The show was noted for its somewhat frank depiction of gay life, as well as its vivid sex scenes. A disclaimer, "Queer as Folk is a celebration of the lives and passions of a group of gay friends. It is not meant to reflect all of gay society" appeared after each episode on Showtime in the U.S. but this disclaimer was not broadcast on Showcase in Canada (instead, the standard Showcase disclaimer "This program contains nudity, sexuality and coarse language — viewer discretion is advised" was broadcast before each airing and after each commercial).
The title appears to make two references. The show comes from a well-known dialect expression from some parts of Northern England, "there's nought [colloquially pronounced 'nowt'] so queer as folk", meaning "there's nothing as weird as people". (The original series was set in Manchester, in North-West England.) It is also a variation on "Queer as Fuck", which Channel 4 had originally called it, before changing it to its more polite form.
The series ran for five seasons (2000 to 2005 on Showtime and 2001 to 2005 on Showcase). It was believed by fans that the show could have run for another year (most of the cast originally had six year contracts but according to one rumor the contracts were renegotiated to five years after the first season).
However, Showtime was concerned about the rising production costs due to the strength of the Canadian Dollar. Some of the cast, however, felt that Showtime didn't want to be known as a "gay only" network so they cancelled the show. Publicly, at least, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman both stated that they didn't feel there were really any further stories that they could tell. Randy Harrison (Justin) was reported as saying that had the series gone into a sixth season, he would not have been part of it.
Canada's Showcase, which was making a great deal of money from the advertising demand, did briefly consider producing a sixth season, but as Showtime owned much of the rights to the series and funded much of the budget, Showcase decided against it.
As of January 9 2008, Showcase began offering the Canadian version of the Queer as Folk episodes on their website. These Canadian versions differ from the Showtime and DVD versions in that they have breaks within the episodes (where commercials would have been inserted) and make references to "Showcase" and "Temple Street Productions presents" instead of "Showtime presents". Extra special is that, unlike the Season 1 DVDs, episodes 101 and 102 are presented separately and episode 102 is the rare extended version of the episode, created for broadcast during reruns of the first season and not seen since 2002. The first seven episodes were posted on January 9 and one additional episode will be posted each week until all 56 episodes from Seasons 1, 2 and 3 are online by December 15 2008.
|Name||Actor||UK counterpart: Character(Actor)||Description|
|Brian Kinney||Gale Harold||Stuart Alan Jones (Aidan Gillen)||Brian Kinney: a veritable sex machine. At 29 years old, he is living life for the now. He is his own man and believes in having sex for the sheer joy of doing it. While he and Justin have an on and off again relationship, Justin is the only one of his sexual encounters that Brian finds himself falling in love with and the only one he continues to have sex with after the first night. He makes his living as an advertising executive for Vangard, and later on builds his own company Kinnetik. While he purports himself as not part of the Gay and Lesbian community, he will do what he can to protect his fellow gay man or woman. His motto when it comes to straight people: "There are two kinds of straight people in the world, those that hate you to your face and those who hate you behind your back."|
|Justin Taylor||Randy Harrison||Nathan Maloney (Charlie Hunnam)||Justin loses his virginity to Brian at the age of 17 and falls in love with him. He runs away from home after he comes out of the closet and his father is not accepting of his lifestyle. Nicknamed "Sunshine" by Debbie because of his bright smile and cheery disposition. Justin is queer bashed at the end of Season 1, resulted in Brian taking him in during Season 2.|
