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DVD Review: Queer As Folk: The Complete Third Season

Queer As Folk: The Complete Third Season, available now.
by Ryan Arthur

Given the constraints of a full-time job, I've not been to the theater nearly as much as I'd like in the last few months. But that hasn't stopped the DVD collection from growing, and a backlog of titles piling up, waiting for review, including those times you'll occasionally get stuff sent to you. Free swag? Cool! Such is the life of an HBS/eFC writer. Today: Showtime's Queer As Folk: Season Three.

Specs

Fourteen third season episodes spread over four discs, with a fifth disc of extras.
1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound
Gatefold Digipak in a hinged cardboard box

Breakdown
Disc One
Episode 3.1 through 3.4
"Next On Queer As Folk" previews
Episode Summaries

Disc Two
Episode 3.5 through 3.8
"Next On Queer As Folk" previews
Episode Summaries

Disc Three
Episode 3.9 through 3.11
"Next On Queer As Folk" previews
Episode Summaries

Disc Four
Episode 3.12 through 3.14
"Next On Queer As Folk" previews
Episode Summaries
Audio commentary with cast and producer on episode 3.14

Disc Five
Bonus Features:
"Behind The Camera: The Directors with Cast and Crew"
"Hot Summer Days"
Wrap Party Reel
"Enter Babylon: Los Angeles"
Music Video: Kristine W., "Some Lovin'"
"Quotes, Folks and Notes"
Animated photo gallery
Season Four Sneak Peek
Trailers and spots

Mini-Synopsis

It's season three of the Showtime series focusing on the gay community in and around Pittsburgh, although it's an abbreviated season: only fourteen episodes, as compared to 22 and 20 for the first and second runs. Showtime was apparently a little apprehensive to commit to more with ratings being lackluster. But oh well.

I'll admit to knowing nothing about QAF, and I'm probably not the target audience for the show. But I'll give almost any good drama a look. Regardless: I don't subscribe to Showtime, so I've been hitting Netflix to get caught up. Here's what I can tell you; all the principals are still here: Michael (Hal Sparks, the host from Talk Soup who wasn't on Friends, wasn't nominated for an Oscar, and doesn't have a skunk spot, although he'll always be "Zoltan" to me) is the comic store owner who's now dating HIV-positive Ben (Robert Gant...he was on Friends, though). Michael's friend Brian (Gale Harold) has just separated from babyface Justin (Randy Harrison), who has in turn taken up with Ethan (Fabrizio Filippo). There's also free-spirit Emmett (Peter Paige), who's dating neat-freak Ted (Scott Lowell), and the series' token lesbians, Melanie (Michelle Clunie) and Lindsay (Thea Gill), who have a baby together, fathered in vitro by Brian. Finally, looking over everyone, is Michael's straight-but-full-of-gay-pride mother Debbie (Christine freakin' Cagney herself, Sharon Gless). So yes, there are stereotypes, but the group of actors generally breaks past them, and the show isn't meant to reflect the gay community as a whole, just this particular group.

All of the stories are intertwined and intersect, as they should on most dramas. The series has apparently long since taken leave of its British counterpart (which I also haven't seen), so seasons two and three have taken the characters in new directions, although the locations remain the same: Michael's got his comic shop, Debbie's working at the diner, and Babylon's still there for everyone to dance their asses off at.

It's not all about the love and sex, though there's quite a bit of that (and nudity!). QAF takes you into the lives of the characters. Michael's still very much his mother's son, but Debbie's full of love and pride for her boy, and all of the relationships (romantic and otherwise) in his life. Brian's a ruthless yet successful ad man, but is unfulfilled, self-centered and manipulative, and ends up working for the campaign of the police chief turned mayoral candidate who is staunchly anti-gay (becoming a major plot thread for season three and ultimately leading to Brian's redemption). Ben's insecure about his body at the gym and resorts to steroids, much to Michael's dismay. Justin is still somewhat naïve, though not to the extent that he was in previous seasons. He really comes into his own in Season Three. Ted's porn business collapses, and he descends into meth addiction, leaving Emmett to pick up the pieces. Lindsay and Melanie contemplate another child, though Melanie will attempt to be the one to carry the baby this time.

