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‘Dracula’ deserves a chance

Bisexual controversy aside, new series is bloody fun

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Dracula, gay news, Washington Blade

The new ‘Dracula’ series is available now on Netflix. (Photo courtesy Netflix)

It’s already become fashionable to bash the new “Dracula” series unleashed on the world with the new year by “Sherlock” creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt.

Co-produced by the BBC and Netflix, the latest incarnation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic became queer news late last year when Gatiss (who is out) teased that its re-imagined title character would have bisexual appetites, immediately piquing the interest of queer horror lovers the world over.

Things began to turn, however, when co-creator Moffatt “clarified” by telling The Times that ‘bisexual” was not exactly the right word to describe the show’s vision of the Count. “He’s bi-homicidal, it’s not the same thing,” he said. “He’s killing them, not dating them.”

Controversy ensued, of course. Online commentators suggested that the BBC had engaged in “queer-baiting” to draw LGBTQ viewers to the show, and some took Gatiss’ additional comments that “horror should be transgressive” to imply that the bisexual overtones themselves were meant to be shocking – an outdated concept in 2020, to be sure.

When the show dropped on Jan. 1 (on BBC One in the UK and Netflix in the U.S.), the “bi-vampire-curious” among us got all our questions answered – and those answers, it seems, were not the ones most of us wanted.

Any real discussion of whether this “Dracula” works is dependent on “spoilers,” thanks to the nature of its narrative conceits, so readers beyond this point should consider themselves warned.

The details of Stoker’s novel are well-known, of course, and this latest renovation remains surprisingly faithful to them, all things considered; but as any follower of Gatiss and Moffatt’s career knows, much of the magic in their work – most notably, their modern-day “Sherlock,” which made Benedict Cumberbatch the household name everybody loved to mispronounce – hinges on the way they shatter an already-familiar story and re-assemble its shards into something that feels entirely fresh.

When it works, it’s breathtakingly enjoyable. For many viewers, it seems, the problem with their “Dracula” is that it just doesn’t.

Comprised of three feature-length episodes, the series begins in much the same way as almost every version of the tale, with the arrival of solicitor Jonathan Harker at the mysterious Romanian castle where Dracula has spent centuries draining his neighbors of their blood. This time, his story is told in flashback, as he relates his harrowing experiences there to a nun at a convent to which he has barely escaped with his life – or so he thinks. The Count, he tells her, had hired him as an agent to set up a relocation to England, in hope of finding meals with more “flavor” than the superstitious and unsophisticated locals are able to provide.

It’s here where we discover that the “bisexual” spin was not altogether wrong; Dracula’s “wooing” of Harker is overtly homoerotic (by which tactic the unfortunate lawyer is not unmoved), and he ultimately refers to the young man as his “favorite bride.” Yet ultimately, it’s all a ploy; like all of Dracula’s attractions, it’s based on blood, not sex, and anyone hoping for a queer vampire love story would be well-advised to look instead to the books of Anne Rice.

By the end of the first installment, we have learned that the situation is both nothing like what we are being told and exactly what we think it looks like, and also that the increasingly hard-edged and interrogative nun is none other than the Gatiss-Moffat reinvention of Dracula’s equally iconic arch-nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing, having been given both a gender-flip and considerably more sass. Up to this point, most viewers seem to have been all in.

It’s with the second episode that audience opinions seem to split. Documenting the Count’s sea voyage to England, it expands the Stoker novel’s six-page account into an Agatha Christie-style “And Then There Were None” scenario (which includes a doomed gay couple within the mix – again, not the supernatural romance we might have wished, but more than a token nod to representation, at least) before unexpectedly having Dracula finally set foot on English soil smack in the middle of modern times. This climactic reveal – along with the presence of a new and doubly-determined Van Helsing (no longer a nun but still female) – sets up a final chapter in which, if social media can be considered a valid gauge, the whole thing falls apart into a disappointing and frustrating mess.

Contemporary setting notwithstanding, many of the book’s characters still put in an appearance, such as the tragic Lucy, whose journey from hopeful bride to walking corpse is here played out by a lovely young social media influencer – who also happens to be a woman of color with gay BFF, adding a few more points for to the diversity scale. It’s the tale’s final twist, however, that has left many viewers feeling cheated, betrayed, or otherwise victimized by the series.

That final revelation will remain unspoiled here. What matters more is that a lot of people seem to really hate it. Like disgruntled “Star Wars” or Marvel fans who take to the internet to campaign against creative choices with which they disagree, so too have “Dracula” purists seem to have embraced the new series as the latest example of how a thing they love has been “ruined.”