|Michael Novotny||Hal Sparks||Vince Tyler (Craig Kelly)||Brian's best friend since adolescence, Michael secretly harbors feelings for Brian. He enjoys reading comic books, particularly Captain Astro adventures. He starts the series as a manager at a K-Mart-like department store, the Big Q, but eventually follows his dream to open a comic book store. From Season 2, he along with Justin creates the comic book Rage. From Season 2 onwards, Michael gets into a long-term relationship with Ben Bruckner, whom he eventually marries.|
|Emmett Honeycutt||Peter Paige||Alexander Perry (Antony Cotton)||Originally from Hazlehurst, Mississippi, Emmett is the most flamboyant of the group. He goes through several jobs, including shopkeeper at a clothing store called Torso, porn star, naked maid, party planner, and correspondent for a local news station.|
|Ted Schmidt||Scott Lowell||Phil Delaney (Jason Merrells)||An accountant with low self-esteem who envies Brian's lavish lifestyle. He is constantly rejected by men at gay clubs around Pittsburgh. He has a relationship in Season 3 with Emmett, as well as an on-again-off-again relationship with Blake.|
|Lindsay Peterson||Thea Gill||Romey Sullivan (Esther Hall)||Brian's close friend since college who becomes the mother of his child, Gus. She works as an art teacher, but takes time off to care for her son. Lindsay's WASP parents are ashamed of her homosexuality and her partnership with Melanie.|
|Melanie Marcus||Michelle Clunie||Lisa Levene (Saira Todd)||Lindsay's Jewish lover who works as a lawyer. Melanie dislikes Brian, partially because Lindsay is very affectionate towards him, but she is friendlier towards him in later seasons. She carries her and Lindsay's second child, Jenny Rebecca, with Michael as the biological father.|
|Ben Bruckner||Robert Gant||(none)||A college professor who becomes Michael's long-term partner from Season 2 onwards. He also lives with HIV. Michael's mother Debbie disapproves of their relationship at first because she is scared that Ben will infect Michael, but eventually she realizes that Michael loves Ben and so she accepts him.|
|Debbie Novotny||Sharon Gless||Hazel Tyler (Denise Black)||An active PFLAG member, Debbie is fiercely proud of her son Michael's homosexuality, to the extent of making him embarrassed about it. She treats all the boys as her own family, especially Justin, who briefly lives with her after he runs away from home. She is also one of the people who sees past Brian's cockiness for what he really is. She works at the Liberty Diner, and at home she takes care of her ill brother Vic.|
|Vic Grassi||Jack Wetherall||Bernard Thomas (Andy Devine)||Debbie's brother. To help Debbie pay the bills, he starts work as a chef at her diner. He also works as a caterer for Emmett's event planning business. Not long after an altercation with Debbie in Season 4, he dies of AIDS complications.|
|James "Hunter" Montgomery||Harris Allan||(none)||(Seasons 3-5) An HIV-positive teenage hustler who meets Ben and Michael while standing outside their apartment. Ben feels sorry for Hunter and takes him in, and eventually he and Michael adopt him. He initially has an unrequited crush on Brian, but later on falls in love with a girl, Callie Leeson.|
|Jennifer Taylor||Sherry Miller||Janice Maloney (Caroline O'Neill)||Justin's mother who works as a real estate agent. With Debbie's help, she embraces the fact that her son is gay, and joins PFLAG. After divorcing Craig Taylor She dates a younger man named Tucker (Lucas Bryant) in Season 5, much to Justin's disapproval.|
|Carl Horvath||Peter MacNeill||(PC Stroud - seen only in last episode)||(Seasons 2-5) Debbie's boyfriend. He meets Debbie while working on a case involving the murder of a young gay man named Jason Kemp. He is slightly homophobic when Debbie first meets him, but she teaches him to be more accepting of homosexuals. He asks Debbie to marry him, which she accepts, but later decides that she cannot marry Horvath as long as Michael cannot legally marry. Instead, the couple decides to live together in common-law.|
|Cynthia||Stephanie Moore||Sandra Docherty (Alison Burrows)||Brian's assistant. Quits Vangaurd to follow Brian when he starts his own firm, Kinnetic. Charming enough to dazzle clients, and firm enough to handle Brian.|
|Blake Wyzecki||Dean Armstrong||Similar to Harvey Black (Andrew Lancel)||A crystal meth addict at the time he meets Ted at Babylon. His relationship with Ted ends quickly after Ted finds out that Blake is still hooked on drugs. In Season 4, he is sober and is Ted's counselor at a rehab clinic. They finally reunite in the series finale.|
