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Television

‘Flatch’ delivers a ‘welcome’ dose of comfort comedy

A place where people are accepted, no matter their sexual orientation

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Holmes and Sam Straley star in ‘Welcome to Flatch.’ (Photo courtesy of Fox)

Television, a medium less than a century old, has evolved so much since it became a fixture in our households that the pioneers who first produced its content would surely be overwhelmed by what it is today. Where there was once a limited selection of mostly middle-of-the-road (i.e., bland and banal) entertainment choices designed to amuse and distract us during our after-dinner family time, there is now a seemingly infinite array of channels to choose from, loaded with enough complex, provocative, stimulating, and otherwise challenging content to keep even the most intellectual viewers busy for the rest of their lives.

And yet, with all that, sometimes you just want to shut your brain off and laugh – and that’s when we are reminded that television, no matter how respectable it may have become, is still at its most essential when it gives us an outlet to do exactly that.

Take, for example, “Welcome to Flatch,” a new half-hour comedy from Fox that might seem, at first glance, to be about as mindless as they come.

Adapted from a BAFTA-winning BBC series titled “This Country,” “Flatch” has been brought to U.S. television by writer Jenny Bicks (“Sex and the City,” “The Greatest Showman”) and producer/director Paul Feig (“The Office,” “Bridesmaids”), who joined forces to executive produce it. It’s set in a small Midwestern town called, well, Flatch, and its unabashedly flimsy premise revolves around the idea that a documentary crew has been sent to explore small-town American life. That’s more than enough to let you know exactly what to expect going into it.

The first episode introduces us to most of the townsfolk who will become our main characters, starting with a pair of young cousins and best buddies – the Mallets, Kelly and Lloyd (who goes by “Shrub”) – who quickly establish themselves as our unofficial guides; they’re your classic underachievers, two teens in a town where there’s nothing to do except indulge in juvenile pranks and concoct get-rich-quick schemes. Played by out queer newcomer Holmes and former “The Kids are Alright” actor Sam Straley, their effortless chemistry, combined with their endearingly dim-witted blend of false bravado and insecurity, wins us over right from the start.

We next meet Flatch’s local minister, “Father” Joe (Seann William Scott), whose enthusiasm for his role as the “youthful-and-hip” spiritual center of the community doesn’t quite keep him from missing his former girlfriend Cheryl (Aya Cash), now the plucky and determined editor of the town newspaper, for whom he still carries decidedly worldly feelings. There’s also Big Mandy (Krystal Smith), a large-and-in-charge force of nature whose confidence and street smarts make her as respected as she is incongruous in this tiny rural town; Nadine (Taylor Ortega), Kelly’s rival and “frenemy,” a teen socialite and mean girl who runs the Flatch historical society; and Mickey (Justin Linville), an eternally upbeat nerd who relentlessly attempts to become Shrub’s best friend.

There are others, too, that we meet as the show progresses, but you get the idea. It’s a cast of eccentrics – probably the number one ingredient in making a “mockumentary.”

Of course, it’s not enough for them just to be eccentrics. They have to be loveable, too – something that has been the hallmark of every great mockumentary since “This is Spinal Tap” more or less created the genre as we know it today. That film, and the series of comic masterpieces from Christopher Guest (“Waiting for Guffman,” “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind”) that followed in its wake, all made us laugh with the absurdity of the insular communities they were sending up, but they won our hearts with characters who never let us lose sight of their humanity even in their most wacky and embarrassing moments. It’s a formula that has proven to be comedy gold for TV shows from “The Office” to “Modern Family” to “What We Do in the Shadows” – not to mention “Parks and Recreation,” which along with “Guffman” is closest of these examples in tone and spirit to “Flatch” – and in every case, it only works when the characters are played by a remarkably gifted cast of actors.

In this regard, “Welcome to Flatch” is off to a good start. The performers make a strong showing from the very start, and while it’s hard to say this early in the series whether the character arcs they develop will be worthy of the players’ talent, they earn enough credit within the first seven episodes (all available if you’re a Hulu subscriber, doled out a week at a time if you’re not) to keep us watching longer.

That’s a good thing, because “Flatch” – perhaps unsurprisingly for a comedy about a place where nothing interesting ever happens – has some challenges if it’s going to have any staying power. Early on, the episodes are geared around skewering aspects of modern life by putting them into a small-town context; in one, for instance, Kelly starts her own version of a ride-share app, while in another an elderly resident is “catfished” on a dating site while attending an adult computer education class at the church. Others rely on bemusing us with the eternal tried-but-true tropes about small-town life; there’s a rivalry between Flatch and neighboring Pockton over an obscure historical dispute, and a contingent of outraged conservative women who try to close the town’s combination vape-and-magic shop for Satanism. These familiar scenarios are enough to conjure smiles, maybe even chuckles, for a while – but without some more substantial fodder to drive the show’s development, it won’t be long before they start to wear thin.

Fortunately, the seeds for future storylines are clearly planted within the first handful of shows. Most obvious is the will-they-or-won’t-they interplay between Father Joe and Cheryl, given a twist by their status as an ex-couple with second thoughts on their split, but Kelly’s unrequited need to be accepted by her estranged father (Jason MacDonald) is an early recurring theme, as is Shrub’s infatuation with home-schooled Beth (Erin Bowles). These and other beginnings seem promising as avenues toward opening the characters up and allowing the cast to flesh them out into the kind of people we look forward to spending time with.

Perhaps even more encouraging, the mockumentary format, rather than simply being a convention in which the actors talk to the camera, is taken a bit further in “Flatch.” Though we never see the documentary crew, we are reminded of their existence frequently – characters address them off-camera, and their presence in the room becomes a factor that affects outcomes, though to go into any more detail about that would warrant a spoiler alert.

Finally, though, what makes “Welcome to Flatch” worth jumping on board for might just be its refreshing – and frankly, for the genre, unprecedented – diversity. Though our expectations of a rural Midwest community tend to lean toward a very white and very straight demographic, the series goes out of its way to defy them. Much like “Schitt’s Creek,” “Flatch” is a place where people are accepted, no matter their race, gender, body type, or sexual orientation – just as long as they’re not from Pockton.

“Welcome to Flatch” airs on Fox on Thursday nights.

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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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