It would be hard to argue that the latest offering from Gatiss and Moffatt is a masterpiece. Its cleverness is often too deliberate, its glibness too self-referential, and its horror too perfunctory; and while Dolly Wells is a show-stealing wonder as the durable Van Helsing, Danish actor Claes Bang can’t quite manage the delicate balance between camp and menace that is required to make Dracula the sexy beast we all want to see – though admittedly, he tries his best to shine through the sometimes ridiculous dialogue he’s been given to work with.

Even so, “Dracula” was never high art. It was a purely commercial endeavor for Stoker, and even the iconic 1931 movie version starring Bela Lugosi was a clunky potboiler, even for its day. Every screen retelling has remade the durable tale in the image of the day, from the bloodthirsty horror of Christopher Lee’s popular incarnation to the subversive proto-goth allure of Gary Oldman’s romantic outsider in Francis Coppola’s divisive 1992 adaptation, and the best of them have always made bold choices in order to bring some meaning to the proceedings beyond the archetypal horror that drives the original novel.

Gatiss and Moffatt have done no less, and if the result flies in the face of expectation, it can hardly be helped. Instead of simply telling us a story we already know, they have taken the core of the vampire mystique – the seductive appeal of death itself – and made it the focus of a meditation that happens to also be a lurid, not-to-be-taken-too-seriously guilty pleasure. For those who prefer their classics as-is, that might understandably be a deal-breaker.

Anyone else should be encouraged to give it a chance. It can be a lot of bloody fun, if you let it.

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Pride Special

Netflix celebrates LGBTQ+ storytelling with releases for Pride Month

The collection features impactful documentaries, dramas, comedies including smash hit Heartstopper (renewed for 2 more seasons) & many more

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Netflix graphic by illustrator Ben Nichols

HOLLYWOOD – Netflix is slaying Pride Month with a slew of offerings shining a spotlight on the diverse spectrum of LGBTQ+ stories, identities and self-expression with its new collection, Shine With Pride.

With over 460 titles, the collection features impactful documentaries, dramas, comedies including Getting Curious With Jonathan Van Ness, Heartstopper  (just renewed for two more seasons), She-Ra and The Princess of Power, Elite and many more.

Screenshot: ‘Boyfriends’ from the Netflix/See-Saw films series ‘Heartstopper’ by Alice May Oseman

Inspired by the range of color and symbolism present in the Pride flag, illustrator Ben Nichols created the collection artwork to celebrate the uniqueness that makes the LGBTQ+ community extraordinary.

Throughout the year we’ll be unveiling new collections in collaboration with new artists, so stay tuned. Previous collections included Black History Month, Lunar New Year, Earth Month, Asian American American Pacific Islander Month, Global Accessibility Awareness Day and more. 

Additionally, Netflix will have new specials, series and films launching all month. Check them out below: 

Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration  

Release Date: June 9, 2022 

The largest-ever gathering of LGBTQ+ comics.  The historic celebration featured some of the best in LGBTQ+ comedy legends and emerging talent hosted by Billy Eichner. Highlights included icon Ani DiFranco introducing Margaret Cho, Sarah Paulson introducing Tig Notaro, Lily Tomlin introducing Sandra Bernhard, Lena Waithe introducing Wanda Sykes, and Rosie O’Donnell closing the night and inviting the rest of the performers joining her on stage for a NEW rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s hit Girls Just Want to Have Fun, GAYS Just Want to Have Fun. Other incredible talent who performed throughout the night included Bob the Drag Queen, Eddie Izzard, Solomon Georgio, Sam Jay, River Butcher, Patti Harrison, Matteo Lane, Marsha Warfield, Mae Martin, Judy Gold, Joel Kim Booster, James Adomian, Guy Branum, Gina Yashere, Trixie Mattel, Scott Thompson, and Todd Glass. Stand Out is produced by Page Hurwitz,  Wanda Sykes (Push It Productions), Brian Graden and Dave Mace (Brian Graden Media).

Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration. Solomon Georgio, Matteo Lane, Joel Kim Booster Patti Harrison, Margaret Cho, Guy Branum, Sam Jay, River Butcher, Rosie O’Donnell, Bob the Drag Queen, Trixie Mattel Todd Glass, Mae Martin, Marsha Warfield, Wanda Sykes, James Adomian, Fortune Feimster, Tig Notaro, Sandra Bernhard, Judy Gold, Gina Yashere, Eddie Izzard at The Greek Theatre for Netflix Is A Joke Fest. Cr. Beth Dubber/Netflix © 2022

First Kill

Release Date: June 10 

When it’s time for teenage vampire Juliette to make her first kill so she can take her place among a powerful vampire family, she sets her sights on a new girl in town named Calliope. But much to Juliette’s surprise, Calliope is a vampire hunter, from a family of celebrated slayers.  Both find that the other won’t be so easy to kill and, unfortunately, way too easy to fall for. 

Created by: From Felicia D. Henderson (EP, Co-Creator, Showrunner); V. E. Schwab (EP & Co-Creator); Emma Roberts & Kara Preiss (Belletrist Productions, EPs) Cast: Sarah Catherine Cook, Imani Lewis, Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost, Outerbanks), Aubin Wise (Atlanta), Jason Robert Moore (The Punisher), Gracie Dzienny (Jupiter’s Legacy), Will Swenson (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), Jonas Dylan Allen. 

Halftime 

Release Date: June 14 

Directed by Amanda Micheli, HALFTIME offers an intimate peek behind the curtain revealing the grit and determination that makes Jennifer Lopez the icon she is. The documentary focuses on Lopez as she embraces the second half of her career and continues to inspire with her perseverance, creative brilliance and cultural contributions, set against the backdrop of her groundbreaking Super Bowl performance.

Iron Chef: Quest For An Iron Legend
Release Date: June 15 

Iron Chef. (L to R) Dominique Crenn, Kristen Kish in episode 102 of Iron Chef. Cr. Greg Gayne/Netflix © 2022

The legendary Iron Chef series is reborn with a supersized approach to the ground-breaking culinary competition that started it all. It’s been called the toughest culinary challenge a chef will ever experience. This is where world-class cuisine meets high-octane sports. Five new trailblazing Iron Chefs will welcome brave Challenger Chefs to the reimagined Kitchen Stadium, where they’ll face off and be pushed to the limits of endurance and creativity, as they cook up extraordinary culinary creations. The competition’s most successful Challenger will return to battle in a grand finale for the chance to be named the first ever “Iron Legend.” 

Cast: Hosts – Alton Brown and Kristen Kish;  Iron Chefs – Curtis Stone, Dominique Crenn, Marcus Samuelson, Ming Tsai, Gabriela Camara

Dead End: Paranormal Park Season 1 

Release Date: June 16 

Based on creator and executive producer Hamish Steele’s horror-comedy graphic novels DeadEndia and web short Dead End, Dead End: Paranormal Park  follows the adventures of Barney, Norma and magical-talking-dog Pugsley, as they balance their summer jobs at the local theme park haunted house while battling the totally real supernatural forces that dwell within it. Together with their guide to the underworld multiplane, a sardonic thousand-year-old demon named Courtney, they’ll face zombie mascots, demonic game show hosts, sleep-sucking witches and the scariest thing of all: their first crushes! The series will also feature a special musical episode with songs written by Patrick Stump. 

Cast: Zach Barack, Kody Kavitha, Emily Osment, Alex Brightman, Clinton Leupp a.k.a. Miss Coco Peru, Kenny Tran and Kathreen Khavari; Guest Stars: Alan Cumming, Angelica Ross, C Nelson, Kemah Bob, MJ Roridguez, Patrick Stump, Sam Jay, Taylor “Effy” Gibson, Tom Lenk, Z Infante and more! 

The Umbrella Academy Season 3 

Release Date: June 22 

After putting a stop to 1963’s doomsday, the Umbrella Academy returns home to the present, convinced they prevented the initial apocalypse and fixed this godforsaken timeline once and for all. But after a brief moment of celebration, they realize things aren’t exactly (okay, not at all) how they left them. Enter the Sparrow Academy. Smart, stylish, and about as warm as a sea of icebergs, the Sparrows immediately clash with the Umbrellas in a violent face-off that turns out to be the least of everyone’s concerns. Navigating challenges, losses, and surprises of their own – and dealing with an unidentified destructive entity wreaking havoc in the Universe (something they may have caused) — now all they need to do is convince Dad’s new and possibly better family to help them put right what their arrival made wrong. Will they find a way back to their pre-apocalyptic lives? Or is this new world about to reveal more than just a hiccup in the timeline?