Among the actors, Gale Harold's Brian fares the best, simply because the character is so interesting. He pines for Justin, and ends up with a hustler who looks eerily similar to him. While Harold plays him with the same sort of blank expression throughout most of the season (and the series, for that matter), when Brian starts to piece together some clues about the death of a young gay man (continuing a plot thread from Season 2), you see the character at least start to do what's right. Peter Paige also stands out. His Emmett is the most effeminate of the group, but he shows a much more serious and responsible side when Ted takes a turn for the worse with his drug experiences. Paige's performance is heartbreaking when his relationship with Ted crumbles. But it's Gless that steals the show. I honestly didn't recognize her the first time I saw her. At times, she's completely over the top, yet she's also the heart of the group, dispensing advice and encouragement but being tough at the same time. She looks nothing like Cagney, and it's not really a glamorous role, but she owns any scene she's in.

Video
Well, it's a pretty good transfer. Showtime shoots the film in widescreen, so there's definitely a glossy feel to it, and it looks theatrical, not just like a TV show transferred to video. The picture's quite sharp. Blacks are nice and deep, while colors (and there are a lot of 'em) are quite vibrant. The latter part of the season when Ted's hopped up on crystal meth is a nice example. Washed out (when seen through Ted's eyes) but bright and crisp for the rest of the world. It looks damn good, actually.

Audio
QAF is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, which is always a nice touch for TV box sets. There's quite a bit of center-channel work (it's a dialogue driven show, after all). The subwoofer gets to workin' during the crowded Babylon scenes, though.

Extras
I'm always a little perturbed when box sets don't have a lot of extras, so it was a nice surprise to see QAF have an entire fifth disc devoted to the bonus goodies.

Behind The Camera - The Directors and Behind The Camera With Cast And Crew are your basic "fly on the wall" type features, with hand-held camera footage from behind the scenes. You meet the directors (including Russell Mulcahy) and get talking head and on-set footage of various crew members talking about the look and feel of the show. The cast portion occasionally features cast members running the camera, and there's nothing really earth shattering with either segment, although I think it's always kind of interesting to see the behind the scenes stuff. The Directors segment is a little over 15 minutes, The Cast And Crew is a little over 26 minutes.

Hot Summer Days is "A Day In The Life" of Robert Gant, Thea Gill, Peter Paige, Scott Lowell and Zoltan. Each cast member has a camcorder and spends a day of their summer hiatus showing viewers what they do with their time off. Gant's pretty laid back, Gill shows off her house, Paige is in rehearsal for a play, Lowell is speaking at a gay rights/pride event, and Sparks lounges about before hitting a series of comedy clubs. Mildly interesting, if uneventful. Runs about 30 minutes.

Wrap Part Reel is about 10 minutes worth of your standard gag reel of bloopers and outtakes.

Enter Babylon: Los Angeles takes a look at the "Recreating Babylon" tour, which is basically just a bigass traveling party for people to attend and dance like fiends with footage of the event....most of it in slow motion. Oookay. There are also interviews with a couple of the DJs at the show, patrons, and the tour coordinator. Just a shade over 12 minutes.

Kristine W.'s Some Lovin' Music Video: Features cast members. The song is also part of the animated menu scheme on the DVDs as well. A little under four minutes.

Quotes, Folks And Notes: Cast and crew biographies, as well as reproduced articles about the show and cast members Randy Harrison and Peter Paige (the only two openly gay cast members) from The Advocate and Robert Gant, Hal Sparks and Sharon Gless from The Express.

Animated Photo Gallery: Pretty self explanatory: a slide-show-type multimedia presentation of on-set and behind the scenes photos set to music. A little over four minutes.

Season Four Sneak Peek: About four and a half minutes of a montage of scenes from the upcoming season, premiering April 18 on Showtime. The tagline? Get Folked.

Trailers And Spots: None specifically for this show, oddly enough. I guess those would be the "Next On Queer As Folk" previews on each episode. There is an HIV/AIDS PSA, a promo and rebate offer for Showtime (featuring QAF), a trailer for Tennessee Williams' The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone and a commercial for the first season of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (to be released March 30).

WrapUp
Queer As Folk fits nicely into the mold of your basic pay cable drama. It's got nudity, coarse language and adult subject matter. It's also good drama and occasionally quite funny with uniformly strong performances. The subject matter will probably scare more than a few people off, and it may not be for everyone, but it could be worth a look.

* * * * out of * * * * *

Buy This DVD


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1027
originally posted: 03/02/04 16:34:41
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