‘Normal Heart,’ ‘Modern Family’ and Jim Parsons win Emmy Awards

916137691In what could have been a night for firsts, the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards last night stuck with the predictable.

The night was still a great night for LGBT characters, stars and media, however. Houston native Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, the ABC comedy Modern Family and HBO’s adaptation of The Normal Heart all won Emmys in their respective categories. The latter was produced by Ryan Murphy, the out gay director who also produced nominees American Horror Story and Glee.

Among notable nominees in other categories were AHS‘s Sarah Paulson; Orange is the New Black‘s Laverne Cox, who was the first transperson to ever be nominated for an Emmy; Nathan Lane, for a guest appearance on Modern Family; and Kevin Spacey for his performance as a ruthless congressman in House of Cards. (While Spacey isn’t out, he frequently dodges questions about his sexuality.)

You can see a full list of the winners here.

 

—  James Russell

REVIEW: ‘The Normal Heart’ on HBO

Matt Bomer and Mark Ruffalo in ‘The Normal Heart,’ which debuts Sunday on HBO.

In the early 1990s, the AIDS crisis and gay rights became a suitable subject for popular entertainment, with movies and TV shows like Longtime Companion, Philadelphia, And the Band Played On, Tales of the City and plays like As Is, Angels in America and Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. The last one, coming from the most vocal (and often least well-liked) voice of the gay activist movement, was probably the most polarizing. It never had a Broadway opening, and certainly was not adapted for the screen.

By 2012, the world was ready again to deal with Larry Kramer. The play opened on Broadway (and won a Tony), and now — about two decades after the artistic fever-dream of AIDS dramas — the filmed version hits the airwaves.

HBO’s The Normal Heart has been a long time coming, but in some ways, it feels like it didn’t skip a beat. The opening segment, a trip to Fire Island cribbed from the structure of Longtime Companion, is both familiar and new, what with all the full-frontal nudity and explicit sex you wouldn’t have seen 20 years ago. And even better, many, many openly-gay actors in the major roles (among them: Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Jonathan Groff, Stephen Spinella and B.D. Wong). Not gay, but going full-bore as the hero anyway, is Mark Ruffalo as Ned Weeks, Kramer’s stand-in for himself. Ned’s something of a Cassandra, clucking his disapproval at sexual freedom (or is it recklessness?) even before there’s any indication of the coming plague.

Ned meets a doctor (Julia Roberts), who is even more of a downer than he is, insisting that gay sex is killing men and getting them to stop is the only course of action. But “promiscuity is the principal political agenda” of the gay movement in 1981, Ned argues — you can’t just get them to stop. And yet, you have to. To fail is to accede to genocide.

I’m sure The Normal Heart will shock a lot of mainstream sensibilities, and even some disdainful gays who think it both negatively portrays gay stereotypes and glamorizes anonymous sex. But you can’t have it both ways — you can’t complain about its authenticity and chastise it for being too accurate. But HBO made the formula work one year ago, with its equally shocking biopic about Liberace, Behind the Candelabra, and it won every award in the book. There’s no reason to think lightning won’t strike twice.

The weakness of the play (and now the screenplay, also by Kramer) is the character of Ned, who is so impassioned yet unlikeable that you can’t stand how he’s both right and gets in the way of getting the right thing done. In some ways, it takes amazing self-possession for Kramer to portray his alter ego warts and all, while balancing the competing issues sex-as-liberation and sex-as-death. It was equally hard for the gay community in its day.

But what sustains such competing currents is the emotional tremors the story sets off, which start nearly at the start and rarely waver for the next two hours. The first appearance of a character with Kaposi’s sarcoma … the first realization a seemingly healthy, young, blossoming young man is infected and will die … the first closeted person who could make a difference cowering out of fear of the social stigma … well, even if you did not live through those days, you can’t help but feel rattled. And it leaves you feeling that way.

That’s a ravaging effect of a movie, that sincere, wet-eyed shiver of the inevitable horror faced by a generation of gay men. Director Ryan Murphy (Glee) never lets up. He doesn’t want you to relax. You might miss the urgency, a feeling of self-preservation that, since the invention of the AIDS cocktail, hasn’t been as pressing in society, even the gay community. In many ways, this is the perfect symbiosis of Kramer and Murphy: The radical and the populist. Indeed, if it weren’t already widely known as The Normal Heart, I know the perfect title for it: American Horror Story.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

More gays at the Emmys!

The Hofstadter InsufficiencyLast week, I pointed out some gay honorees and content at the creative arts portion of the 65th annual Emmy Awards, and last night, the big guns turned out … and once again, there was gay aplenty.

