I have always found episodic television a curious teacher, it acclimates us to new ideas and the diversity of our culture.
In 1998 the American people met Will & Grace. An episodic comedy series about Will Truman (Eric McCormack) a gay lawyer and his best gal pal, interior designer Grace Adler (Debra Messing). The show aired on NBC (1998-2006). The show, famous for its quick gay wit and one-liners, introduced the American people to the idea that gay men had hot girl friends and yes, men do have intimate relations and families with other men.
Not long after Will & Grace Showtime launched Queer as Folk (2000-2005). The show featured: Gale Harold, Peter Paige, Hal Sparks, Sharon Gless, Scott Lowell, and Thea Gill. This controversial show, set in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, depicted the lives of sexually appealing gay men facing such issues as: drug addiction, HIV, gay marriage, homophobia, hate crimes, gay families, and relationships with a lot of gay sex just this side of porn. The show was so controversial that some talent agents would not even send their clients to audition for the pilot. Ultimately, Queer as Folk broke down barriers for five consecutive seasons leaving an LGBTQ legacy of 83 episodes.
Jump ahead a few years, well a lot of years to be honest, to find the next but very short lived episodic series Looking which aired on HBO ran from 2014-2015. The show told the story of a group of friends in San Francisco. I am still a little annoyed with HBO for cancelling after only one season. But at least they thought enough to give the viewers some closure with a two-hour finale. In my opinion, Looking would have gained momentum by the end of the second season.
What I find troubling about the small screen is that in over fifty years we’ve only experienced a handful of episodic shows that feature the LGBTQ lifestyle in a way that’s had any real redeeming value in our culture. This statement is not meant to include reality shows such as: Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, or comedy series such as Modern Family.
NBC Universal broke new ground with Eyewitness, airing on the USA network ( Fall of 2016) . The story was adapted from the Norwegian series Øyevitne by Adi Hasak. The new show’s creator & executive producer’s bold vision brings us the first American dramatic thriller where the two main characters are gay high school seniors in the beginning of their relationship.
In the first episode Lukas Waldenbeck played by (James Paxton), and Philip Shea played by (Tyler Young) are in the throes of passion at Lucas’ family cabin in upstate New York. Interrupted by a car pulling up to the drive, their relationship is about to be discovered. They jump up, one diving under the bed while the other hides in the closet.
The two young lovers soon witness a triple homicide when they are interrupted by four men entering the cabin. The tables were turned when the apparent victim ends up killing the other three men. Ryan Kane played by (Warren Christie) notices Philip hiding under the bed. Quick to save his boyfriend, Lukas hits the would-be assailant in the back of the head knocking him out cold. The two teens flee, saying nothing to Philip’s foster mother and town sheriff Helen Torrance played by (Julianne Nicholson), well known for her role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Nicholson is well cast, giving a very believable performance.
Helen’s husband, Gabe Caldwell played by one of my all time favorite actors (Gil Bellows) well known for his roles in Shawshank Redemption and most recently Dead Draw, is the town veterinarian. Bellows, a seasoned actor and director, plays the compassionate and supportive foster father to Philip and husband to Helen. His character has the rugged masculine quality that will earn him some new LGBTQ admirers increasing his already large and diverse fan base.
I had the pleasure of running into Bellows at the 2016 San Diego International Film Festival at the premiere of his new film Dead Draw. I asked him what his thoughts were on Eyewitness and whether or not the American audience is ready for it. This is what he had to say. “To me, Eyewitness is a thriller that manages to become a character piece about love and all its manifestations and consequences. Eyewitness is a meditation on humanity.”
“You have young love between two boys and the fear to share their relationship publicly; the love between sisters on either side of the law; forbidden (illegal) love between a man and an underage girl; a gangster father’s love for his wild daughter; a woman’s love of her profession; a man’s love of his family and finally a husband and wife loving one another through it all. For all those involved in this story the cost may be too high.”
The cast of Eyewitness brings a thrilling story to American television. But the man behind it, Adi Hasik requires more examination. I have spent several months getting to know Hasik. The words that come to mind are innovative, creative, and accurate. Meaning he portrayed the LGBT Q community in a realistic manner.
In an interview with Hasik I wanted to know, “With our current political climate, why now? And is America ready for a show that pushes perceived social norms?”
Hasik : “I think American and international audiences are ready for this story, as is evidenced in the way fans around the world have embraced the characters of Philip and Lukas. Fans on Twitter have practically exploded the Internet with an outpouring of love and fan art each night a new episode has aired this fall. Many even started pleading for a season two in the very early days of the series.”
It is clear that Hasik is a true supporter of the LGBTQ community; and for the record, he is not gay. The question looms why the LGBTQ characters are so present in his work?
Hasik “Depicting diverse, non-stereotypical LGBTQ characters in my work, is a priority for me. Not only in Eyewitness, but in Shades of Blue, the NBC series I created in which Ray Liotta plays a strong gay man. I plan to continue telling LGBTQ storylines. Much the same way I intend to continue telling nuanced human stories that push boundaries and defy clichés and stereotypes.”
“As a society, I think it’s our duty to support positive representations of LGBTQ characters on television and to ensure these stories continue being told.”
If you are a fan of the Twilight series’ cinematography, you will love Eyewitness on USA Network & Shades of Blue on NBC. If you missed the first season of Eyewitness, you can catch up by watching select episodes on USA now or the complete first season on HULU. Shades of Blue airs this Spring on NBC.
Writers note ; Adi Hasik has been nominated for a GLADD award for his positive portrayal the of the LGBTQ community, NBC Universal & USA Network has my attention