|Dr. David Cameron||Chris Potter||Cameron Roberts (Peter O'Brien)||(Season 1) Michael's ex-boyfriend. After falling off a ladder, Michael has therapy done with David, who is a chiropractor. Their relationship evolves quickly, and in a few months Michael moves in with David and meets his son. There is friction between David and Brian, since David is jealous of Brian's relationship with Michael.|
|Daphne Chanders||Makyla Smith||Donna Clark (Carla Henry)||Justin's best friend since high school, and the first person Justin comes out to (not counting Brian or Michael). She asks Justin to take her virginity since he has experience, and as a result falls in love with him. He quickly turns her down, but they remain friends.|
|Ethan Gold||Fabrizio Filippo||(none)||(Seasons 2-3) Music student at PIFA who romances Justin. Feeling neglected by Brian, Justin leaves him for Ethan. It is a short-lived relationship, however, as Ethan cheats on Justin with a fan. Justin leaves him and reunites with Brian.|
|Drew Boyd||Matt Battaglia||(none)||(Seasons 4-5) A star quarterback who, although engaged, is a closeted homosexual. He has an affair with Emmett and later leaves his wife to be with him, although they do not stay together. Drew comes out to the media with a controversial on-air kiss with Emmett.|
|Police Chief Jim Stockwell||David Gianopoulos||(none)||(Season 3) A mayoral candidate, with Brian as head of his ad campaign. Stockwell is a homophobic police officer who abuses his authority. Brian, initially, helps with the campaign, but, at certain point, he decides to mess the campaign, with Justin's help, as Stockwell's closing the gay nightclubs. Brian launches a smear campaign, and as a result, Stockwell loses the election and is indicted.|
|Gardner Vance||Carlo Rota||(none)||(Seasons 2-4) Brian's senior partner at the advertising agency. He buys Ryder's from the previous owner and christens it Vangard, firing every single ad exec but Brian -- who proves himself indispensable by going after and signing up the Brown Athletics account, that Vance had been after for years. Brian becomes and stays partner after this, until the Stockwell smear campaign in season 3 which results in his getting fired.|
|Sam Auerbach||Robin Thomas||(none)||(Season 4) A renowned artist who is notoriously difficult to deal with. He is instantly attracted to Lindsay and pursues her even though she is a lesbian. After his Pittsburgh art exhibit (which Lindsay organized), Lindsay gives in and they have a brief tryst at the gallery.|
|Cody Bell||Mitch Morris||(none)||(Season 4) Leads the “pink posse”, and convinces Justin to join.|
|Tracey||Lindsey Connell||Rosalie Cotter (Caroline Pegg)||(Seasons 1-3) Worked with Michael at the Big Q. She had strong feelings for him, and was devastated to find out that he was gay. After Michael left the Big Q to start his comic book store, Tracey made several appearances, including when Ted finds work as the store's assistant bookkeeper in season 3.|
|Callie Leeson||Meredith Henderson||(none)||(Seasons 4-5) Hunter's high school friend and at one point, girlfriend. When she finds out that he has two fathers and is HIV positive, she is surprisingly not worried. Her parents embarrass Hunter at a swim meet when he hits his head in the pool and begins to bleed. When Callie rushes to the pool to help him, her father shouts that he "has AIDS". The entire room hears, and soon the entire school knows. Callie remains a friend of Hunter and appears occasionally for the duration of the series.|
The first episode finds the four friends ending a night at Babylon, a popular gay club. Brian picks up and has sex with Justin, who falls in love with him and eventually becomes more than a one-night-stand. Brian also becomes a father that night, bearing a son with Lindsay through artificial insemination.
Michael's seemingly unrequited love for Brian fuels the story, which he occasionally narrates in voice-over. Justin's coming out and budding relationship with Brian has unexpected effects on Brian and Michael's lives. Justin confides in his straight high-school friend Daphne, while struggling to deal with homophobic classmates and his dismayed, divorcing parents, Craig and Jennifer. Later in the second season Justin and Michael co-create the sexually explicit underground comic "Rage", featuring a "Gay Crusader" superhero based on Brian.