Chief among them: Out actor Jim Parsons, pictured, took home his third Emmy for lead actor in a comedy series as the repressed genius Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory. Modern Family once again took best comedy series (its fourth consecutive win), though out nominee Jesse Tyler Ferguson was again a bridesmaid as supporting actor. Modern Family also won for comedy direction, while 30 Rock won for comedy writing.

The gay-friendly Colbert Report finally beat The Daily Show‘s 10-year streak for best variety series, as well as for writing. Gay TV producer Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Asylum won for best supporting actor in a miniseries for James Cromwell. In fact, miniseries is where we really got our gay on, with Behind the Candelabra, the biopic about Liberace, winning for best actor (Michael Douglas, who offered to share it with fellow nominee Matt Damon — offering him “top or bottom”), best director (Steven Soderbergh) and best miniseries/TV movie.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The gay interview: Andrew Rannells of “The New Normal”

I met Andrew Rannells on two occasions. The first was a strange circumstance about five years ago: I was headed to the Fair Park Music Hall to meet him and other members of the touring cast of Jersey Boys when my car was T-boned (the other driver’s fault). Nevertheless, I still made it to the interview, albeit a bit late. I got quite a few “attaboys” for showing up at all.

The last was just briefly about two and a half years ago, when he was starring in a show at the Dallas Theater Center called Give It Up. The show finally made it Broadway with a different title — Lysistrata Jones — only Rannells wasn’t in it. Instead, he’d taken on a different role in a musical: The Book of Mormon, which netted him a Tony Award nomination in the biggest hit since The Producers.

ATTPAC just announced last week that The Book of Mormon would be part of its 2013-14 lineup, but once again, Rannels won’t be in it — instead, he’s starring in one of the hit shows of the fall, NBC’s The New Normal, and out actor gets to play gay … and boy does he.

Our Chris Azzopardi got to chat with Rannells a few weeks ago, and I thought it might be a good time to run the story. The next episode airs tonight.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Tex’n the City: The checklist

Editor’s note: This week we launch a new online series, Tex’n the City, by Brandon James Singleton. A combination web diary and advice column, Tex’n the City will track Singleton’s plans to get his life together as he narrows in on his 30th birthday. Enjoy!

 Tex’n the City: The Checklist

by Brandon James Singleton

Do you have a list of things you just knew you’d accomplish by a certain age? Sure you do.

First car by 16 … Study abroad before graduation … Throw the best 21st birthday party ever — or at least one epic enough to make all your friends and enemies jealous …  Get discovered after college walking out of a Starbucks, and become America’s new male Oprah ….

OK, maybe that last one is just me. Point is, everyone can own up to at least one such goal.

Then, reality hits.

No matter how hard you work or how detailed your plans, most things don’t turn out like you expect.

With my next birthday — the big 3-0 — slowly creeping up, I’ve been inspired to try and break the curse I’ve imagined was placed on me by that one kid in elementary school I renamed “Stinky McRoach” in front of the classroom — hey, it kept the heat off me for a bit. I know, kids can be mean! But if you’re the poor, short, gap-teeth pudge with bifocals, in a rich private school filled with mini-Channing Tatums and little Kristen Bell look-alikes, try to grow up blameless. (Way to go, Ryan Murphy, waiting until now to make geeks popular. Where were you when Stinky and I needed you?)

To prep for this new passage in life, I re-read some really, really old journals I managed to find. (Thanks, Myspace.) Imagine my disappointment in realizing not only had I not accepted my fourth Academy Award by 25, I hadn’t been nominated for my first. (Maybe if I worked on a movie first…). Nor am I fighting off the paparazzi who bombard my home in the Hamptons simply to get a shot of me and my fiancé, Tyson Beckford, lounging around our Olympic pool like the one in Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart” video. I don’t vacation in Florida with Diddy and J-Lo, or spend nights laughing it up around the Hills with the cast of Party of Five.

Strangest of all, I seemed to have misplaced the extra 25 lbs. of sexy greek-god muscle I was to spend ages 26 to 27 putting on for that Spielberg summer blockbuster he would beg me to star in.

Maybe some dreams are just that.

But many others aren’t. I made my list of the top 10 things that truly are achievable, and should be by 30. Call it my Life Timeline Checklist:

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

Dallas Pride Weekend is just around the corner, but the week leading up to it is jam-packed with events.

