For musical fans, the TV series of the spring is ‘Up Here’
A refreshing new addition to a genre that can never get enough love
Love stories are never out of season, but if there’s any time when they feel more welcome than usual, it’s in the early blossom of spring.
We’re not talking about just any love stories here, but the kind of sappy, feel-good tales of romance that most of us scoff at but secretly dream of living for ourselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same people who enjoy that oft-maligned sub-genre also tend to be fond of musicals, and if that sounds like you – especially if you’re a nostalgic Millennial or an older Gen-Z-er with a fondness for the Disney classics of the ‘80s and 90s – then congratulations: you’re the target audience for “Up Here,” Hulu’s new series about the young love on the cusp of Y2K!
A musical romance set in the waning days of 1999 New York City, it follows Lindsay (Mae Whitman) and Miguel (Carlos Valdes), two misfits chasing their dreams of success who fall in love and discover that when it comes to finding happiness together, their greatest obstacle might be themselves – or at least, the personified memories that live inside their heads, giving elaborately orchestrated and impeccably arranged voice to the treacherous world of embarrassments, obsessions, fears, and fantasies that influence their behavior and their choices.
It’s not exactly a new concept. From “Herman’s Head” to “Inside Out” and countless other iterations in between, the eminently relatable idea of a “committee” inside our minds – often made up of people whose presence in our past left a significant mark – commenting on and trying to influence every detail of our lives has provided plenty of fuel for onscreen entertainment. It might be a trope, but whether it’s played for laughs or for serious contemplation (it’s almost always a mix of both, though the ratio may vary widely), these stories always give us food for thought.
“Up Here” is no exception, but it hones and targets its appeal by delivering that meal with a heaping side of musical meta-commentary. Developed and adapted by Steven Levenson with married songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, it’s based on a 2015 musical by the latter – a married pair responsible, either together or individually with other writing partners, for composing the songs of “Avenue Q”, “Frozen” and “Coco”, along with several other massively successful musical entertainments of the past decade or so. Combined with the track record of Levenson (who wrote the book for Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hanson” and the screenplay for 2021’s “Tick, Tick… Boom!”) and co-Executive Producer Thomas Kail (director of 2020’s filmed “Hamilton” and showrunner for the acclaimed FX bio-series “Fosse/Verdon), the Lopez knack for upbeat, stirring, and infectiously clever pop-inflected songs gives the show more than enough promise to ensure any serious musical fan will be on board to at least give it a chance.
When they do, they’ll likely be hooked from the start by a quirky, tongue-in-cheek tone that somehow manages to strike a sustainable balance between self-aware parody and sincere exploration of an art form which, frankly, ends up being the butt of a lot of jokes from those immune to its stylized charms. Musical fans know what we’re talking about, and we feel their pain – but we can’t help also appreciating the more cynical worldview that often makes the genre seem more like feel-good pablum than serious artistic expression. Still, regardless of one’s personal taste for musicals, it’s hard not to respect an approach that acknowledges the inherent absurdity of the format while still committing itself unapologetically to honoring the optimistic romanticism that makes it so irresistible for a legion of die-hard aficionados – many of whom, at the risk of perpetuating a stereotype, happen to be queer, an additional perspective that will surely help the show’s tale of romance between two square pegs in a world full of round holes land even closer to home for a substantial percentage of its viewing audience.
It’s also hard not to be won over by the performers, who seem to gleefully embrace – and rightfully so – the opportunity to show off all their triple-threat chops onscreen, not to mention the chance to sing material from the two-time-Oscar winning Team Lopez. Whitman, a former child actress and voice performer who successfully transitioned into “grown-up” roles (most notably opposite Christina Hendricks and Retta on the dark TV crime comedy “Bad Girls”) and came out as pansexual in 2021, turns her unconventional appeal into an anchor for the show’s sometimes far-flung wildness; she wins our hearts by the end of her first scene, and she only becomes more endearing from there. Valdes makes a perfect counter to her offbeat underdog energy, the “Lion King” to her “Little Mermaid”, a swoon-worthy sensitive good guy in disguise who can’t help wearing his heart on his sleeve even as he tries to blend in with the douche-y finance bros in his workplace. Katie Finneran, John Hodgman, Andréa Burns, Scott Porter, Sophia Hammons, and Emilia Suárez comprise the ensemble of voices inside the lovers’ heads, each of them embodying real people with backstories of their own – which affords them all an occasional spotlight moment and allows for plenty of subtle nuance in their performances as they serve as a literal chorus for the “dramedy” at hand.
As for the material itself, “Up Here” boasts an extremely polished, sharply cinematic aesthetic that goes a long way toward softening any resistance to its musical conceits – and making up for a song score that, while solid and suited to the purpose, is largely devoid of the sort of standout “earworms” that typically score big points for musical fans. At times reminiscent of a goofy send-up like “Schmigadoon”, at others more a reverent homage to the screen musicals of classic Hollywood, and at still others approaching the sublimely deconstructed anti-romanticism of French auteur Jacques Demy’s ‘60s masterpieces, it benefits from a refusal to fall back on its potential for camp value – though it occasionally leans hard in that direction, on purpose – by keeping us emotionally invested in its two appealing leads. It also makes sure to keep a healthy balance between musical fantasy and everyday reality, limiting the big, splashy production numbers to 2 or 3 per 30-minute-ish episode.
Probably the most intriguing aspect of the series, however, is its narrative structure, in which it shows us things through the experience of one of its characters – including their inner dialogues with their respective mental critics and commentators – and then replays them from the perspective of another. Again, it’s not an innovative concept, but it makes for a musical that has the space to go deeper than the not-entirely-accurate preconception of the genre as insubstantial “fluff” might deem possible.
Is that enough to make it appealing for people who don’t like musicals? It would be tempting to say yes, but there’s no denying that “Up There” is a show designed for a certain type of audience. If that DOESN’T sound like you, it’s probably best for you to skip it. For the rest of us, however, it’s a refreshing and surprisingly thought-provoking new addition to a genre that, for our money, can never get enough love.
Short-form ‘Smothered’ is long on laughs
Indie sitcom features longtime gay couple who can’t stand each other
We all know at least one couple who can never seem to get along. Whenever we spend time with them, no matter the occasion or setting, they can’t help taking jabs at each other and triangulating everyone who will listen to them into their volatile dynamic. We might sympathize with them, like them, or even love them, but we can only stand to be around them in small doses.
Which is why “Smothered,” an indie-made sitcom about a longtime gay couple who can’t stand each other and spend virtually every minute of screen time saying so in the most hateful ways possible, sounds like a terrible idea.