Brian's son Gus, being raised by Lindsay and Melanie, becomes the focus of several episodes as issues of parental rights come to the fore. Ted is Melanie's accountant who once harbored a longstanding crush on Michael. He and Emmett begin as best friends, but briefly become lovers later in the series. Their relationship ends as Ted, unemployed and with a criminal record earned from running a legitimate porn website that was targeted by a Chief of Police running for Mayor, becomes addicted to crystal meth. In the fourth season, Brian, who has lost his job by assisting Justin in opposing an anti-gay political client, starts his own agency. Michael marries Ben Bruckner, an HIV-positive college professor and the couple adopts a teenage son, James "Hunter" Montgomery, who is also HIV-positive as a result of his experiences as a young hustler.
Melanie and Lindsay's relationship, while on the surface seeming more of a "stable" relationship, is actually quite tumultuous and controversial. Each cheats on the other at various points in the series; both tackle on a threesome shortly after they marry and become separated for much of the 4th and 5th seasons. Melanie is impregnated by Michael (through artificial insemination, as Lindsay was) in the third season, so that best friends Brian and Michael become co-fathers to Lindsay and Melanie's children. Melanie gives birth to a girl, Jenny Rebecca, over whom Melanie, Lindsay, and Michael have a brief legal custody battle following the women's transitory break-up. Brian's new advertising agency, Kinnetik, becomes highly successful both through a combination of Brian's customer loyalty and his edgier advertising. As a result of this, Brian is able to purchase Club Babylon from its bankrupt owner.
In the fifth and final season the boys have become men, and the series, perhaps more comfortable in its role in gay entertainment, tackles political issues head-on and with much more fervor.
A political campaign called "Proposition 14" is depicted during much of the final season as a looming threat to the main characters. This proposition, like so many real-life recent legislative moves that have affected many U.S. states, threatens to outlaw same-sex marriage, adoption and other family civil rights. The many ways in which such a proposition would affect the characters are depicted through nearly every episode. Debbie, Justin, Jennifer, Daphne, Emmett, Ted, Michael, Ben, Lindsay, Melanie and the children are depicted standing up and fighting against this proposition both by active canvassing, political contributions and other democratic processes, but are met with staunch opposition, discrimination, outright hatred and political setbacks.
The show climaxes near the end of the series when a benefit to support opposition to Proposition 14 hosted at Brian's club Babylon (after repeated relocations of the benefit, due to discrimination) is attacked by a bomb that initially kills 4, and eventually another 3 and injures 67.
This horrible event sets the bittersweet tone for the final three episodes, in which Brian, frightened by this third possible loss of Justin, finally declares his love for him. The two even plan to marry, but Justin's artistic abilities get noticed by a New York art critic and the two decide, for the time being at least, in favor of a more realistic approach to a stormy relationship that nevertheless works for their characters. Melanie and Lindsay, realizing they have more in common than they don't, resume their relationship but relocate to Canada to "raise [their children] in an environment where they will not be called names, singled out for discrimination, or ever have to fear for their life."
Emmett becomes a Queer-Eye type TV presenter but is later fired when professional football player Drew Boyd kisses him on the news. Ted confronts his midlife crisis head-on and finally reunites with Blake. Hunter returns and the Novotny-Bruckner family perseveres.
The series came full circle with the final scenes staged in the newly re-built Babylon nightclub. In the final scene, Brian dances to Heather Small's "Proud," a song that accompanied a pivotal scene between Brian and Michael in the very first episode of the series. It ends with a final narration by Michael:
"So the "thumpa thumpa" continues. It always will. No matter what happens. No matter who's president. As our lady of Disco, the divine Miss Gloria Gaynor has always sung to us: We will survive."
Groundbreaking scenes abounded in Queer as Folk, beginning with the first episode, containing the first simulated explicit sex scene between two men shown on American television (including mutual masturbation, anal sex, and rimming), albeit more tame than the scene it was based on in the UK version. Despite the frank portrayals of drug use and casual sex in the gay club scene, the expected conservative uproar never materialized.
