- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for the premiere episode of Peacock's Queer as Folk.
The premiere episode of Queer as Folk opens with an all-too-familiar scenario: a gunman opens fire at a crowded gay club, Babylon, killing several patrons. The violence isn't shown in the episode, but it's reminiscent not only of the 2016 Pulse shooting in Orlando that claimed 49 lives, but also recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.
Leading up to the tragedy, the episode treats us to a sort of queer fantasia as we're introduced to several loud and proud characters living their best gay, trans, and nonbinary lives. It all felt a bit disingenuous, all this unmitigated queer joy because, yes, it's 2022 — look at all our rights! But it's also 2022... look at all our rights. The shooting rips the viewer out of this fantasia into the real world, or at least an approximation of it, and sets the tone for what this show will be. Not a meditation on tragedy, but a defiant love letter to queer joy, queer resilience, and queer community.
Alyssa Moran/Peacock Set in New Orleans, 'Queer as Folk' premieres on Peacock June 9
Creator Stephen Dunn, who wrote and directed the pilot, met with some Pulse survivors "to learn what this experience was like for them, to the best of my abilities." After the nation mourns, and thoughts and prayers are wished, we all move on to the next tragedy, to the next crisis. But, as Dunn notes, that's not the case for the people who experience it.
"They have to go on with their lives forever altered in some way by this," Dunn tells EW. "And that was important for us to digest and take in and see what that means and how these are real people, these aren't survivors of some event. This is a reality and we can't just move on to the next one."
"The truth is, these things are awfully and horribly part of our world," says writer and executive producer Jaclyn Moore. "And telling a story about queer joy, which is what the show is actually about ... can only exist when paired with trauma and tragedy. To be trans or queer in 2022, certainly to be trans in 2022, is to deal with trauma constantly. And yet, we need to find joy after that. That's not to say that we ignore the sadness or that we don't grieve, or that we don't support our brothers and sisters and folks that are struggling in the aftermath of these things."
The show gives space not only to the grief of the survivors, but to their anger as their grief is co-opted by opportunists and the lives of those they lost are sanitized in death. Daddius (Chris Renfro) was an unapologetic slut and so his friends, his real friends, scatter his ashes at his favorite cruising spot. And when his homophobic parents, who disowned Daddius when he came out, get a free "sorry for your loss" car, Brodie (Devin Way) pulls a full-on Angie Bassett and Waiting to Exhales that late-model sedan to the goddamn ground.
But even though Brodie throws himself in the way of a bullet, saving young Mingus (Fin Argus), he rejects the label of "hero" or even "decent person" with some of his actions, despite his dubious best intentions. Maybe paying a sex worker to lull your disabled brother into a false sense of romantic and sexual security — without telling him — wasn't the most emotionally intelligent move, but his intentions were ... well, they were there. Intentions were had. Brodie, like the show itself, doesn't necessarily dwell on good or bad, but exists, like life itself, somewhere in between.
"When you want to tell a story authentically, you have to really immerse yourself in that thought process and what these people went through," says Johnny Sibily, who plays Noah, a lawyer with a passion for meth and questionable decisions. "So that is a very dark place to be, but it's also such a privilege and a responsibility to tell queer stories that are honest and that are truthful to the experience that many have gone through and that many continue to go through. And also, it's just so badass to tell stories where we get to do all of the things that we do in real life."
It's that authenticity — a buzzword I usually tend to run from, arms flailing, at all costs — that is endearing about these characters. They feel like people I know, people I would actually want to hang out with, and not queer archetypes ripe for resentment and eye-rolling. In short, they're messy. "Messy as folk," to quote Jesse James Keitel, one half of the messiest queer couple TV has seen in a long time: reformed-ish party girl Ruthie (Keitel) and her seemingly stable partner Shar (CG), whose eye starts to wander when Ruthie goes off the proverbial rails.
"Messiness was our watchword in the [writer's] room," Moore says. Both she and Dunn cite Mad Men's Don Draper and Breaking Bad's Walter White in how messy and unlikable and sometimes downright evil white, cis male characters have been allowed to be for years — and now it's everyone's turn to be an asshole. That is, to be fully human without the burden of respectability.
"A lot of times when things are written by cis heterosexual people, they're very nice and write us in these ways that we're the ones with the knowledge or we're the sassy friend that has it together," Sibily says. "But ultimately, queer people are just like everyone else, but also very different in our messiness, in our complication. And we deserve characters that are villains, that are whores, that are all of the …."
"All the things," adds Way. "They're great people, whores, villains, the most lovely human you've ever met. Trustworthy and untrustworthy, all combined into one human." And that one human might just set fire to a car to avenge a friend. But with all this messiness, some queer viewers are bound to take umbrage with some not-so-flattering depictions of LGBTQ+ life... and that's kinda the point.
"I definitely anticipate people being divided, as they should be," Dunn says, "but I made this show as a reflection of the community that I'm from .... And it was really important for me to shed light on stories that don't ever get to see the light of day."
"There might be trans women who look at this and go, 'You're making us look bad,'" Moore says. "And to them, I would say that's fair, if that's what they think. I don't. I think we are allowed to be trans people to tell stories about ourselves. We're allowed to be queer people to tell stories about ourselves. I think the problem is — and I don't want to besmirch anybody who does get upset about certain portrayals of queer and trans people and things, because I certainly have been there — but I think a lot of times, we're conditioned to do that because it's not and trans people telling those stories."
So what do the Queer as Folk folks want queer audiences to take away from this bold reimagining of a beloved, if perhaps antiquated, series?
Sibily: I hope queer audiences see themselves. I know as a queer performer, I show up not only for myself, but for my queer family to be like, "We deserve." So I hope that they feel like we have their back, because we do.
Way: I really hope that when queer people see this, they want to champion it. They want to share it. They want to talk about it with their friends and come to disagreements about the characters. I hope people fight about this show, I hope they laugh about the show. I hope it is just as chaotic and messy as queer people are.
Argus: What the show was for me is, it walked that line between pain and healing and comedy. And I feel like that's how I process my life. I process the pain with a lot of comedy, and I feel like this show walks that line really well. It doesn't give in to the melodrama. These are still real people, and there's levity throughout all of it. So I hope people can have fun watching it, and I really think they will.
CG: I think I want [viewers] maybe to take a piece of themselves and a piece of someone else too, honestly. Because there's enough people here for everyone.
Keitel: I hope people can watch the show and leave with a new appreciation of the diversity within the LGBTQIA+ community and all the beautiful nuances within the lived experience of that acronym.
Queer as Folk is currently streaming on Peacock.
Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.