Created, written, and produced by its two stars, Jason Stuart and Mitch Hara, it’s the story of Ralph and Randy, a Boomer-aged married pair whose decades-old love appears to have fizzled out long ago. Apart from being gay and Jewish, they don’t have much in common, and they seem like total opposites; Ralph (Stuart) is a needy romantic still clinging to his fantasy of a happy-ever-after marriage, while Randy (Hara) is a vain and unapologetically shallow serial cheater who eagerly jumps at any opportunity to spit venom at his nebbish-y spouse. To call their relationship dysfunctional would be putting it lightly – for one thing, fighting with each other also turns them on, which leads to some amusingly uncomfortable moments – but even if it weren’t, they would still be insufferable. Why would anyone want to watch a show that essentially consists of nothing but these two sniping at each other?
That’s not a hypothetical question, because people do want to watch it – enough so, in fact, that after becoming an acclaimed hit on Amazon Prime in 2020 (due in part, undoubtedly, to the pandemic-driven need for a constant flow of easily-accessible home entertainment content), Stuart and Hara’s meagerly-budgeted, DIY-style comedy not only got the green light for a second season, but conducted a successful GoFundMe campaign to deliver it. It drops this month on Amazon Prime, Revry, and all major streaming services, with slicker production values and an expanded cast that includes recognizable guest stars.
So how did this happen? One reason, certainly, is that the show’s short-form structure – most episodes are approximately 4 to 10 minutes long – lets audiences consume it in bite-sized chunks and step away in between segments if needed. The second reason, however, is that it’s wickedly funny – which makes those little breaks not only unnecessary, but unlikely.
In the first season, “Smothered” established a format in which its two anti-romantic leads spent each episode hashing out their differences in front of an ever-changing parade of therapists – none of whom are able to last more than one session with them. It was a gimmicky-but-clever conceit that allowed the couple’s story to be told through both of their own filters while providing a great platform for Stuart and Hara, whose elaborate verbal sparring flows like a river of shiny-but-jagged jewels. Ralph and Randy are firmly established as hateful from the beginning of episode 1, and proceed to show us just how over-the-top their hatefulness is until we love them for it in spite of ourselves.
With the second season – and an expanded budget – the show breaks free of its self-imposed boundaries to become less of an exercise in “variations on a theme” improvisational comedy and more closely resemble a traditional sitcom. Picking up where the previous season left off, Ralph and Randy are finally resolved to get a divorce, but after a financial catastrophe and a subsequent brush with the law, they can’t afford it; furthermore, to qualify as residents in a new subsidized housing facility for LGBTQ elders, they must be a couple – so they are forced to continue living together. There are still a few therapists (or, in some cases, surrogate therapists) in the mix, but this time around we get to see the couple’s interactions with other characters and experience their life together first hand instead of only through the catty and quippy recaps with which they would regale their couples counselors in season one.
It’s a positive move, allowing the show to grow wider and avoid the pitfalls of sticking to a formula with enticing-yet-finite possibilities. It also allows the characters to become more fully drawn; they’re still just as horrible, but somehow, by experiencing things with them instead of only as a barrage of comedic zingers, they become more human to us, more relatable. The things we saw in them that reminded us of ourselves were part of why we laughed at them in season one, but now they are the things that help us begin to like them a little, and maybe even – can it be so? – root for them to get over themselves and rekindle the love for each other that obviously still burns inside them.
Another benefit of opening up the show’s format is the freedom to add characters who can stick around to become part of the story, like the uber-butch lesbian manager of their new housing facility (pioneering queer TV veteran Amanda Bearse in a hilariously tongue-in-cheek performance) or the hunky Latino chef (Bryan Quiros) whose coming between them might just be the thing that pushes them back together again. The biggest boon, however, is the opportunity it gives Stuart and Hara to deepen their characters, to let go of their comic ferocity – just enough of it, at any rate – and simply be real, once in a while. It makes a big difference, because while season one was a solid, funny, and deliciously snarky good time worth bingeing over a night or two, season two has evolved enough to let us see, a little more clearly, that it also has a heart. Considering that short-form narratives are still often disregarded by many audiences over their presumed insubstantiality, it’s no small feat when one proves such prejudices to be unfounded.
We don’t want to scare you away, though. Heart or no, it’s also still a fast-and-furious onslaught of bitchiness and bad behavior that will have you cringing and laughing at the same time. Likewise, while it makes a point of diversity and inclusiveness among its widened cast, it also delights in flagrantly stepping over the line into “politically incorrect” territory, skewering contemporary oversensitivity with the kind of irreverent generational humor (confusion over pronouns, anyone?) and campy stereotype that might raise a few hackles among viewers too young to remember the days when such transgressive comedic flourishes were one of our greatest weapons against the cookie-cutter conformity of the hetero-centric mainstream.
In any case, “Smothered” seems unconcerned with offending people – in fact, it almost seems to delight in doing so – and never lets any kind of “agenda” take the focus away from the absurdly vicious love/hate dramedy going on in the middle of it all. With Stuart and Hara’s playful chemistry, sharp writing, and finely-tuned acting carrying most of the weight, that’s more than enough reason to cast off any preconceptions you might have and take a dip in the “short form” pool. In this case, the water’s fine.
The Kelly Clarkson Show: Unique LGBTQ+ youth summer camp
Camp Brave Trails is a LA-based summer camp creating a safe space for LGBTQ youth to foster leadership skills & celebrate their individuality
BURBANK – On Friday’s show, the founders of a camp for LGBTQ+ youth join Kelly to discuss the camp and their vision. Camp Brave Trails is a Los Angeles-based summer camp creating a safe space for LGBTQ youth to foster leadership skills and celebrate their individuality.
Co-founders and partners Jessica and Kayla share how the camp focuses on leadership workshops and mental health programs, while also offering all of the traditional camp activities you would expect.
Also appearing are Camper Ben and their mom Kathleen share how the camp helped Ben find their confidence and passion for fashion design after losing their father to COVID in 2021.
LGBTQ Youth Summer Camp Celebrates Individuality & Fosters Mental Health:
A song of love & courage for Grandpa Ray- American Idol 2023
“It’s a big relief to stand here and be proud and say I’m gay and there’s nothing wrong with it- my grandson, he’s my rock”
NASHVILLE – Hailing from Goshen township in Clermont County, Ohio, 21-year-old Jon Wayne Hatfield’s American Idol audition song is dedicated to Ray, his grandpa and best friend, who recently came out as gay.
The song, “Tell Me Ray,” helped Ray believe more in himself and shed lifelong insecurities: “It’s a big relief to stand here and be proud and say I’m gay and there’s nothing wrong with it,” Ray says. “My grandson, he’s my rock.”
Grandpa Ray sits on the piano bench during Jon Wayne Hatfield’s moving audition, which gets a standing ovation from the three Idol judges, country superstar Luke Bryan, pop star Katy Perry, and R&B pop superstar Lionel Richie.
