Queer as Folk was groundbreaking. A playful, angry, fearless look at the lives of gay men. A show that defied homophobes and put gay sex on prime-time television. A middle finger to the assimilationists on Will and Grace. I didn’t like it.
Friends said “The British version is better.” So, I gave it a watch. The men were less cartoonish than their American counterparts but were still a bunch of jerks. Aidan Gillen’s protagonist was an anti-hero who seduced a minor (Charlie Hunnam), tortured his best friend (Craig Kelly) and assaulted homophobes. The supporting cast worshipped him and forgave his sour Peter Pan antics.
At first, I dismissed the show as self-loathing. A modern-day Boys in the Band. Over time I’ve grown to respect it. Unlike The Boys, the UK’s Stuart and the US’s Brian were rewarded for their flaws. There’s been no one like them in LGBTQ media since.
I decided to rewatch the UK series. I’ll attempt to summarize Stuart’s journey in this spoiler filled recap.
Series One (1999)
Scene One: Stuart’s Apartment in Manchester
(Stuart, a 29-year-old player, hooks up with Nathan, a 15-year-old twink.)
STUART: What will shock the censors more? The rim job or the statutory rape?
NATHAN: Is every episode this graphic?
STUART: Sadly no.
STUART: My lesbian friend just had my baby. Does this mean I have to grow up?
Scene Two: Babylon Nightclub
VINCE (Stuart’s lovelorn friend.): We’re the same type. Why does everybody want you and not me?
STUART: Because you hate yourself and I’m the writer’s power fantasy.
NATHAN: Stuart! I’m totally not stalking you. Let’s shag.
STUART: I’ve already had you.
VINCE: Forget him Nathan. Or you’ll end up chasing him forever.
(Stuart shags some randos. Vince rejects every guy who flirts with him.)
Scene Three: Funeral
VINCE: I can’t believe our friend died of a heroin overdose. He survived on the US show.
STUART: They had 83 episodes to fill. We get 10.
JAPANESE MAN: Yet you find time to make racist remarks about me.
VINCE: Yeah. That part hasn’t aged well.
Scene Four: Date Night
ACCOUNTANT: I’m glad you could come out tonight. I was…
VINCE: Sorry. I have to take ten phone calls from Stuart (He does.)
ACCOUNTANT: So, you like controlling men?
(Throws Vince’s phone in a pond and kisses him.)
VINCE: Yes daddy.
STUART: Jealousy mode activated!
(Accountant and Stuart sing Brandy & Monica’s “That Boy Is Mine.”)
Scene Five: Vince’s 30th Birthday Party
VINCE’s STRAIGHT FEMALE CO-WORKER: I’m falling for Vince.
STUART: He’s got a boyfriend.
VINCE: Why did you out me? I could get fired!
STUART: Because I resent your newfound independence.
(Vince leaves. Stuart drives a car through a homophobes’ shop window.)
Scene Six: Weeks Later
STUART: All I’m good for is shagging.
NATHAN: Is this self-pity meant to make you sympathetic? You did it so he’d move on. But you’re miserable without him.
(Nathan leaves Stuart’s birthday gift outside Vince’s apartment.)
VINCE: You do care! I’ll dump the boring accountant and go back to chasing you.
STUART: Like Charlie Brown and the football.
VINCE: Unrequited love never has to grow up. (They dance.)
Series Two (2000)
Scene Seven: Friend’s Wedding
STUART: Everyone thinks Vince is my boyfriend.
VINCE’s MOM: And?
STUART: I don’t fancy him. I just love him.
(Vince and Stuart dance. Then sleep side by side, without touching.)
Scene Eight: Family Visit
STUART’s NEPHEW: Found your porn. Pay me or I’ll tell the family you’re queer.
STUART: Family, I’m queer. (Dunks nephew’s head in a toilet.)
Scene Nine: Babylon Night Club
VINCE: I got a promotion.
STUART: Let’s have a threesome with Nathan to celebrate.
VINCE: I’ll pass.
STUART: See? You don’t want sex. You want a wife. I’m leaving town.
NATHAN: You’re too old anyway. If you want to see me naked again you’ll have to watch Sons of Anarchy.
(Stuart blows up a homophobes’ car.)
Scene Ten: Car Chase
(Vince’s mom drags him out of work, drives through a crowd of kids and punches a cop so Vince can catch up to Stuart. It’s a lot to unpack.)
STUART: You’re not coming with me.
VINCE: Try and stop me.
STUART: I guess Canal Street belongs to Nathan now.
(Stuart and Vince drive off into the night.)
Epilogue: A Gas Station in Arizona
(Stuart scares off a homophobe with a gun.)
VINCE: We gave up our families and careers to travel the world together. We’re like Thelma and Louise!
STUART: Hopefully we’ll end up happier than they did.
I think TV in particular is responsible for reminding us that the world is not just composed of people exactly like ourselves and that everyone’s got a story to tell.Series creator Russell T. Davies
Tales of the City, The L Word and even Will and Grace have since been rebooted. Would you like to see Aidan Gillen, Craig Kelly and Charlie Hunnam return for a new Queer as Folk? Would you prefer the American cast? A new set of characters? Russell Davies’ spiritual successor, Cucumber, didn’t achieve the same notoriety. But he’s got another shot with the upcoming queer series It’s A Sin. I’ll be watching.