Initially, most of the actors kept their real-life sexual orientations ambiguous in the press so as not to detract from their characters, causing much speculation among the viewing audience. Since that time, Randy Harrison, Peter Paige, Robert Gant and Jack Wetherall have stated that they are gay, Thea Gill has stated she is bisexual, and the rest of the cast have stated they are straight (i.e, Gale Harold, Michelle Clunie, and Hal Sparks) but have for the most part avoided public discussion of their orientation.
Controversial storylines which have been explored in Queer As Folk have included: coming out, same-sex marriage, recreational drug use and abuse (cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, GHB, ketamine, cannabis); gay adoption, artificial insemination; vigilantism; gay-bashing; safe sex, HIV-positive status, underage prostitution; actively gay Catholic priests; discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation, the internet pornography industry and bug chasers (HIV-negative individuals who actively seek to become HIV-positive).
The series was set in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which it depicted with a good deal of creative license. Pittsburgh was chosen as the closest parallel to the UK series' industrial setting of Manchester, England. However, since Pittsburgh does not have a large gay district like San Francisco or New York, almost all of the Liberty Avenue scenes were filmed in and around the Church and Wellesley area of Toronto which is that city's gay village. In fact, not a single shot of the real Liberty Avenue was ever used in the series. Toronto was chosen as the production center of the series because of its lower cost of production and established mature television and film industry. And, as it happens, Toronto's gay village had the look the producers needed to bring their vision of Liberty Avenue alive.
Woody's, the central bar in this fantasy Pittsburgh, is the name of a leading gay bar in Toronto, whose real exterior was shot with only minor disguise. (In a Season 4 episode in which several characters travelled to Toronto, the real Woody's was dubbed "Moosie's".) While Pegasus, a popular gay club in Pittsburgh, is located on the real-life Liberty Avenue, it is not the gay mecca that is portrayed on the show.
The series has, at times, made humorous reference to its image in the gay community. A few episodes featured show-within-a-show Gay as Blazes, a dull, politically-correct drama which Brian particularly disagreed with, and which was eventually cancelled.
The American series was groundbreaking on many social levels. Because of this, many gay critics and audience members, citing their under-representation in the past, have all made public claims that the show had a certain level of social responsibility. This feeling is perhaps the strongest reason for much criticism and controversy within the gay community concerning Queer as Folk's portrayal of gay and lesbian issues.
Like the original UK series, Queer as Folk has been strongly criticized by some in the gay community for what they feel is an unrealistic portrayal of actual gay relationships and/or gay life. The producers of the show have stressed from the beginning both in a written statement that appeared at the end of each show (Seasons 1-3) and in the press, that they were not attempting to make any representations or generalizations. However, many in the gay press have nonetheless charged that this would be the effect on many viewers, whether desired or not. A few gay columnists have therefore taken issue with what they feel are unrealistic portrayals as well as "hidden agendas" within the show's content. Examples used have been the lack of non-whites on the show, the unrealistic (overly attractive) portrayal of patrons at bars/clubs, the overabundance of public sex at the bars (which is illegal in most places in the US, including Pennsylvania), and finally, the vilification of certain aspects of some gay men's lives (such as bareback sex), yet complacent treatment of hard-drug use and infidelity which, as critics have charged, is a taking of sides on controversial issues within the queer community and fails to report in a neutral manner.
The lack of the realism of the setting has also been criticized, since the program depicts the gay scene in Pittsburgh as much more urbane and arguably sophisticated than it actually is, resembling a scene more likely found in more cosmopolitan cities like San Francisco, New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal, Atlanta, Houston, or Miami (Or the city in which the series was filmed Toronto, Canada.) Still, others claim that while the depiction of drugs and sex is realistic, its portrayal is a counter-productive airing of "dirty laundry" to the larger community, to whom the gay community is appealing for legal protection of their civil rights.
Others in the gay community have praised it for its reflection of previously-taboo aspects of their lives, whether realistic or romanticized. On balance, many viewers see the show in a generally positive light for its contribution to gay media exposure. Some critics and fans alike point out that some of these issues (including the lack of racial diversity and the heavy focus on sex) are common in TV shows about heterosexuals, too. As such, they argue that it is unfair to single out Queer as Folk for criticism on these issues.