Created for Television by: Steve Blackman Cast: Elliot Page, Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, Aidan Gallagher, Justin H. Min, Colm Feore, Ritu Arya, Justin Cornwell, Britne Oldford, Jake Epstein, Genesis Rodriguez, Cazzie David, Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton, Jordan Claire Robbins

The Umbrella Academy. (L to R) Elliot Page as Viktor Hargreeves, Emmy Raver-Lampman as Allison Hargreeves in episode 301 of The Umbrella Academy. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Note: Elliot Page’s character transitions in the season and begins using the name Viktor Hargreeves and he/him pronouns. The storyline was crafted by creator Steve Blackman who both consulted GLAAD and enlisted writer Thomas Page McBee’s guidance and expertise to, alongside Elliot Page, help ensure the storyline was told authentically and sensitively. 

Joel Kim Booster: Psychosexual  

Release Date: June 21  

Filmed at Catch One in Los Angeles by Doron Max Hagay, Joel Kim Booster makes his Netflix comedy special debut with Psychosexual. In a uniquely crafted three set act; Booster discusses learning the cultural nuances of being Asian as he gets older, shares his preference for threesomes with tips for successful masturbation and his fascination for human sexuality and much more. 

Joel Kim Booster: Psychosexual. Joel Kim Booster in Joel Kim Booster: Psychosexual. Cr. Terence Patrick/Netflix © 2022.

QUEEN

Release Date: June 23

Sylwester, a retired tailor who now moonlights as a drag queen, left Poland fifty years ago and has been living in Paris ever since. One day he gets a letter, asking him to donate a kidney to his ill daughter, who he left behind all these years ago and has never seen. Reluctant, he embarks on a journey back to his motherland, to the coal mining town he swore never to return to. The journey takes an unexpected turn, forcing Sylwester to confront the past and use his artistic skills to mount a stage production to save this small coal mine town. It is a story of redemption, second chances and love overcoming all differences.

Original idea by: Arni Olafur Asgeirsson. Created by: Arni Olafur Asgeirsson, Kacper Wysocki, Ottó Geirborg. Directed by: Łukasz Kośmicki. Cast: Andrzej Seweryn, Maria Peszek, Julia Chętnicka, Antoni Porowski & Kova Rea. 

The Upshaws (Season 2, Part 1)

Release Date: June 29 

A multi-camera comedy that centers on a working-class African American family in Indiana struggling to make it work and make it right without the blueprints to do it. Bennie Upshaw (Mike Epps), the head of a Black working class family in Indianapolis, is a charming, well-intentioned mechanic and lifelong mess just trying his best to step up and care for his family — wife Regina (Kim Fields), their two young daughters (Khali Spraggins, Journey Christine) and firstborn son (Jermelle Simon), the teenage son (Diamond Lyons) he fathered with another woman (Gabrielle Dennis) — and tolerate his sardonic sister-in-law (Wanda Sykes), all without a blueprint for success. But the Upshaws are determined to make it work, and make it to the next level, together. In Season 2, Part 1, the Upshaws continue to ride life’s ups and downs, including new loves, old flames, big dreams, life changes and the love and drama that comes with family. 

Created by: Regina Y. Hicks and Wanda Sykes; Cast: Mike Epps, Kim Fields, Wanda Sykes, Page Kennedy, Diamond Lyons, Khali Daniya-Renee Spraggins, Jermelle Simon, Gabrielle Dennis, Journey Christine

The Upshaws. (L to R) Wanda Sykes as Lucretia, Kim Fields as Regina in episode 205 of The Upshaws. Cr. Lisa Rose/Netflix © 2022

COMING SOON!

Uncoupled

Release Date: July 29

Michael (Neil Patrick Harris) thought his life was perfect until his husband blindsides him by walking out the door after 17 years. Overnight, Michael has to confront two nightmares — losing what he thought was his soulmate and suddenly finding himself a single gay man in his mid-forties in New York City.

Series Creators / Executive Producers/ Writers: Darren Star and Jeffrey Richman; Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Tisha Campbell, Brooks Ashmanskas, Emerson Brooks, Marcia Gay Harden, Tuc Watkins 

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Television

Ellen signs off after 19 seasons

In her final monologue DeGeneres reflected on the journey across the years then took a moment to dance through the audience with Twitch

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Screenshot/YouTube

BURBANK – The lights went dark forever at the Warner Brothers Stage 1 complex on the lot at Warner Brothers Studio, home to the Ellen show, as comedian Ellen DeGeneres ended her daytime talk show after a 19 season run Thursday.

In a highly charged emotional hour, DeGeneres paid tribute to her staff, executive producers and a global audience of loyal viewers. Highlighting the end run of the show DeGeneres brought on guest Jennifer Aniston, the actress having been the comedian’s very first guest on the first show.

