Stamos goes gay in “‘Wars,’ a comic fantasy about a queer labor strike
The road to hell isn’t the only thoroughfare paved with good intentions so is the road to bad TV. One need only think of the now-cliched “After-School Special” to know that having your heart in the right place and making good television don’t always go together.
That’s often true when gay issues are at the fore. Last season, “Commander in Chief” admirably but awkwardly tried to portray an HIV-positive character as a confidant of the president, but created something closer to a queer Uncle Tom than a hero with AIDS.
Thank goodness, then, we have “Wedding Wars” to hold up as a touchstone for an effective and honest comedy about a very serious topic.
The incumbent governor of Maine (James Brolin) gets dragged by his opponent into the same-sex marriage debate. His speechwriter, Ben (Eric Dane) fully supports his position favoring a constitutional amendment outlawing “non-traditional” unions.
The problem is, Ben’s brother, Shel (John Stamos) a party planner organizing Ben’s wedding to the governor’s daughter is gay, and feels betrayed. Shel fights back by going on strike, refusing to work on the wedding. Eventually his protest gains momentum, with all gays in the state and soon the nation boycotting work.
The premise is similar to the film “A Day without a Mexican,” where one day every Latino in California suddenly disappeared, but “Wedding Wars” doesn’t devolve into parody to make its point. The script is surprisingly funny and hip, with clever references to Heath Ledger and Anderson Cooper, winsome, amusing dialogue and a commitment to busting stereotypes along the way. (Sure, the strike includes florists and hairdressers, but also carpenters and limo drives; even straight bikers support Shel’s mission for equality.)
Admittedly, such warm-hearted benevolence means “Wedding Wars” is a little more than a sweet-natured fantasy, largely divested from the realities of the struggle for gay rights and marriage equality. But it also refuses to condescend or preach, finding a cozy home where idealism and pragmatism co-habitate.
Credit queer director Jim Fall (“Trick”) and uber-producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (“Chicago”) for having the smarts not to pander to the fringe on either side. Aside from the unbelievably shiny, friendly tone even the governor, the source of the controversy, is played humanely (and by Barbra Streisand’s husband) the production doesn’t blink when showing Shel and his boyfriend Ted kissing. It’s a true rarity: A basic-cable telefilm that treats homosexuality maturely but not luridly.
Stamos goes all-in as Shel, giving a dignified, graceful performance as a slightly shallow party boy turned political activist. Dane (Dr. McSteamy from “Grey’s Anatomy”) has the thankless task of grimacing every time his brother’s sexual orientation comes up, but he handles it well, especially a drunken duet with Stamos.
“Wedding Wars” is an undeniable charmer that doesn’t fail to choke you up when it means to.
Debuts Dec. 11 at 8 p.m. on A&E.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 20, 2006.