It’s the first weekend after Labor Day, which means theaters are churning out openings. Among the shows you can see this week: Rent at Theatre Arlington, The Second City Does Dallas at the Dallas Theater Center, the sexually complex Or, from Echo Theatre (at the Bath House, pictured above), War Horse at the Winspear as part of the Lexus Broadway Series and an entire selection of short plays courtesy of Uptown Players’ second annual Pride Performing Arts Festival. But we gotta say, the show we’re kinda most looking forward to this weekend is The Most Happy Fella at Lyric Stage. The rarely performed Frank Loesser musical (which immortalized our town in the song “Big D”) gets the fully orchestrated treatment courtesy of musical director Jay Dias, whom we profiled last month. Lyric only does two weekends of shows; it’s too bad, because they usually do a fantastic job. Cheryl Denson directs, too!

It’s not just theater, though, that takes to the stage. Drag diva Coco Peru performs her show at the Rose Room starting Thursday, unofficially launching Pride in Dallas. Best of all? Dallas Voice readers get a discount off tickets of up to 40 percent, just by using the promo code VOICE when they order here. And you can also see an actual theater — not something performed on its stages — by taking one of the behind-the-scenes architectural tours of the new City Performance Hall, which begins its gala weekend celebration on Thursday.

And if the Democratic National Convention only whetted your appetite for hearing gay people talked about on TV, tune into The New Normal on NBC at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, for the newest sitcom about gay life that could very well be the next Will & Grace … only this time, it looks more like Will & Jack.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Emmy noms: Some of the gay stuff

The Emmy nominations came out this morning, and the details of them can be hashed over in the coming month, but I wanted to point out a few gay interest items on the list:

• Modern Family continues to dominate the comedy category, with the entire adult cast again snagging nominations, as well as for directing, writing, comedy series and guest actor/comedy Greg Kinnear.

• Once again, officially out actor Jim Parsons looks like the sure thing for actor/comedy for The Big Bang Theory, unless 30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin makes a comeback. His co-star Mayim Bialik was also nominated, but not Johnny Galecki. The show is also up for best comedy series.

• American Horror Story, created by Glee mastermind Ryan Murphy, was nominated in the miniseries category, including nods for miniseries, actress/mini Connie Britton, supporting actor/mini for gay thesp Denis O’Hare and two for supporting actress/mini — Frances Conroy and shoo-in winner Jessica Lange.

• Game of Thrones is again in contention, though only last year’s winner — Peter Dinklage for supporting actor/drama — is nominated for acting. The show has lots of nudity (including men!) and this last season a great gay storyline.

• One of the most welcome nominations was for Kathryn Joosten, who died just days after her touchingly hard-scrabble performance on Desperate Housewives ended with her death, was nominated for supporting actress/comedy. She’d won twice before in the guest actress category. Not in the supporting category? Previous winner Jane Lynch of Glee; Chris Colfer of Glee was also overlooked.

• The reality competition program continues to play it safe — in the history of the category, The Amazing Race has won every year except one, when Top Chef sneaked in. When will RuPaul — the show and the host — get the credit she deserves?!?!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Glee Project’ season 2

The whole idea of The Glee Project is just so… so… meta. That’s not surprising — Glee is itself as much a mash-up of culture as the songs it performs. On the Project, average kids (Gleeks all) compete a la American Idol for the reward: A guest arc on next season.

Part of the appeal of Glee has always been its empowering sensibility: The characters all look like actual high schoolers, from the cheerleading beauty queen to the kid in a wheelchair to the flamboyant gay kid to the jock to the chunky, sassy black girl. It’s no surprise, then, that the Project has a similarly quirky cast: Mario, who’s blind; Ali, who is a paraplegic; Maxfield, a country boy who just started singing; and Tyler, a female-to-male transgender, pictured. And like Glee, it’s shamelessly manipulative. Watching these kids who desperately want to perform, who idolize the cast members of Glee (who are mentors; the first one is Lea Michele) is charming.

Of course, there is a sameness to a lot of it; half the kids (including a girl) look like Justin Beiber, and they flirt with the camera like pros and you kinda want everyone to win. This ain’t no Real Housekids — it’s happy reality.

Debuts tonight on Oxygen.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Gay stuff on the new TV schedules for NBC, Fox

Hasbian Anne Heche is part of NBC's fall season lineup.

NBC was the first broadcast network to release its 2012 fall season lineup, and there’s gay stuff old and new on it.

The gayest addition is probably Ryan Murphy’s new half-hour one-camera sitcom The New Normal, about a gay couple (Justin Bartha, Andrew Rannells of B’way’s Book of Mormon), who hire a woman to be the surrogate for their child. (Watch the clip after the jump — looks pretty funny.) Rannells was in Dallas a few years ago in the world premiere of Lysistrata Jones (then called Give It Up) at DTC.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

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