It was only a little over four years ago that we were introduced to the lives of Brian, Michael, Justin, Emmett, Ted, Lindsay, Melanie and Debbie. And from the day the group from Pittsburgh made their way to our screens in Queer As Folk, TV has never been the same.
True, there was an earlier incarnation when the British Queer As Folk screened in Australia in 2000, but a year later as the American series took the same characters and let the story run beyond the initial 10 episodes, a TV legend was born.
That legend drew to a close this month when Queer As Folk bowed out, five seasons and 83 episodes later. The series, which has been acclaimed as breaking new ground and smashing TV taboos, made a clean exit while it was still a hit and, most importantly, relevant.
Rather than going out in an all-guns-blazing finale, it has to be said QAF drew the final curtain in an appropriate way. The final episode returned to the key elements of the friendships which held the storylines together back in the first episodes. Brian was still the king of the Babylon dancefloor, and Michael was still his trusty best friend, loyally by his side to the very end.
In the intervening years, however, there had been a raft of queer issues. From the first episode with the infamous rimming scene, through numerous orgies and backroom encounters, not to mention a crystal meth-fuelled gang bang, QAF guaranteed TV a bumpy ride.
In the beginning, you were in such a sense of shock, Sydney Morning Herald TV critic Michael Idato says. Some of it could take your breath away, in a -˜did they really just do that?’ kind of way.
Where I think QAF was incredibly bold was it told very candid stories, but told them in a truthful way. That is unusual as, for the most part, TV plays with a fictionalised reality.
While most people in the history of popular culture on TV have seen their stories told in some ways, the gay community has not had that. In some cases in recent times, the gay community has been represented on TV by a glossed-over, respectable image. QAF didn’t always do that.
What it said was that gay people are frivolous, promiscuous, hang out in bars and backrooms and take lots of drugs. While that is not true for all gay people, it is true for many.
So in some ways, QAF confirmed the mainstream’s worst fears about the gay community. All those things can be seen as a negative but, at the same time, the people those stories represent deserve to have their stories told as much as the postcard fantasy of the suburban gay couple with a family.
In its depiction of the diversity of gay and lesbian lives, QAF has been a success, according to Lesbians On The Loose editor Merryn Johns. While she calls the series a gay soap opera, she also says its impact can not been underestimated.
QAF has been a big step ahead for all of us, Johns says. It has had an impact on the mainstream, with straight people getting to see some of the things that go on in our lives. It has been revolutionary in that way.
I do think the series reflected our times and the visibility of our community. I also think it is a reflection of where our gay culture is now.
But Johns believes the lesbian characters of Lindsay and Melanie existed as a mere sidebar to the endless buttfucking of the storylines.
I really didn’t mind them [the women] so much, but they did fall into a stereotype, she says. They were a bit down in the mouth, stay-at-home and not very happy in their long-term relationship. Then they thought they could breath life into the relationship by having a baby. Yes, that is a stereotype, but we all see that throughout the community.
I actually think The L Word has become a lesbian version of QAF, and they really go together. They are a bookend of our times, but we had to wait so long for them to come along.
John Schwartz, senior lecturer in Media and Communication at Melbourne’s Swinburne University, believes one of the reasons QAF proved so successful was its cross-over appeal. While it was about the lives of gay and lesbian characters, it was not exclusively for that market.
The success of QAF suggests it found an audience that was not just gay and lesbian, but a wider audience that wanted to see a portrayal of people’s lives.
For straight people like me, it was a chance to see, watch and listen to the views of gays and lesbians. It has followed a pattern in popular culture in recent years that has included gay characters in a more sympathetic, fulsome kind of way, not just as stereotypes.
As QAF becomes TV history once the finale screens on Monday, its legacy is certain to live on through re-runs as well as in DVD sets. Merryn Johns believes history will judge the series kindly for what it did and how far it was prepared to go.
QAF was ground-breaking for our times, and it is a golden age of TV. Every generation has its own clutch of shows that everyone feels is a golden age, but then that ground-breaking TV passes into nostalgia. We will be telling kids in years to come about how this show was the Seinfeld of our community and our times, only far less funny.