How Queer as Folk Became a Defining Gay TV Show

Itn an era of increasingly frequent—if often imperfect—queer representation in media, it might be difficult for the young target audience of Peacock’s new reboot of the classic Queer as FolkImagine a television series following the lives of a few gay men from Pittsburgh. It could be a paradigm shift in how lesbian and gay stories are told. The original version of the show was broadcast just over twenty years ago. Queer as Folk did just that—first in the United Kingdom in 1999, and then a year later in the United States.

So often called “ground-breaking” that the description might start to sound trite if it weren’t also true, Queer as Folk In a way that other media does not prominently feature gay characters such as television, this magazine puts gay people and their stories front and centre. Will & Graceit had to accomplish. This played an important role in setting up the stage for queer-related dramas such as The L Word The Word Start overGeneration Q), Glee, Genera+ionYes, indeed, Euphoria.

Queer as Folk also contributed to broader shifts in public sentiment toward the queer community in both the U.S. and U.K., and provided many young queer people’s first exposure to gayness not framed as either a mildly interesting sideshow attraction alongside a straight person’s “real story,” or an abject tragedy. While the concept of “representation in media” is often paid ineffectual lip service, Queer as Folk It was the true, absurd, sexy and multifaceted, real thing.

Peacock’s reboot of Queer as Folk The release date was June 9th. Here’s what to know about the U.S. and U.K. versions that came before.

What are the differences between these two versions? Queer as Folk were made

Original Queer as Folk was created in the U.K. by writer and producer Russell T Davies—perhaps best known for his work on Doctor Who—and was nearly called Queer as F-ck. The eventual, slightly less vulgar name is a play on the Yorkshire colloquialism, “Well, there’s nowt so queer as folk” (in essence, “People are weird.”).

Davies felt the need to express the truths of Manchester’s gay community. He also wanted to capture the larger experience of growing up, discovering yourself and expressing who you really are. The show premiered in 1999 on Channel 4, and followed three men and their friends in Manchester’s Canal street area, known as the Gay Village. Six episodes were the initial series, and two more were added later to bring it up to 8. It attracted 2 million viewers to Channel 4 and was topped by ER.

Version U.S. Queer as Folk Ron Cowen, Daniel Lipman, and Ron Cowen created it after the Showtime show that they had been working on fell apart. Queer as Folk It was the right place. The Los Angeles Times had just published a piece. Times Concerning the U.K. edition, they argued that none of the outrageous elements could exist in America because there was too much sex and too many drugs. Lipman and Cowen got their version greenlit and swore they’d make it even raunchier than its U.K. counterpart.

The U.S. Queer as Folk It is set in Pittsburgh and follows five characters, each with their loved ones, including friends and family. Its second season was over. Queer as Folk was Showtime’s highest-rated show, garnering a much higher viewership than the network had anticipated. The show ran five seasons and earned six nominations for GLAAD awards as well as one win for Best Drama.

What were their characters like?

Both versions Queer as Folk The main casts were homogeneous and largely comprised white, cisgender men, mostly in their 20s or 30s. Although each show provided unrivalled gay representations, it was lacking in diversity of race and gender expression. This leaves the show without any representation for trans people and other people of colour in the queer community. Instead, the two versions of Queer as Folk encapsulate the pervasive sameness of television representation in the late 1990s and early 2000s—another convention that’s slowly and imperfectly begun to change, with shows like Pose Our Flag Means Death.

This is the U.K. version Queer as Folk followed a main cast comprising Stuart Jones (Aidan Gillen), a successful and aggressive ad executive, Vince Tyler (Craig Kelly), his best friend who is also in love with him, and Nathan Maloney (Charlie Hunnam), a cocky but naïve 15-year-old—whose young age prompted backlash from viewers from the start of the series. Among the supporting cast are their friends and family members, including Stuart’s friend Romey Sullivan (Esther Hall), a lesbian who uses Stuart’s sperm to conceive a baby with her partner.

The U.S. version closely copied this template, and the show’s longer run gave it ample opportunity to explore and give depth to its characters. Stuart became Brian Kinney (Gale Harold), Vince became Michael Novotny (Hal Sparks), and Nathan became Justin Taylor (Randy Harrison) and gained two years, aging him to a slightly less scandalous—and legal in Pennsylvania—17. Romey was transformed into Lindsay Peterson by Thea Gill, and Melanie Marcus (Michelle Cluney), became her partner. They feature frequently throughout the series. The core trio’s expanded friend group includes the shy and somewhat cynical Ted Schmidt (Scott Lowell) and the effusive, more effeminate Emmett Honeycutt (Peter Paige). Michael’s mom, Debbie (Sharon Gless) is also an essential part of the cast, embodying the loving mother hen energy that too few LGBTQ people are afforded.

What was the story? Queer as Folk received?

Both the U.K. as well as the U.S. are expected to fall in line with each other. Queer as FolkThe show received mixed reviews from conservative groups unhappy with the idea of a series focusing on gay people on a network and those who feel it lacks diversity and too heavily relied upon stereotypes. Beck’s Brewery, a beer company that was initially slated to sponsor the U.K. version, pulled its support part-way through the first season in response to conservative backlash—then attempted to rescind its rescindment after facing backlash from queer people disappointed with the company’s initial decision.

The U.K. was in its current run Queer as Folk, the Parliament’s House of Lords was debating whether to equalize the age of consent for sex between men with that for straight sex. The Parliament set an equal age for consent in 2001. In an interview, I reflect on this ruling. The Guardian, Davies said, “I don’t for a second think that Queer as Folk was responsible, but it was part of a cultural moment.” The U.K. version was also criticized for not featuring the AIDS crisis in its plotlines, considering how severely it was affecting the gay community at the time the show was made.

The U.S. version used its five seasons to more fully address the issue, through multiple characters’ experiences—a portrayal that many considered deeply meaningful. The show’s premiere was filmed in a country where gay marriage was legal in all 50 states. In addition, 14 other states have sodomy laws. Three years into the show’s run, then-president George W. Bush stood at a podium in the Rose Garden to affirm his staunch opposition to same-sex marriage.

Both versions Queer as FolkThese meditations, which dealt with issues other than romance and sex were not just about sex but also identity and friendship. They are resolutely queer and universal and address topics such as parenthood and aging. What’s more, they were good television—vibrant, silly, occasionally witty, often over-the-top, and just the right amount of unrealistic. Many people will always remember both of these versions as being deeply personal and culturally significant, which is what the reboot hopes to carry forward.

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