In her final monologue DeGeneres reflected on the journey across the years and she then took a moment to dance through the audience with her ‘DJ’ Twitch. During the course of the hour she discussed the progress that had been made since the series premiered in 2003, noting that she “couldn’t say ‘gay’ on the show” when it started or make a reference to her wife, Portia de Rossi, because same-sex marriage wasn’t legal.

“Now I say ‘wife’ all the time,” she said.  Noting that there was resistance to the show and that few gave it a chance of surviving, DeGeneres promised that she wouldn’t be gone for long. “Today is not the end of a relationship, it’s more of a little break,” she said. “You can see other talk shows now.”

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Television

Check out final season of ‘Grace and Frankie’ — it ends well

Groundbreaking show highlights queer, straight elders

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Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are wrapping their groundbreaking series. (Photo by Melissa Moseley; courtesy Netflix)

They make up a fake Jewish holiday (M’Challah) to avoid seeing their friends, lie to their kids about killing their bunny, obsess over playing John Adams in a (very gay) community theater production of the musical “1776” and create vibrators that glow in the dark. Their children sell their house out from under them and make them wear panic alerts.

These people might well creep you out in real life.

But, thankfully, they’re the funny and engaging characters on “Grace and Frankie,” the series, whose seventh and final season has recently dropped on Netflix.

The  show, starring Lily Tomlin, 82, (Frankie) and Jane Fonda, 84, (Grace) as two hetero elders whose husbands (Martin Sheen, 81 as Robert and Sam Waterston, 81, as Sol) leave them to marry each other, is, deservedly, Netflix’s longest-running series.

In 2019, there were 54.1 million people in the United States over 65, according to a Administration for Community Living of the U.S. Department of Human Services report. Elders, the study says, are expected to make up 2l.6 percent of this country’s population by 2040.

There are nearly three million (2.7 million) LGBTQ people over aged 50 in the U.S. and 1.1 million queer elders 65 and older in this country, according to a 2017 Movement Advancement Project and SAGE report.

Yet aside from “Transparent,” few TV series (broadcast, cable or streaming) have featured, let alone, been centered around, older queers.

“Grace and Frankie” is the rare series that’s focused on the lives of elders (hetero and queer). Unlike some shows that showcase older people, it’s been mostly entertaining, even thought provoking, rather than dull or didactic throughout its run.

Set in San Diego, “Grace and Frankie” throughout its seasons has told the story of how Frankie and Grace have created a life of their own as Robert and Sol have entered a new chapter of their lives as a same-sex couple. 

Frankie, Grace, Robert and Sol, who are in their 70s, are affluent. Robert and Sol are successful divorce lawyers. Grace has run a flourishing cosmetics company. Frankie is a new-agey artist who teaches art to ex-convicts.

When Robert and Sol say that they’re leaving them to wed each other because same-sex marriage has become legal in California, Frankie says she’s done a fundraiser for that.

The beach house where Grace and Frankie live is breathtakingly gorgeous. Yet these characters encounter the indignities and dilemmas of aging from learning about social media to coming out in late life to memory loss to end-of-life decisions.

Grace and Frankie run up against the condescension that older women often face. Yet though these are serious concerns, “Grace and Frankie” hasn’t been a downer. 

In one episode, as I’ve written before in the Blade, Grace and Frankie, though they’re practically jumping in front of his face, can’t get a store’s sales clerk to notice them. Because he’s paying so much attention to a young woman. Frankie gives up and steals a pack of cigarettes. If “you can’t see me,” Frankie says, “you can’t stop me.”

In season two, their friend Babe (Estelle Parsons), who is terminally ill, tells Frankie and Grace that she wants them to help her end her life. Though it’s difficult emotionally for them, the women give their friend Babe a good-bye party that’s joyous without being maudlin.

Robert and Sol deal with Robert being in the early stages of dementia. This narrative is touching, but not sappy. Though you should have a tissue in hand for Robert and Sol’s elevator moment in the show’s finale.

Like many old people, the characters have their ups and downs in relating to their adult children. These off-spring from Brianna (June Diane Raphael), a 21st century Cruella de Vil, to Bud (Baron Vaughn), the often wrong-headed “good son,” would try any elder’s soul. 

The main pleasure of “Grace and Frankie” is watching Tomlin and Fonda. The two forces of nature, friends since their “9 to 5″ days, make you laugh and cry with the BFFs Grace and Frankie.

TV series, like everything, have to end. Check out “Grace and Frankie.” It ends well.

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