2011 Year in Review: Tube

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GAY FAMILY TIES | The two-dad household on ‘Allen Gregory’ takes a big turn from the suburban kookiness of ‘Modern Family.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

In a year when most people began to feel broadcast and cable television had become all but irrelevant in the era of streaming, the most proletarian of American entertainment still managed some remarkable work — both from returning series and new entries (marked with a •).

10. American Horror Story (FX)• You have to begin watching this series — as you do Ryan Murphy’s other current show, Glee — understanding that it’s a fantasy that does not, and is not intended to, make a lick of sense. Why doesn’t the family in the cursed L.A. “murder house” move out? Why do they constantly lie … and get caught? How can so much drama happen to just a few people? You’re asking for trouble if you think — you’re meant to just go along for this ride, a grotesque riff on Gothic horror movie clichés with a spicy bit of kink added. Jessica Lange as a creepy neighbor rockets into a stratosphere of kook that’s unmissably delicious.

9. Glee (Fox) Murphy’s other series is already showing its age after only after its third season, but whoever expected it would be anything other than what it is, a flash of gay brilliance that couldn’t last longer than a high school career anyway? It remains in the top 10, especially for gay audiences, largely because of the end of last season, which featured touching work by Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch.

8. The Killing (AMC)• A moody mix of Twin Peaks and 24 with a Scandinavian bleakness, this investigation into the death of a girl in Seattle, laden with dread and impenetrable characters who often do the wrong thing, was an addictive mystery. The season finale didn’t quite work, but that only makes me look forward to Season 2.

7. Happy Endings (ABC)•

6. Modern Family (ABC) This one-two punch of queer-friendly sitcoms — as perfect a pairing of half-hours since Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley — show the gay experience from the perspective of boring suburbia and slacker 20-something with wit and true character development between ModFam’s couple Cam and Mitchell and Happy Endings’ gay Oscar Madison, Max.

5. Raising Hope (Fox). The sleeper sitcom hit of last year continues to delight audiences who can detect the sophistication lurking in creator Greg Garcia’s comedy about lower-class denizens. (He did it before with My Name Is Earl.) The clever gay-friendly message is conveyed ironically, but for a story about child-rearing, it’s as raucous as a sitcom can be.

4. RuPaul’s Drag Race (Logo). The third season of Drag Race was just as good as the second (the first was really a training ground for the style). Campy but also incredibly sincere, it’s one of the funniest reality shows ever on TV and one where most of the contestants actually seem to have skills. When Season 4 starts next month, we’ll be glued.

3. Allen Gregory (Fox)• Jonah Hill had, for me, fallen into the Seth Rogen category of overstayed-his-welcome with a repetition comic persona in his largely crass movie roles, but Allen Gregory changed all that for me. A smart, stylish animated sitcom about a pretentious kindergartener and his two-dad family (including a hunky former straight man and an adopted Asian sister) has some of the best jokes about gay characters on any show. Ever.

2. The Walking Dead (AMC)• There is virtually no gay content in this zombie series, just some of the most chilling action sequences ever on TV (and the hottest guy on TV in the totally ripped Jon Bernthal). It’s really the sound editing that gets to you in this drama about the end of world at the hands of ravaging flesh eaters. Who knows where it will go? But you sure wanna find out.

1. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report (Comedy Central). The 12 months leading up to presidential primary season would simply not have been the same without the genius commentary (with Stewart, confrontational; with Colbert, ironic) about the crazed political atmosphere we have found ourselves in. Colbert’s establishing of a SuperPAC, which he actually uses to point out the insanity of our laws, was as mind-blowing as comedy has ever gotten.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Denis the menace

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Gay actor Denis O’Hare, TV’s reigning villain, is far less creepy than his roles

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AMERICAN HORROR ACTOR | Denis O’Hare adds grotesque intensity to Ryan Murphy’s creepy series, which wrapped it’s first season this week.

Meeting Denis O’Hare should be scary as hell. After all, this is the man who plays two of TV’s reigning supervillains: The horny vamp leader on True Blood and a mysteriously deformed psychopath who just suffocated a potential homebuyer on American Horror Story. But today, in the back of homo-hot-spot Saint Felix in West Hollywood on his day off, O’Hare doesn’t project any of that eeriness.

So far during the debut season of the smash FX show, O’Hare, as the scarred weirdo Larry Harvey, has doused a house in gasoline, killed another man’s mistress and fought fervently for a home that’s become a tough sell — and not just because the economy sucks.

“I don’t think he’s evil,” O’Hare says. “He’s acting out of a particular desire for something. For me, all characters have a justification for their behavior; they always think that what they’re doing is necessary for a reason. Even the Phantom of the Opera has a real reason: He was in love with someone, he was scarred, he wants love and revenge.”