An Original Song Of Love And Courage For Grandpa Ray by Jon Wayne Hatfield:
Trans trailblazer helps queer the sci-fi genre in ‘The Peripheral’
Alexandra Billings on increasing representation in Hollywood
Alexandra Billings has been a pioneering trans performer several times over, but she tells us that her recurring role as Inspector Ainsley Lowbeer in “The Peripheral” – Amazon Prime’s series adaptation of William Gibson’s 2014 book of the same name – is a more personal first for her.
“I love science fiction! This is really my bag, and I’ve never done anything like it before!”
Created by Scott B. Smith, who co-executive produced the show alongside “Westworld” creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the show is a mystery-thriller set not just in one future but in two. Beyond the depressingly prescient dystopian one inhabited by protagonist Flynne Fisher (Chloë Grace Moretz) lies another, from which the surviving remnants of humanity employ advanced computer technology to reach back and alter the past. The stakes are high – there’s an apocalypse involved — and a complicated, “Black Ops”-style secret war going on between factions struggling for control makes them even higher. Even for someone who doesn’t look for these things, the allegorical comparison with our own world is impossible to miss; but then science fiction, done right, has always been a prime genre for making social, cultural, and political commentary – and author Gibson, widely credited with creating the whole “cyber-punk” sub-genre, knows how to do it right.
Billings recently spoke with the Blade about the show, among other things. Our conversation is below:
BLADE: It’s refreshing to see you in something like this. We’re not used to seeing such strong representation in these kinds of stories.
ALEXANDRA BILLINGS: Usually, if trans characters were in sci-fi in the past, we were plugged in – they were cisgender characters that trans people played and then they turned trans. But Lowbeer is written as a trans woman. That was extraordinary, and it was thrilling to me.
BLADE: She’s a very strong presence.
BILLINGS: She’s kind of a guide, and she also has great power – not mystical power, or magical, but intellectual. And that’s one of the wonderful things about this show that I want to stress – it’s very female-centric, very female-heavy. There’s gender identity that is addressed, there are women of color that have great power and great strength and intellect. These are smart, witty, competent, capable women. No female depends on any other power except their own to be able to survive in the world of this story, and I think that matters, too.
BLADE: Did you ever imagine you would be playing a part like this in a mainstream Hollywood project?
BILLINGS: Oh no, God, no. When I first came to Hollywood, there were five of us, basically, me and Candis and Laverne and Trace Lisette, and a couple of other people, and that was it. Every time there would be an audition for a trans person – which was usually one of us in the hospital, or going to the hospital, or getting ready to go to the hospital, or something that had to do with the hospital – we would always meet each other. We finally just formed a little brunch club, we were like, ‘Let’s just get together after the next audition and go out. We might as well have food.’
Back then, there was just no concept of the transgender experience, because trans people were not writing any of these shows. You can’t have someone who’s never been through a lived experience pretend that they’ve lived that experience, it doesn’t make any sense. Now, with more trans writers, more trans producers and showrunners in Hollywood, things are starting to change. But this was a shock. I was shocked when I heard about this character, and really shocked when I read the script. It really is brilliant.
BLADE: That’s just one aspect of the show that feels forward-thinking. Don’t you think the whole concept of a future world influencing our present day really strikes a chord with the rise of a younger generation that is primed and ready to take the wheel?
BILLINGS: I think what this show does is that it shines a light. It’s a reflection of a human experience that is happening politically, globally, which is the takeover of righteousness, of our idea of what is helpful to the community – and what isn’t.
We have a whole shift that is happening in the United States right now, which is a younger generation – the Gen Zs – saying ‘I don’t like the way a lot of the country talks about female empowerment, I don’t like what you’ve done to take away autonomy for female bodies or choices, I don’t like the way you talk about gender. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t like, so I want you out.” It’s why this ‘blue wave’ happened – because of them. There was this whole conservative movement before the midterms that was supposed to, like, take over, and it just fizzled out and died. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.
BLADE: Let’s all hope you’re right. There’s such a disheartening backlash in some pockets of our country over queer rights in general. We still even have fight to preserve marriage equality.
BILLINGS: We have this whole group of people out there talking about ‘traditional marriage.’ That means nothing. I want to tell them, ‘Nothing exists inside that container – how far back do you want to go when you say ‘traditional’, do you still want to be able to vote? Stop being an idiot.’
BLADE: As someone on the battle lines, what would you like to see for the future of trans representation?
BILLINGS: We need to begin to have conversations that are so normalized about the transgender experience that we no longer talk about the transgender experience. We need to have an over-abundance of trans and nonbinary stories, of trans and nonbinary writers, producers, directors, creators, innovators, telling their own stories – so many of them that the cis-white-heteronormative patriarchy finally needs to step aside. That’s what needs to happen.
BLADE: That seems like a hard sell to the people still holding onto the reins of power.
BILLINGS: When I say things like that, all of Hollywood takes a huge intake of breath. They think it’s impossible. They can’t conceive of that to be true because they think, ‘What about MY stories? What about me?’ As if there was a shortage of those.
Look at Candace Cameron, who quit Hallmark and just came out and said, ‘I’m going to honor traditional marriage on my new channel, and those are the stories I’m going to tell.’ What she’s saying is, ‘These two heteronormative cisgender people are the norm, that’s what we’re going to draw a circle around. Those are the only people that are going to be represented, that’s what we’re telling every single queer youth on the planet is the thing to be.’ That’s the message? So everybody else needs to move aside? That doesn’t make you a trailblazer, it makes you a coward.
BLADE: There’s another “C word” that comes to mind.
BILLINGS: (Laughing) That too.
You can watch “The Peripheral” on Amazon Prime.
‘American Horror Story’ goes full gay in ‘NYC’
Anthology features leather daddies, divas, baths, and gruesome murders in 1981
It’s hard to believe that “American Horror Story” is now more than a decade old – yet at the same time, it feels like it’s been on the air forever.
Arguably the signature accomplishment of gay entertainment mogul Ryan Murphy, who’s been behind some of the most acclaimed, controversial, and campy programming of our contemporary era, it’s a show that has met all three of those descriptors – often at the same time – while bringing a legion of die-hard fans back for more each season. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish, but Murphy’s “AHS” juggernaut has managed to keep itself going for 11 years thanks to its anthology format.
It has also, from its inception, been one of the queerest shows on television.
This might be stating the obvious, considering that Murphy typically includes multiple queer storylines in each season and employs a host of out queer actors, not to mention maintaining an unabashedly queer sensibility in the show’s aesthetic and bringing in the occasional iconic diva. We only bring it up here because for its latest installment, which premiered with two episodes on FX last week (just in time for Halloween), “American Horror Story” has gone “gayer” than ever.
