peaks.

What was so special about David Duchovny portraying a DEA agent on a television series that regularly featured characters from federal law enforcement agencies? His character was one of few (only?) openly trans characters on television at the time.

Denise Bryson arrives in Twin Peaks.

Denise Bryson arrives in Twin Peaks.

It is never made explicitly clear as to whether or not Denise Bryson self-identifies as transgender. However, it should be noted, that the character presents herself as a woman in both her professional and personal life. In fact, the only time that viewers see Denise revert back to Dennis is during a sting operation when the agent had to disguise herself.

The casting of a transgender character on a network television series during the 90s was pretty groundbreaking and it was both surprising and refreshing to see the character used in a way that was not just a punchline for a joke. In fact, she had some pretty heroic moments. Dale Cooper’s future could have turned out quite bleak without his old friend’s intervention.

Sexual activity was pretty fluid in the tiny hamlet of Twin Peaks. Physical affairs were sparked left, right, and sideways. None of this is more evident than with the character of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee)… the emotionally tortured homecoming queen whose death in the pilot episode ignited one of the most memorable murder mysteries in television history.

Laura Palmer with Ronette Pulaski and Teresa Banks at the Blue Diamond Motel.

Laura Palmer with Ronette Pulaski and Teresa Banks at the Blue Diamond Motel.

It is probably unfair to label Laura Palmer as bisexual. However, it was strongly implied during the events of Fire Walk With Me that she had a physical relationship with both Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) and Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley). Jennifer Lynch’s companion piece, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, also alluded to the fact that she was carrying on a tryst with Josie Packard (Joan Chen) during their English tutoring sessions.

Flash-forward to twenty-five years later. Fans are on the cusp of revisiting the town of Twin Peaks. Much has changed in the country with regards to LGBT rights and representation. It is pretty safe to assume that these advancements, in some way, will be reflected in the third season of Twin Peaks as David Lynch has never been one to shy away from LGBT themes in his work (Mulholland Drive).

 





Looking for Realism: Defending HBO’s “Looking”.

23 02 2014
(L to R) Murray Bartlett, Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Álvarez

(L to R) Murray Bartlett, Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Álvarez

If you’re not already familiar with HBO’s new series, Looking, I will assume one of two things about you… you’re either buried under a rock or you’re living a heterosexual lifestyle. I can’t judge you if you fall into the latter category. That’s your choice, afterall.

See what I did there? Sorry, I now digress…

Looking follows the lives of three gay friends in San Francisco as they search for love and their own identity in the City by the Bay. After five half-hour episodes, the show has received generally favorable reviews from critics who have praised both the unobnoxious use of humor and “authentic situations” that abound in the developing story.

Despite the overall critical acclaim, the show, itself, has proved polarizing with viewers. On one hand, you have folks who agree with critics the elements that make this series stand out from the pack of vapid television shows that have seemed to clog our airwaves over the past decade. The opposite end of the spectrum houses folks that have chosen to see the slow pace of the show as a negative aspect and even go so far as to frivilously whine about the lack of full frontal nudity and sex. If that latter complaint wasn’t shallow enough, some have even taken to denigrating the wardrobe choices of the main cast.

You don’t have to take my word as gospel. All one has to do is sign on to any number of gay blogs the morning after an episode airs to watch the lambasting comments unfurl.

To the viewers disparage the clothing, I am curious as to where you reside and if the gay community there is still trapped in the early 2000s. The Queer Eye laws of fashion that seemed to be etched into stone tablets during that time are not necessarily canon anymore. Areas like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Manhattan’s East Village are rife with gay men whose closets are stocked with vintage t-shirts, flannel button-downs, and skinny yet comfortable-looking jeans. They’re tattooed, bearded, and their look comes across as casual and effortless. If the wardrobe department of Looking was attempting to keep the authenticity regarding the physical appearance of San Francisco’s gay community, they hit the nail on the head. Sorry, nay-sayers, your argument for waxed bodies, manicured eyebrows, Prada loafers is invalid.

Russell Tovey

Russell Tovey

The disapproval of the way sex/nudity is handled on the show is worthy of nothing less than an eye-roll. The most common argument that has been tossed out on message boards is that other HBO shows, like Girls, don’t leave much up to the imagination when it comes to sex. This segment of viewers would do well with being reminded that just because two shows are on the same network, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they share any other similarities… or even SHOULD. Why should the merits of a television series rely so heavily on how hardcore the sex scenes are? With the episodes only being a half an hour long, we’ve still managed to see park cruising, a threesome, a bath house visit, a Grindr hookup. If you’re knickers are still in a twist over these scenes not being titillating enough, you may want to swap out this 30-minute time slot for another browse of XTube. It has all the uninhibited sex you could want without any of that pesky character development getting in the way.

With attention spans being as shot as they are today, “boring” and “slow” are other words that are thrown around when describing Looking. Apparently, there’s a segment of viewers who need over-the-top dramatics, toxic relationships, and insufferable characters on a television series in order to hold their attention. Looking is not Queer as Folk, Desperate Housewives, or any number of reality shows featuring wealthy (alleged) gold-diggers. The show doesn’t deal with a myriad of clichés that are often prevalent in any gay-themed visual medium (i.e. coming out of the closet, AIDS, etc.). It’s a show about a handful of men, who happen to be gay, living their lives. They go to work, they go on bad dates, and they spend time with friends. There’s no campy, dramatic crisis or standout villain. As monotonous and bland as that seems, that’s real life for a large segment of the community.

As much as many of us think we are as fabulous as Karen Walker or have lives that rival those of any random jet-setter, the truth is we don’t. The sooner that people realize that there’s nothing wrong with this fact, the sooner that shows like Looking will be appreciated for what they are instead of being eviscerated for what they aren’t.