The show was also criticized as a pale imitation of the original British series (Queer as Folk UK vs. Queer as Folk US). Some argued that the U.S. version over-emphasized sex and nudity as a cheap ratings grab, in comparison to the British series which, while it also depicted sexual activity, relied more on dialogue. Another change which drew controversy was the way the US version handled the relationships between the three main male characters as opposed to their QAF UK counterparts. The character of Justin, whose UK counterpart was 15 years old, became a 17 year old high school student whose character is portrayed as a sensitive artist as opposed to his UK counterpart, who was portrayed as being a young hedonist-in-training. Also, unlike the UK series, the writers went out of their way to portray Brian and Justin as starcrossed lovers who form a longlasting relationship with each other, perhaps as a means to deflect criticism about the intergenerational nature of their relationship.
The show's original theme song, "Spunk", was written and performed by Greek Buck and was used during seasons one through three. When the main title sequence for the show was changed for seasons four and five, the theme song was changed to "Cue The Pulse To Begin" performed by Burnside Project. However, as a tip-of-the-hat to Greek Buck, the count-in from Spunk was left in the new opening sequence before "Cue The Pulse To Begin" was played.
All five seasons were filmed in wide-screen HDTV however only seasons 4 and 5 were regularly broadcast in HDTV in both the U.S. and Canada. In the U.S., Showtime did run Seasons 1, 2 and 3 in HDTV on Tuesday nights as a special repeat of an episode's full-screen broadcast the previous Sunday. These HDTV broadcasts from the first three seasons were not broadcast by Showcase in Canada. The episodes that appear in the commercially released DVD packages were taken from the HDTV versions.
Keeping up with the technology, Queer as Folk's Season 5 was one of the first series to be recorded using the relatively new digital video process rather than being made exclusively on film. The raw digital video was combined with some scenes that were filmed into a finished episode and then color corrected using a computer process to make the entire episode appear to be filmed.
Throughout all five seasons, the series was filmed primarily at the now-former Dufferin Gate Studios (now known as Peace Arch Studios Toronto) in Etobicoke, Ontario (a southwestern borough of Toronto).
Many of Season 3's non-location scenes of Babylon, Woody's and Liberty Diner were filmed at Greystone Studios in Mississauga (the city adjacent to Toronto's western border).
These same scenes for seasons 4 and 5 were filmed at the now-former Dufferin Gate Studios "B Studio" in Mississauga about 10-15 minutes from Dufferin Gate's home studio in Etobicoke. (This studio is now used by Shaftesbury Films as the home base for several of their projects including a Canadian-American series called The Listener).
The series finale of Queer as Folk originally included additional scenes (some new and some extended from their final presentation) that put the episode's running time to just under 64 minutes. This extra material was deleted from the episode before it was broadcast presumably because Showtime didn't want the program to run longer than 60 minutes. The final edit of the episode is slightly over 58 minutes. The deleted scenes are presented in the QAF Season 5 DVD package. The most notable deletion was a scene near the end of the episode that pays homage to the series' first episode. In the deleted scene, a young blond haired gay teen who looks like Justin is seen on Liberty Avenue, obviously for his first time, and as Justin did in the first episode, steps across Liberty Avenue and splashes through a puddle. This was meant to signify that the series had come full circle. It was ultimately deleted because the idea of "full circle" was already present in the final Michael-Brian scene (which preceded the deleted scene) and the use of the remix of "Proud" as the series' closing theme.
|Season||U.S. Release Date||Details|
|The Complete First Season||January 8 2002|| 22 Episodes on 6 discs DVD Features:|
|The Complete Second Season||February 25 2003|| 20 Episodes on 6 discs DVD Features:|
|The Complete Third Season||February 24 2004|| 14 Episodes on 5 discs DVD Features|
|The Complete Fourth Season||April 5 2005|| 14 Episodes on 5 discs DVD Features:|
|The Final Season||May 30 2006|| 13 Episodes on 5 discs + QaF Special: Saying Goodbye
|The Complete Series||November 20 2007|| 83 Episodes on 28 discs DVD Features:|