Titled simply “NYC,” it’s set against the backdrop of 1981 New York and focuses squarely on the city’s thriving gay community. As anyone with even a basic knowledge of queer cultural history already knows, it’s a heady time and place for a gay man to be – but it’s also a time and place on the cusp of soon-to-descend devastation.
For most of the show’s characters, however, AIDS is not even a blip on the horizon, at least not yet. Instead, they’re facing a different kind of plague: a wave of grisly murders, targeting gay men, has left a growing pile of dismembered bodies in its wake, and to make matters worse, the NYPD seem uninterested in doing anything about it – or rather, most of them do. Patrick (Russell Tovey), a closeted police detective, has been cautiously pressing his superiors to take the situation more seriously, but it hasn’t been enough to nudge them into action; it also hasn’t been enough for his lover, Gino (Joe Mantello), an out-and-proud journalist who has made the mysterious killings into his paper’s No. 1 cause, and for whom Patrick’s refusal to share information about the case for fear of being “outed” has become a sore spot in their relationship.
The stalemate may be about to give way, though. When a young man named Adam (Charlie Carver) shows up at the station to report his roommate’s disappearance after a night of cruising in the Ramble, Patrick breaks his silence at home and tells Gino about the incident, encouraging him to pursue the story and giving him a lead to follow, and embarking on a clandestine investigation of his own; likewise, Adam, resolving to find his missing friend after having his concerns dismissed by the police, traces a scrap of a clue to Theo (Isaac Powell), a rising-star photographer, and his art dealer boyfriend Sam (Zachary Quinto), whose dark secrets may or may not be connected with the murders. Meanwhile, somewhere in the “gayborhood,” a killer still lurks, and the body count continues to climb.
If you’re thinking that the story – written by Murphy and frequent creative collaborator Brad Falchuk – is an allegory in which the hunt for a fictional serial killer (a favorite “AHS” trope) is used as a metaphor for the AIDS crisis, you’re probably not wrong. That doesn’t mean that AIDS doesn’t exist in this “AHS” version of the early ‘80s; a side story featuring epidemiologist Dr. Hannah Wells (Billie Lourd), glimpsed only briefly so far, has broached the subject of the disease, and it seems likely to become a big part of whatever endgame the show’s creators have in mind.
That endgame is anyone’s guess. “AHS” has a reputation for throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks; almost every season has left the gate with a provocative premise and an intriguing bundle of ideas – and while some have thrillingly lived up to their potential and others have devolved into a self-indulgent mess (though viewers’ assessment of which is which may vary wildly, depending on which viewer you ask), even the best of them have usually allowed at least one or two threads to trail off and disappear. “NYC,” at this early stage, could go either way or land somewhere in between.
Admittedly, it shows a great deal of promise. Obviously thrilled to explore a seminal moment in queer history, the series seems to delight in the sights, the sounds, and the happenings of early-‘80s Manhattan. There are scenes in the historic baths, complete with a singing diva (Patti LuPone, of course) to entertain the boys in between hook-ups; an artist-turned-impresario (Gideon Glick) throws a massive party in an abandoned pier-side warehouse, where everybody who’s anybody (or ever wants to be) gathers for a drug-and-disco-fueled night of art, fashion, and hedonistic fun; a Quentin Crisp-ish queer elder (Denis O’Hare) holds court in a dimly lit dive, and macho men engage in aggressive frottage at the leather-and-levi bar a few streets over. It’s the kind of vivid and nostalgic period recreation that Murphy’s productions have become famous for – detailed, colorful, immersive, and just glossy enough to make it feel like a fondly remembered dream – and it’s one of the pleasures of watching the show.
At the same time, there’s something unsettling about watching this Tarantino-esque distortion of a history that strikes such a deep chord in the queer imagination. With a main storyline that seems akin to a true-crime rewrite of “The Normal Heart” and a gallery of background characters that are clearly reimagined versions of real-life figures like Robert Mapplethorpe, David Wojnarowicz, Klaus Nomi, Victor Hugo and more, Murphy and Falchuk’s audacious (some might say sensationalistic) approach to melding LGBTQ heritage into a pop-culture horror narrative – and one the evokes William Friedkin’s controversial 1980 thriller “Cruising,” at that – might hit a little too close to home for audiences who see this particular real-life chapter as horrific enough without fictional embellishment.
Still, as “AHS” has proven many times before, it’s not afraid to disturb its fans – and that doesn’t just mean with gore and shock value, though there’s always plenty of that. Its horrors are rooted in our social zeitgeist, in our traumatic memories and in the vast uncertainty of our life in the here and now.
“NYC” – coming as it does at a time when anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and homophobic ideologies make the hard-won advancement of our community feel all too precarious – is no different. Thus far, no overtly supernatural elements have emerged (though that may change), but by invoking specters that continue to haunt us, hovering in the shadows around our safe spaces until they can leap out and catch us off guard, it’s a ghost story, nonetheless.
It even has the potential to be a good one, if Murphy and company can continue to reach the bar they’ve set for themselves with the first two episodes. Judging from the “AHS” track record, they have a roughly even chance.
For Years to Come; irreverent romantic gay dramedy coming soon
Gay man who falls in love with his dead mother’s nurse, while struggling to reconcile with his elderly father…who’s secretly a porn director
HOLLYWOOD – For Years to Come is an irreverent romantic dramedy about a gay man who falls in love with his dead mother’s hospice nurse, while struggling to reconcile with his elderly father…who’s secretly a porn director.
The new half-hour TV pilot directed by Micah Stuart will premiere on the festival circuit in early 2023. Writer-creator James Patrick Nelson stars opposite film/TV veteran Richard Riehle.
Stuart, an Emmy nominated editor, writer and the director, who is based in Los Angeles, released the trailer Saturday ahead of the film festival circuit premiere early next year:
For Years To Come Trailer from Micah Stuart on Vimeo.
Creator and star actor James Patrick Nelson sat down with me in an interview on my RATED LGBT RADIO show a year ago to talk about this project and highlights from his career.
“Limited representation fuels internalized homophobia” asserts Nelson. “How do queer people learn to cherish the remarkable nuances of our identities if we rarely see nuanced, authentic portraits of ourselves on screen?”
As an award winning film maker, James has set a creative target for himself and others in the industry regarding LGBTQ characters: they need to be “richly complex, multi-faceted human beings, with endlessly diverse and distinct experiences, and we deserve to be seen, for all that we are.”
On the show we discussed this objective and queer representation in film up until now. Plus, we will talk about his newest project, For Years to Come.
Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.
He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.
He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.
He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .
‘Modern Family’ creator returns to form with hilarious ‘Reboot’
Show about a show ditches tired mockumentary format
TV veteran Steven Levitan already had a lot of success as a writer, showrunner, and producer before the premiere of “Modern Family” – a series he co-created with Christopher Lloyd – in 2009. That show turned out to be a cultural phenomenon, helping to redefine and normalize the representation of LGBTQ relationships on TV by including a gay couple within its ensemble of central characters while also becoming a long-running fan-favorite, winning scores of awards (including nine primetime Emmys) and being nominated for scores more before airing its final season in 2020. Even with a resume that includes shows like “Wings,” “Frasier,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” and “Just Shoot Me,” that’s got to be considered a career-topping triumph.
Now, Levitan is back with a new show, “Reboot,” which premiered on Hulu Sept. 20, and from its very first pre-credit sequence it signals a welcome return to the same rapid-fire comedic style that kept “Modern Family” on everybody’s weekly watchlist for 11 years – still inclusive, with prominent queer characters and storylines, but thankfully without the mockumentary format.
“Reboot” is a good-naturedly irreverent send-up of the Hollywood entertainment machine featuring “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” star Rachel Bloom as Hannah, a TV writer who gets greenlighted on her pitch for a revival of “Step Right Up,” a beloved sitcom from the early 2000s. She manages to convince the original cast to reprise their roles as the show’s “wacky family” – despite their complicated offscreen history – by promising to adapt the show for a contemporary audience, eliminating the corny, outdated humor and shifting toward a more sophisticated, realistic tone. At the first table read, however, Hannah’s plan for a reimagined series is met with a significant obstacle – the unexpected presence of the original sitcom’s creator, Gordon Gelman (Paul Reiser), who has wielded his industry clout to insert himself into the mix as a showrunner and ensure that “woke” ideas about comedy don’t get in the way of the laughs.
Obviously, this scenario provides a ripe field for jokes about the cultural conflicts that have become a fact of life in 2022 – mostly around the differing attitudes between older and younger generations, always a sure-fire bet for relatable comedy. The “OK Boomer” sparring at its core is common fodder these days, but Levitan and his creative team know comedy well enough to make it feel fresh – and their secret is to make sure that the characters are always the main attraction.
In this case, they’ve given us plenty of them to choose from. Besides Hannah and Gordon, whose rivalry for the reins quickly becomes just one of many thorns in their relationship dynamic, we also get the leading players of “Step Right Up”: Reed Sterling (Keegan-Michael Key), a Yale-trained thespian who ditched the show’s first run to pursue a movie career that never materialized; Bree Marie Johnson (Judy Greer), a once-popular star who left showbiz for a now-failed marriage to an obscure Scandinavian Duke; Clay Barber (Johnny Knoxville), a “bad boy” stand-up comic known less for his talent than for being a train wreck; and Zack Jackson (Calum Worthy), a former child star who seems to have reached his mid-20s without actually growing up. Rounding out the main ensemble is Krista Marie Yu as Elaine, a young production exec transplanted from the tech industry whose fish-out-of-water incongruity provides a necessary outsider perspective amid the show-biz histrionics that surround her.
There’s a host of supporting characters, too – a roomful of writers, for instance, hilariously bridging the generation gap with their common love of comedy even as they clash over cultural values. Drawn in broad strokes, all of them could easily be dismissed as generic tropes, stock figures updated to fit the latest cultural zeitgeist; that they come off as fully realized human beings instead of lazy stereotypes is a testament to Levitan and the real-life writers’ room responsible for bringing them to life.
It’s also a testament to the actors who play them. Key and Greer have the biggest challenge, in many ways; their characters, cut from the same egocentric cloth as so many other parodies of vain and pretentious Hollywood stars and clearly designed to be adorably insufferable, come off in early episodes as simply insufferable. As the season progresses, fortunately, their skill as performers permits them (and their characters) to rise above the flaws and foibles and win us over. The ever-reliable Knoxville does what he does best – sending up his own wild-man persona – and occasionally reminds us that he’s not a bad actor, when he gets the chance; Worthy, an ex-Disney-kid also spoofing his own real-life image, likewise injects surprising doses of winning humanity as the show goes on.
As for Bloom, essentially the main character though surrounded by an ensemble of zanies, she holds her own with all the juggernaut talent she used to make “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” a wildly popular cult hit; required to be a grounding force while dealing with her own whirlwind of personal and professional dysfunction, she succeeds more than well enough to anchor the show. Finally, Reiser brings his status as a venerable sitcom legend to give his old-school character an appropriate presence, while making him much more layered and likable than the Archie Bunker-ish throwback we expect him to be.
With such a solid cast doing the heavy lifting onscreen, “Reboot” is able to cast its satirical net wide enough to poke fun at our rapidly changing culture without losing the important human connection that keeps its never-ending bombardment of one-liners – something for which Levitan’s previous shows have been widely known and admired – from feeling hollow. That doesn’t mean the comedy ever lulls; on the contrary, even the show’s most tender and meaningful moments – which often take us by pleasant surprise – are punctuated by zingers. And while the series leans hard into the kind of uncomplicated vibe that usually marks popular mainstream sitcoms, it also lets itself play at more complex levels, getting a lot of comedic mileage out of the inescapable “meta” quality of being a show about a show – for example, the fictional series, like the real one, is produced by Hulu, just one such cheeky touch among many that make it feel more subversive and iconoclastic than perhaps it really is.
What might work even more to the benefit of “Reboot” than the considerable lineup of talent it boasts both on and behind the screen is its format – and we’re not just talking about its choice to eschew the mockumentary thing, a masterfully innovative tactic that has now become tired from overuse, even on Emmy-favored “Abbot Elementary.” In the new era of streaming content, the 23-episode season feels like an increasingly outmoded way of doing things; with only eight episodes to undertake, there’s far less chance of stretching the material (and our patience for it) thin, or of running out of ideas and undermining the show’s integrity with sub-par writing just to pad things out.
Unsaddled from that burden, “Reboot” manages to be laugh-out-loud funny throughout each episode of its first season. That alone is enough for us to look forward to season two.
“Dr. Jackie: Unlicensed Psychotherapist” premieres on OUTtv
Jackie Beat’s new series is just what the (unlicensed) doctor ordered. The show is available exclusively on OUTtv.com & on the OUTtv Apple TV
NEW YORK – While much of the world spent the pandemic sheltering in place and binging on Netflix in an attempt to stave off madness, innovative (and already insane) Jackie Beat found herself pounding a different drum.
The veteran drag queen known for belting out hilariously filthy song parodies while hurling cruel insults at delighted audience members immersed herself in online academia, only to emerge several hours later with… no formal education, but a self-declared title that everybody agreed would also be a kickass concept for a TV show, and a pretty good title to boot: “Dr. Jackie: Unlicensed Psychotherapist.”
