As we continue to live in a world of endless reboots and sequels, we enter the doors of Babylon into a newer, darker, sharper version of Queer as Folk. Led by a stunning and diverse ensemble cast comprised of queer talent with an equal amount of LGBT crew working behind the scenes, from strictly a surface level, QAF gets everything right before even approaching the scripting, episode count, or characters themselves. By shifting the action to the bustling city of New Orleans, the creators have given themselves a new sandbox in which to play with their creations. Most importantly, QAF doesn’t seem to be simply checking boxes in the name of representation; each story beat and issue presented is completely organic. A large subset of gays will certainly have some opinions, but I found Peacock’s QAF to be intimate, emotional, and sexy—three vital ingredients to the QAF formula.

In the aftermath of a bidding war between streamers Showtime and Peacock, the second relaunch of Queer as Folk has finally arrived. For this viewer, a new series has a hell of a lot to live up to. As a teenager who took full advantage of Netflix’s classic sent-by-mail DVD services and was not yet out to my family, Showtime’s Queer as Folk served as a beacon of light. Perhaps I was too young to be absorbing its messages and explicit sex, yet Queer as Folk left a major imprint on me as a person. It also helped to ease my transition in my own sexual identity, coming out to my family as bisexual shortly after finishing the first season. Weeks later, I would watch the original UK version in one sitting, and wonder in astonishment how Stuart Jones could possibly be equal to Brian Kinney on a hotness scale. With decades of built-up adoration towards previous iterations, how could a new depiction of gay life and a popping nightclub called Babylon possibly hold a candle?

The answer to that question is more complicated than it would initially appear. The series takes calculated inspiration on specific story beats, yet switches up just enough to feel fresh and intuitive. Instead of being beholden to the past, Stephen Dunn and creatives forge ahead to a dramatically gripping reimagining of the Queer as Folk brand. Taking a page from the horror of 2016’s Pulse nightclub shooting, the new series revels in stripping away everything and rebuilding. After tragedy, what more can one really do?

A breezy setup establishes the relative normal of our core characters. Hunky and promiscuous Brodie (Devin Way, Grey’s Anatomy) has dropped out of med school, and returns back home in New Orleans to rediscover what he wants to do with his life. His closest friend, Professor Ruthie (Jesse James Keitel, Big Sky, Alex Strangelove), welcomes Brodie back with open arms, much to the behest of her deeply pregnant significant other, non-binary Shar (CG). Brodie’s nerdy brother, Julian (Ryan O’Connell, Netflix’s Special), and his stepmother, Brenda (Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City, Tell Me a Story), are less accepting of Brodie’s return, mainly as it remains reflective of Brodie’s erratic personality traits and fear of commitment. Brodie’s hyper-masculine ex, Noah (Johnny Sibilly, Pose), is now secretly dating (or at the very least hooking up with) Brodie’s bubbly bestie, Daddius (Chris Renfro). As with the original Queer as Folk series, the addition of a much younger person in our lead’s life throws a wrench into the established status quo—in this case, 17-year-old Mingus (Fin Argus, Clouds, Stay Awake) fits the bill. Approaching their audition for drag school, Mingus hopes to make their debut performance at Babylon into an unforgettable riff on 90s classic The Craft. The spectacle and dazzle of Babylon perfectly capture the vibe I was expecting.

One night at Babylon, the lives of everyone are changed irrevocably. When the show first began, it felt breezy and familiar, with tastes of modern queer life through humorous asides and sexually provocative key sequences. An opening scene where Brodie is in the midst of an encounter with a grotesque white gay man who sports a “Black Lives Matter” tattoo on his ass and is clearly racist seems to have set the tone for the show to follow. However, by the end of its premiere, Queer as Folk was quick to remind me that we will not be following a similar path. The Showtime version had its fair share of devastating areas that would drive any sane person to tears (season 1 culminated in an abhorrent hate crime, and season 5 has an entire storyline about the Babylon bombing), but right off the bat, Peacock’s Queer as Folk hits one right in the feels. A shooting at Babylon causes major repercussions on the trajectory of the story, and sends our characters careening down new, unexpected pathways.

Subsequent episodes pair the darkness with the humor brilliantly, as the groundwork has been laid to get us invested in this world. One major death reverberates for the full 8-episode run. Some turns to drugs, while others may push away the very core of what made them, and others still may find themselves falling into unexpected couplings. It is almost living proof that grief is not an easily-explained phenomena, and everyone will react at their own pace. If you are expecting to move on from the trauma and absorb a world of sunshine and rainbows, QAF may not be the right fit for you. I personally think that one should take Julian’s advice for watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and apply it to this new QAF: “respect the binge!” Supporting cast, including Catrall as Brodie’s sassy stepmom, a drag queen named Bussey (Armand Fields), a crippled barfly known as Marvin (Eric Graise), and Ming’s young-at-heart mother played by Juliette Lewis, are scene stealers in their own regard. The way the show explores the disabled community is to be commended, as I think it is done in a way rarely seen depicted onscreen.

As far as apples to apples comparisons, there is some crossover and obvious references to other QAF projects. Brodie is the self-proclaimed “splooge” donor of Ruthie and Shar’s twins, slightly tweaked from the single child Gus that the lesbians had thanks to Brian. Brodie and Ming spark a will-they-or-won’t-they relationship that shippers will become obsessed with. Traits from the other show are often toyed with, yet every newbie develops a personality all their own by season’s end. A cute easter egg involving Charlie Hunnam made me smile, and the framing of the opening scene to evoke Showtime’s credits sequence deserves a round of applause. There are plenty of other moments that eagle-eyed viewers will revel in picking apart.

Powerful moments at Babylon in the finale are very important to the overall themes of the series. By the final episode, I completely fell in love with Brodie, Julian, Ruthie, Noah—pretty much all of these characters. Centering a fully-queer cast amongst queer creatives keeps the show feeling like a breath of fresh air even when it occasionally wants to retread old ground. Mingus is constantly changing their wardrobe based on their mood, which includes many skirts accompanied by carefully-applied makeup. Ruthie, a trans character, has her “dead name,” or original name pre-transition, completely bleeped out. I fully feel that neither of these aspects would have been given the respect they deserved in lesser hands.

For classic fans or just those longing for their healthy dose of gay injection during pride month, Queer as Folk does what it promises and then some. By seamlessly incorporating old ideas with the new, a beautiful amalgamation is created that brims with love and acceptance. Nuanced characters try to reclaim the word “faggot,” desperately trying to move on from the shooting and an endless array of vigils and meaningless gestures. By embracing the flaws, Peacock’s Queer as Folk adds in an extra layer of meaningfulness that warms one’s heart. Perhaps it can speak to a brand new generation of viewers, without ever needing to rely on them to request DVDs by mail! 

Queer as Folk lives loud and proud when it debuts exclusively to Peacock on Thursday, June 9th.

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