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Out of Bounds

"Christ, isn't anyone straight anymore?"

Queer As Folk, Showtime's new gay-themed drama, may leave viewers wondering.

A far cry from Will & Grace, Folk is a bold addition to the growing genre of queer-related programming. Adapted from a successful but short-lived British drama, Queer As Folk tells the story of the struggles and exploits of gay and lesbian characters in modern-day Pittsburgh.

Here's the scoop: Brian is a handsome 29-year-old ad exec with a penchant for play. Mike is his gold-hearted best friend, Emmett is Mike's flamboyant roommate and Ted is an introverted accountant on the periphery of their social circle. Justin is a teenager exploring his sexuality-with Brian. Debbie is Mike's tough-as-nails PFLAG parent. Lindsay is a new mother (courtesy of Brian) and Melanie, an attorney, is her partner. David, a 40-year-old chiropractor, is a conservative pillar of maturity.

The tangled web of Folk's interpersonal relationships is equally mind-numbing. Mike harbors a long-term crush on playboy Brian, who is interested in anyone and everyone-once. Ted loves Mike but is too shy to share his feelings. Justin obsesses over Brian, who can't seem to shake him. Lindsay has a lingering soft spot for Brian too. Urban sophisticate David is interested in Mike, but their nascent courtship is rocky.

So what differentiates Queer As Folk from Melrose Place? The answer is not quite so simple. The first and most obvious distinction is Folk's novelty as gay-themed entertainment-and the show's racy sex scenes do more than push the envelope. Yet beneath that flashy exterior are issues foreign to typical television fare: coming out, fighting bigotry, building alternative families, travelling unbeaten paths.

But Folk's primary advantage is heart. Debbie, the show's matriarch, embodies the challenges of raising a gay child, imparting her wisdom on Justin's worried mother. And despite his disinterested demeanor, Brian suffers insecurities and fears growing older. Ted is a nervous but endearing underdog, an Eyor in a world of Tiggers. Simply, Folk succeeds in illuminating human issues from homosexual perspectives.

Queer As Folk isn't perfect. The dialogue often plays like a list of platitudes. ("You're the only one you need. You're the only one you've got." "People are what they are.") An undercurrent of sarcasm affords levity with mixed success. ("Come clean. Or don't come at all." "I like dick.") Despite these difficulties, Folk's characters benefit from skillful performances and prove increasingly multi-dimensional.

Ultimately, Queer As Folk is successful on various levels. As gay programming, it represents a more insightful and gritty portrayal of homosexual issues than the squeaky-clean sitcoms Ellen and Will & Grace. As a soap opera, it's fast-paced and sexual, never failing to shock. As a drama, it's heartfelt and honest-a refreshing alternative to staid, formulaic competition.


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