And so, on this day, September 19, 2022, it shall be so: “Dr. Jackie” premieres on OUTtv with new episodes each week through October 24. Watch the trailer HERE. The premise is simple: Dr. Jackie runs her “practice” out of an office managed by her “cute but confused assistant” (played by longtime creative collaborator Sherry Vine, whose ballsy, bonkers variety show had its premiere season on OUTtv last year). Sherry’s the dutiful gatekeeper who shepherds a revolving cast of funny, famous people (mostly top-notch drag queens) into their sessions with tough-but-fair, decidedly uncredentialed Dr. Jackie.
“It’s such a great feeling to not only entertain people, but be able to help them, too,” said Dr. Jackie, in a press announcement for her six-part series. “It’s a real win-win. I’m very proud of the fact that I am able to make mental health just a little more glamorous and fun! And if anyone wants to cancel me for ‘mocking’ pyschotherapy, please do it! I haven’t been on THAT reality television show so I need all the publicity I can get!”
Taking a leap of faith that “Dr. Jackie” will be up to the level of quality we associate with the sold-out stage shows of Jackie Beat—and also betting heavily that Dr. Jackie has already figured out a way to dispense prescription drugs—The Los Angeles Blade is happy to generate more publicity for the good Doctor, who along with Sherry Vine took some pre-premiere time to participate in the spirited Q&A you see below.
The Los Angeles Blade (Blade): How did the show come about? Is this a product of your frequent collaborations with Sherry Vine?
Jackie Beat (Jackie): Sherry gets all the credit for making this happen! After being in show business for over three decades, I sort of had the attitude of, “This will never happen”—but Sherry was beyond optimistic and determined. I’m sure the success of her variety show on OUTtv helped. Oh, and my beauty!
Sherry Vine (Sherry): We had talked about this idea for a few years and I said, “Let me run with this and see if I can get it picked up” and Jackie said, “OK.” I went to PEG and OUTtv who did my variety show, and they immediately said, “Yes.” I worked very hard on the pre-production and filming but was less involved in the post-production. Jackie had a very clear vision of how she wanted it to look and sound so other than offering my opinions, I let her run with it.
Blade: How did the pandemic impact the shooting of episodes?
Jackie: We obviously had to adhere to very strict COVID protocols… Testing, masks, limiting the cast and crew, etc. But once this queen had gotten the green light on her own TV show, no pesky little virus was gonna stop her from getting it done!
Blade: Is there improvisation? If so, discuss how that played out.
Jackie: Yes, and everyone really delivered! We had an outline—a beginning, middle, end, maybe a plot twist or two—but then we just let people go for it. The hardest part, as you can imagine, is not cracking up. There was also quite a bit of stuff that was so out-there and just plain disturbing that we were like, “Oh God, we can’t use that!” The brilliant improvising also made it very difficult to edit because there was so much gold!
Blade: What part, if any, did you play in the editing? How did the editing process impact the show’s pacing and style?
Jackie: Well first off, the editor, Kain O’Keeffe, is a genius! He really has great comic timing so that certainly helped. I have worked with some editors who are technically amazing but don’t really get comedy. Kain’s instincts are great. And he also kept his cool—most of the time, LOL—working with this control freak. I was really very painstaking in the editing, because one beat or one moment or one word can change everything. The most frustrating part was having to watch each episode 50 or 60 times. I was like, “Is this even funny?” The answer to that question, of course, is YES!
Blade: With “Dr. Jackie,” you enter the pantheon of small screen shrinks. What sets your style of therapy apart from colleagues like Lucy Van Pelt and Dr. Bob Hartley?
Jackie: First of all, I could be the illegitimate love child of those two because Lucy is an unqualified, self-centered bitch and Bob is dry and cool as a cucumber. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. A self-centered cucumber?
Blade: Talk about the role of ensemble and/or guest players.
Jackie: We were so blessed to get so many amazingly talented people—most of whom I consider friends. And I also love that people like Elvira [Cassandra Peterson] or Margaret Cho, who couldn’t shoot in person, were able to be involved and get “emergency phone sessions” thanks to modern technology! I have several “Drag Race” stars such as Bianca Del Rio, Alaska Thunderfuck, Bob The Drag Queen, Katya, Trixie Mattel, BenDeLaCreme, Tammie Brown, Kelly Mantle and Monét X Change but I also wanted to include supremely talented friends of mine such as Mario Diaz, Nadya Ginsburg, Daniele Gaither, Drew Droege, Sam Pancake, Calpernia Addams, Selene Luna, Pete Zias, Roz Hernandez, and Muffy Bolding.
Blade: Sherry, you play Jackie’s sidekick. Is the dynamic similar to, different than, what we see when the two of you work together on stage?
Sherry: Well the dynamic is different in terms of I’m playing her receptionist and she is the star—this time! Lol. But after 30 years of performing together we have a natural chemistry and play off of each other so well. It was scripted but of course there was plenty of improvisation. We were cracking up the whole time! On stage and on camera we are usually in synch—I know exactly where she’s going.
Blade: Jackie, what can decades-long fans of your stage work expect from a show not grounded in parody songs?
Jackie: They can expect to be laugh and be entertained so… Same old thing!
Blade: Jackie, Sherry, what’s happening between now and the end of the year, in terms of traveling and performing live?
Jackie: I’m doing lots of writing right now, but I will never stop performing. I will do my annual holiday tour, of course. I’m doing my holiday show at The Palm in Puerto Vallarta on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!
Sherry: We are now in pre-production for “The Sherry Vine Variety Show” Season 2! Yay! We start filming at the end of October, so I’m writing, casting, recording, etc. Lots of exciting guests and surprises—and Jackie will be returning as my partner in crime.
Blade: How do you find performing and living in the “post-pandemic” era: Has it change the way you do things, creatively and personally? What lessons did we learn or ignore from all that time sheltering in place?
Jackie: People seem very appreciative of live shows right now. It’s like they didn’t realize just how precious those moments of sitting in a darkened theater or nightclub watching a live performer was until it was suddenly gone. I have also learned that if you are naturally funny and talented you can entertain people no matter what – even on their laptop or phone. I was very happy to learn that my comedy and magic could survive and translate to that format. Again, I ain’t never gonna let no pesky virus stop me from doing what I do!
“Dr. Jackie: Unlicensed Psychotherapist”—written by Jackie Beat—is directed by John Mark Hostetler and produced by Producer Entertainment Group (PEG) for OUTtv. As of September 19, the show is available exclusively on OUTtv.com and on the OUTtv Apple TV Channel in the US and Canada, OUTtvGo.com and the OUTtv Amazon Prime Channel in Canada and FROOT.tv in the UK and Ireland.
Follow Jackie Beat:
Instagram – HERE
Website – HERE
Twitter – HERE
Facebook – HERE
Fall TV offers vampires, royals, and return to Gilead
‘Handmaid’s Tale’ even more essential after fall of Roe
Once upon a time, TV premieres were the province of fall, and there was something exciting about seeing all the new titles unveiled. In the streaming era, of course, new shows debut all year long – but we think there’s still a special excitement surrounding the ones that come out at this time of year. Call us old-fashioned.
Here’s our list of the shows we think you’ll find watch-worthy:
THE HANDMAID’S TALE (Hulu, Sept. 14)
The critically acclaimed and popular series based on Margaret Atwood’s chillingly prescient dystopian novel just dropped the first episode of its fifth season, in which now-escaped refugee June (Emmy-winner Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men,” “Top of the Lake,” “The Invisible Man”) works from afar to be reunited with her daughter, while her co-conspirators in theocratic Gilead find an unlikely ally in Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). Meanwhile, Serena Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski), now a widow in Toronto after the violent end met by her husband at the end of season four, attempts to raise her profile as her homeland’s influence spreads into Canada. The ominous too-close-to-home quality that made this series tough-but-essential viewing during the Trump years has taken on a renewed power with the fall of Roe v. Wade, which means its latest (and possibly final) installment will likely be a must-watch for more audiences than ever. Also starring Max Minghella, Bradley Whitford, O-T Fagbenle, Samira Wiley, Madeline Brewer, Amanda Brugel, and Sam Jaeger.
MONARCH (Fox, Sept. 20)
Self-described as “a Texas-sized, multi-generational musical drama about America’s leading family of country music” and starring Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon “Dead Man Walking,” Thelma & Louise,” “Feud”) as a “tough-as-nails” country music legend, this ambitious new offering from creator/writer/executive producer Melissa London Hilfers features a lesbian couple among its principal characters and looks to be cut from the same guilty-pleasure cloth as all the classic primetime soaps the queer community has always loved. The saga of a fictional country music dynasty with superstars Dottie and Albie Roman at its center, it promises plenty of scandal, sex, bad behavior, and music (both original songs and covers) as it unwinds the secrets and lies at the heart of their success and forces them to protect the family legacy – from both rivals and each other. Featuring multi-Platinum country music star and three-time ACM winner Trace Adkins as Sarandon’s other half, the series also stars Anna Friel, Joshua Sasse, Beth Ditto, Meagan Holder, Inigo Pascual, Martha Higareda, and Emma Milani.
REBOOT (Hulu, Sept. 20)
From “Modern Family” creator Steven Levitan comes this good-naturedly irreverent (and queer-inclusive) send-up of the Hollywood entertainment machine featuring “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” star Rachel Bloom as a TV writer who gets greenlighted on her pitch for a revival of a beloved sitcom from the early 2000s – a dream come true, until her hopes for a more “woke” update of the outdated classic are threatened by the involvement of the show’s original creator (Paul Reiser, “Mad About You”). Making things even more unpredictable is the original cast (Keegan-Michael Key, Judy Greer, Johnny Knoxville, and Calum Worthy), whose complicated history of offscreen relationships and personal dysfunctions is part of the package deal that comes with reuniting them to reprise their roles. Fast, funny, and full of the rapid-fire comic zingers Levitan’s shows are famous for, it’s a shrewd and deliciously “meta” satire that pokes fun of all the usual Hollywood flaws and foibles – not to mention currently raging generational conflict of attitudes and values – while making sure its gallery of goofy-but-lovable characters are always the main attraction. This one is a definite gem.
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (AMC, Oct. 2)
For the many devoted followers of author Anne Rice, who sadly passed away at 80 last December, this one is huge. Ever since it was first published in 1976, Rice’s gothic tale of a New Orleans vampire revealing his 200-year history as a denizen of the night has been embraced by queer fans, who saw their own outsider experience reflected in its sensual and sensitive cast of undead protagonists. The novel spawned an entire series of books – “The Vampire Chronicles” – that enriched and expanded the stories of her beloved characters and spread them across a vast historical landscape, and branched off into other sagas populated by more of Rice’s supernatural creations; a 1994 film adaptation starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, though successful, felt straight-washed to many of Rice’s readers (and the less said about 2002’s “Queen of the Damned,” the better), but series creator Rollin Jones has already promised his new adaptation – modernized from the original’s mid-70s setting – will be true to the queer subtext of the author’s original work. The involvement of Christopher Rice (the author’s son) as an executive producer bodes well that such promises will be honored. Starring “Game of Thrones” favorite Jacob Anderson as Louis and Australian actor Sam Reid as Lestat, the 8-episode first season will also feature Bailey Bass, Assad Zaman, Eric Bogosian, Chris Stack, Maura Grace Athari, and Kalyne Coleman.
THE YOUNG ROYALS (Netflix, Nov. 2)
The popular Swedish teen drama about the inconvenient romance between young Prince Wilhelm and his classmate Simon (Edvin Ryding and Omar Rudberg, respectively) returns for a second season that sees its protagonist embarking on a plan of revenge meant to win back Simon’s trust, giving rise to complications that threaten the entire monarchy.
PLANET SEX WITH CARA DELVINGNE (Hulu, Nov. 18)
For those with a taste for the provocative, there’s this promising docuseries, in which model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne goes for a deep dive into some of the biggest questions about sexuality. According to publicity materials, the show is an “immersive journey” in which the star “puts her mind and body on the line in search of answers regarding human sexuality, its joys, mysteries, and constantly changing nature.” Delevingne, who appeared in a recurring role on the second season of Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” opposite friend Selena Gomez, came out as pansexual in 2020, telling Variety, “Growing up, I didn’t really see many people like me, so I’m just really grateful to be one of those people representing.” We can get behind that, and we’ll be watching when the show drops later this fall.
In addition to these, there’s A TRIO OF SHOWS from Netflix with TBD Premiere Dates:
EAST-BAKE BATTLE – Season 1 of a new culinary competition show hosted by “Queer Eye” heartthrob Antoni Porowski.
DEAD END: PARANORMAL PARK – The delightful animated adventure based on Hamish Steele’s graphic novels about a transgender boy named Barney and his friends, who secretly work as the “demon cleanup crew” at a haunted theme park returns for a second season. Real-life trans actor Zach Barach provides the voice of Barney.
WENDELL & WILD – Animated denizens of the underworld also inhabit this new stop-motion series from collaborators Henry Selick (“The Nightmare Before Christmas”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) about a scheming pair demon brothers trying to be summoned into the Land of the Living by a guilt-ridden 13-year-old. Voice talent includes Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Lyric Ross, Angela Bassett, James Jong, Ving Rhames, and trans actor Sam Zelaya.
‘Monarch’s’ hot butterfly: an interview with Kevin Cahoon
Out actor/singer on Fox’s new show and falling in love with Beth Ditto
Fox’s new musical nighttime soap opera “Monarch” is to country music as the network’s “Empire” was to hip-hop. Complete with over-the-top characters, familial intrigue, infidelity, and tragedy. Oh, and a few queer characters, too. Among those characters is hair and makeup artist Earl, played by out actor and singer Kevin Cahoon. In addition to occasionally being the much-needed source of comic relief, Earl also plays the irreplaceable best friend of country music queen Dottie Roman, played by none other than Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon. Fortunately for us, Kevin was kind enough to make time in his schedule to answer a few questions.
BLADE: I first became aware of you as a performer via your music and your band Ghetto Cowboy. Your debut album “Doll” won an OutMusic Award in 2006. When you look back at that time, how do you feel about it?
KEVIN CAHOON: That’s one of the proudest achievements I’ve ever had in my life; winning an OutMusic Award for “Doll.” It really is! It’s on every bio, every résumé. I was so proud to have received it because, in a way, I was coming from the theater, and to do this as my first foray into music, creating rock ‘n’ roll and pop songs; it just felt like the warmest embrace. I was so honored to receive that. That whole period of my life, with Ghetto Cowboy, and playing all of those incredible venues, like Don Hill and CBGB’s. To have been a part of that and to have been a part of the queer music scene at that time felt special. The LGBTQIA community is still moving forward, trying to gain equality across the board. But at that time this was (during) “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This was before marriage equality.
BLADE: The early 2000s.
CAHOON: Yes, it was even before “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” The culture had no understanding about this music and these people that really were making this music. So, it really felt like the outsiders were crashing their way through the door. I even felt that way naming the band Ghetto Cowboy. I thought, “People who are disenfranchised and pushed to the outskirts of society are forced to live in a ghetto.” Whether it’s a Jewish ghetto or a Spanish ghetto or African American, or even rural people in Appalachia or in rural parts of this country, they are pushed, pushed, pushed to the boundaries. By naming the band that I thought, “Oh, this is what it is. We’re gonna come in. We’re gonna be cowboys in this and we are going to stake our claim from the outside.” It was an incredible moment, and it was so exciting, and it was one of the greatest times of my life.
BLADE: Have you had the time to work on any new original music?
CAHOON: I haven’t, and I want to. I think about it all the time. It’s coming, I promise. I have an idea for the long-awaited second album [laughs].
BLADE: As you mentioned, at the same time you were making this music, you were doing a lot of theater and have continued to focus on your acting career. Would you say you’re a singer who acts or an actor who sings?
CAHOON: I would say that I’m an actor who sings. Even with the rock ‘n’ roll, it was coming from a place of character, and a place of story. I felt like I was playing a character when I was fronting my band.
BLADE: You’re currently in the new Texas-set Fox series “Monarch” in which you play Earl Clark. What was it about the character of Earl that appealed to you as an actor?
CAHOON: First of all, it’s a network series with Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins. That was a giant appeal. As an actor, I was connected to the world because I grew up in Texas, I grew up in the rodeo and I have a real soft spot for it, if there’s a pair of cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, I’m gonna grab them and put them on. I love the whole aesthetic. I love the world. I love the outsider going out into the plains and staking a claim for himself. That’s the world of “Monarch.” This show biz, country-western family. It is the juiciest of fun soap operas you could ever imagine.
BLADE: It’s very much in the mold of a classic nighttime soap opera.
CAHOON: It is! In the greatest way. Who doesn’t love that? We all loved “Desperate Housewives,” “Nashville,” “Dallas,” and “Dynasty.” The character (I play) was inspired by a real person named Earl Cox. He is the premier hairstylist to every country star you can ever imagine. So, the (“Monarch”) creator, Melissa London Hilfers, saw his place in their world and thought, “Let’s create a character that is inspired by him.” So, it’s loosely inspired, but she ran with it. I (Earl) have worked for the family for decades. I have been the best friend of Dottie Roman, played by Susan Sarandon. The series evolves when you get to episodes six, seven, and eight, more is revealed as to what Earl knows, and how long he’s been around. He lives on the ranch (The Brambles) with the family. We shot on this incredible 140-acre ranch right outside of Atlanta. It was a dream. The job was a dream. I’m praying that I continue to have more of that dream [laughs]. We’ll see what happens when it gets to season two.
BLADE: I’m so glad you said what you did about Earl and Dottie. There is a palpable exchange of affectionate feelings between them. Would you agree that without their gay hair and makeup people, most country divas would end up looking like Marjorie Taylor Greene?
CAHOON: Gay people are the motor in the pickup truck of the country music industry. I say that Earl Clark showed up to The Brambles with a suitcase full of rhinestones and a dream. His dream was to be in show business. To be close to an iconic diva of country music, which is Dottie Roman, played by Susan and he enjoys being that close to the first lady, and he enjoys his place as the major domo gatekeeper. He will do anything he has to do to retain that position. I think he loves getting dressed up. In the show, they have a fantastic rockabilly hairstyle for me and great, sparkly clothes. I told the wardrobe and hair team that he enjoys getting made-up just as much as he enjoys making Dottie up. That should be part of his essence. That he loves to be seen and he loves to show off and I think they accomplished that with their incredible wardrobe and hair.
BLADE: Is there any possibility of Earl having a love interest?
CAHOON: There is. If a season two happens, I think that that is in the pipeline.
BLADE: The queer energy in “Monarch”is powerful with you and singer/songwriter Beth Ditto, who plays Dottie’s and Albie’s (Trace Adkins) daughter Gigi, representing for us. What is it like working with Beth?
CAHOON: We fell in love immediately. I’m from Texas, Beth is from Arkansas. We fell in love over Zoom. That’s how much I love her. She said to me over the Zoom, “Oh, I can tell I’m gonna fall in love with you.” And I said, “Well, I’ve been in love with you for years because I know who you are. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for the rest of your life.” We have a daily text exchange, Beth and I, which I cherish, and it happens late at night, usually, because we’re both night owls. This text exchange can be about how much we both love Ritz crackers [laughs]. It can go deep, or it can go surface. But I love her and I cherish her, and I’m so lucky that I’ll have her in my life for the rest of my life.
BLADE: Could there someday be a creative collaboration between Kevin and Beth?
CAHOON: Yes! Come on. I would just die and go to heaven. That would be a dream. Maybe we can come up with a song for the show.
BLADE: Fantastic. Will “Monarch”’s audience ever have a chance to hear you sing?
CAHOON: Well, I hope that’s another thing in season two. Let’s get a boyfriend and let’s get a song.
BLADE: “Monarch”is set in Texas. As a Houston native, how do you feel about the way Texas is depicted in “Monarch,”as well as in other shows set in the state?
CAHOON: Texas is such an interesting place. Because you have these hotbeds of liberal progressiveness.
CAHOON: Austin, Houston, Dallas. Then, on the outskirts, it’s pretty red. But I do have to say that within those red pockets, LGBTQIA people are there. They are part of the fabric. They are accepted, they are beloved. They are part of the world.
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