O’Hare orders a smorgasbord of nibbles in between talking of Ryan Murphy’s AHS, the upcoming season of True Blood and the foster child he’s caring for with husband Hugo Redwood, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. Holding his phone up, O’Hare flips through photos of his family, looking for the one of the kid flashing his happy-as-can-be grin. Like O’Hare’s partner, the actor’s nearly year-old baby is black, and when he comes upon one pic — of the boy atop O’Hare’s lap and a friend’s child, who’s white, sitting on Redwood — he finally breaks into a maniacal smirk.

“We’re the right wing’s worst nightmare,” O’Hare says. “Wrong color baby on the wrong person’s lap — oh my god!”

And you thought Larry was scary.

Before getting the call from Murphy, who desperately wanted O’Hare to take on Larry, the actor was already creeping out audiences on True Blood as Russell Edgington, the ancient former vampire king of Mississippi.

Premiering next summer, Season 5 will see the return of the Master of Nutcases, when the 2,800-year-old bloodsucker makes a comeback after skipping out on the last go-’round. What’s to become of him after rising from the cement he was buried under?

“Nothing I can share,” O’Hare says, noting a recent lunch he had with out True Blood mastermind Alan Ball, also the creator of Six Feet Under. “We talked about what’s going to happen and I was definitely surprised. It’s good stuff. It’s always good stuff. With him, and with Ryan, they don’t go to obvious places. They go where you wouldn’t expect them to go.”

And so does O’Hare. The actor, who’s actually down-to-earth and chatty, is good at playing bad. He was relentless at getting Sandra Bullock kicked out of the country in rom-com The Proposal, and played way against type in Milk as Sen. John Briggs, who proposes a California ballot initiative to outlaw gay and lesbian teachers.

Recently, O’Hare had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene in the Hoover biopic J. Edgar, a chance to work again with Clint Eastwood (O’Hare starred alongside Angelina Jolie in Changeling as, what do you know, a psych-ward bad guy).

O’Hare, who turns 50 next month, got his start while growing up in Michigan, where he sang in the choir and, in 1974, landed a chorus part in a community theater production of Show Boat. He parlayed his humble beginnings into a Broadway career — in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins in 2004, then scoring a Tony Award for his performance in Take Me Out. In January, O’Hare heads back to New York stage where he’ll act in An Iliad, off-Broadway run, before heading back to L.A. for more of True Blood.

The best part of being in NYC? Seeing his family. O’Hare married Redwood, an interior designer, over the summer, and the two have been caring for their foster child since April.

“I could’ve gone to my grave without having kids, but I came around to liking the idea,” O’Hare admits, noting he warmed up to the thought after seven years of talks with Redwood. “As a gay man, I find my biggest stumbling block was my own homophobia, my own sense of feeling that gay people shouldn’t have kids. I felt pressure from society that we’re not supposed to have kids” — not to mention, he adds, that once you do, it’s like wearing a gay yarmulke — “and I was also shy about being a spokesperson for gay adoption.”

And now he’s the gushing father who’s looking for just the right pic to show off the kid’s smile. His foster child laughs a lot, but how could he not? “I speak to him in bad French,” O’Hare says, “and he dies.”

O’Hare’s encounters with gay couples and their kids helped him shake off his internalized homophobia, something he says is difficult to diagnose in ourselves, and he finally accepted the idea of having his own with Redwood. “It’s been normalized for me,” he says, deliberating. “But it’s like being married. It’s so hard to say the word ‘husband’ at first. I say ‘partner,’ and then suddenly realize if I say ‘husband,’ it might be aggressively political. But then it’s like, what the fuck? What else am I gonna say? He’s my husband. We are legally married.”

Part of  his hesitation is that common desire not to be defined by his sexual orientation.

“For me, an actor is an actor. Years ago someone said to me, ‘How do you feel about being a gay actor?’ I said, ‘I’m not a gay actor. I’m an actor. I’m Irish. I’m an atheist. And a bridge player. I ride my bike. And I’m gay.’”

He fits right in on the set of American Horror Story, one of the gay-friendliest projects he’s ever worked on. No surprise there: This is a Ryan Murphy production.

“I’ve met more lesbian gaffers on Ryan’s show than I’ve ever met anywhere else in my life!” O’Hare explains with delight.

When O’Hare was sent the script directly from Murphy back in March, just a few weeks before shooting was set to begin, he was immediately intrigued. The show takes cues from many of his favorite horror classics and the legendary names behind them: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi.

“What I think is great about the show is that Ryan’s kind of consciously quoting from great works,” he says. “‘Don’t go in the basement’ is one of the biggest horror tropes, or ‘don’t open the door’ — they’re all horror tropes, and he’s using all of them in a really cool way. And I hear some people say, ‘Well, it’s unrealistic. Who’d stay in the house?’ That’s just a given. Let’s just let them stay in the house.”

Now he’s starting to sound a lot like Larry, who’s so insistent that the Harmons stick around, you wonder what the dude’s got up his sleeve. “I think Larry has a very clear overarching goal, which is redemption and release,” O’Hare says, “and that is all tied up in the house.”

For O’Hare, the role requires three-and-a-half hours of makeup, transforming the actor’s face into the questionable burn victim and leaving him with only half his hearing and sight. On the first day of shooting, Murphy walked him through Larry’s limp and shriveled arm. “He’s got the vision in his head, so he had to be very clear about what we should to do and I like that about him — he’s a very clear director.”

That helps, but with True Blood, O’Hare knew what he wanted for Russell Edgington.

“I felt no need to make Russell act gay, because he is gay,” he says, adding that because the vamp’s so ancient, homosexuality didn’t even really exist then. “I know as a gay man I don’t have to demonstrate that I’m gay. The fact that I’m sleeping with a man is the demonstration.”

And that’s gay?

O’Hare smiles big and non-creepy smile. “Not always, but for the most part.”

— Chris Azzopardi

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Power of the pyramid

Kitchen Dog debuts ‘Ponzi,’ a financial horror story

NOUVEAU POOR | An heiress (Christina Vela, left) flirts with a man (Max Hartman) and his wife (Diane Casey-Box) in the economic meltdown play ‘Ponzi.” (Photo by Matt Mrozek)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

PONZI
The MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave. Through June 25. $15–$25.
KitchenDogTheater.org.

…………………….

“The rich are different from you and me,” Scott Fitzgerald waxed, to which Hemingway allegedly responded, “Yes — they have more money.” But they are different. Money is never a big deal to people who have it, so they stand above it all. They don’t talk about how much they have, or how much things cost because, at some point, what difference does it make? If you don’t have to work to earn it, its value is fungible.

Then again, losing money — losing a great deal of it — is something everyone can understand. It becomes a source of ego, of pride. How would you feel if you pissed away $20 mil you didn’t deserve in the first place?

That is the situation posed to Catherine (Christina Vela), the regal heiress in Ponzi, the world premiere mainstage production at Kitchen Dog Theater’s New Works Festival. Catherine’s father was a legendary up-from-his-bootstraps self-made man who left Catherine two things: A solid fiscal philosophy and millions in cash to execute it.

She’s honored him by not being as showy and shallow as Allison (Diane Casey-Box), the quintessential nouveau riche Real Housewife, a woman with more cents than sense. Allison and hubby Bryce (Max Hartman) are enraptured by the get-rich-quick scheme of a flashy money manager, and their enthusiasm — plus Bryce’s unabashed flirtation with Catherine, driven in part by his lust for her balance sheet — leads to a series of bad mistakes.

Ponzi should frighten you more than it does, the way the Oscar winning documentary Inside Job did. There’s so much techno-talk — about the gold standard, how Social Security is a classic example of a Ponzi scheme that no one will touch, about how greed feeds pyramid schemes, about the lemming mentality that can cause sensible people to behave irrationally — that it needs to chill you. Like the financial meltdown, it’s not that some people didn’t see it coming; it’s that none of these so-called experts had any idea how reckless they were being. (The use of tarot cards to emphasize the randomness of life and fortune is a witty touch.)

Such horror is a ripe fruit that playwright Elaine Romero should have picked. Instead, she removes some of the universality of the tale by making it so specific to these characters.

That’s not entirely a bad thing. Instead of getting lost in the esoterica of money, she concentrates on the personality traits that drive people to make bad decisions. An undercurrent of sexual tension — between Catherine and Bryce, but just as electric (though more subtly expressed) between Catherine and Allison — makes the seductive power of the purse all the more visceral. Money is the new toy — and it’s a sex toy, at that.

Casey-Box plays the betrayed wife better than just about any actress in town; she’s always quick to turn on the ravenously uncensored switch in her characters’ brains, the one that makes people both pitiable and annoying. It’s delicious fun to watch. Vela is good as Catherine, but her final arc strikes a false note; it seems literary, not realistic.

Even still, the actors ply all these twists in one the KDT’s best-looking plays in years, with lush costumes from Tina Parker and a sleek set by Bryan Wofford. Amid such glam, the seduction of money begins to work on us, too. Maybe more is more, even if we hate to admit it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens