Queer as Folk 2 Review
When Queer as Folk was first broadcast in 1999, writer Russell T. Davies assumed that "only five gay men and an angry vicar" would watch it. Eight weeks later, the serial had been recognised for the groundbreaking drama it was. A follow-up was inevitable, hence this two-hour, two-part sequel (87 minutes of actual screen time without the commercials).
The question at the heart of Queer as Folk 2 is, will Stuart (Aidan Gillen) and Vince (Craig Kelly), friends for half their lifetimes, finally get together? In the meantime, Stuart finally comes out to his parents after his eight-year-old nephew tries to blackmail him. Vince's rival for promotion is a family-values candidate. Alexander (Antony Cotton) is further disowned by his parents, which provokes Stuart to a revenge which takes him outside the law. And Nathan (Charlie Hunnam) faces up to bigotry at school, not just from fellow pupils but also from his teacher.
What made the first series work was the rich supporting cast, locating the central three characters in a convincing world made up of family, friends, relatives and colleagues. With the emphasis more on Stuart and Vince's will-they-or-won't-they? many of these supporting characters are either absent altogether, sidelined or dealt with briefly in subplots. The only two who seem to have developed since the first series are Hazel (Denise Black), Vince's forthright Mum, who's just as much a fixture on the gay scene as he is, and the very camp Alexander, whose estrangement from his homophobic parents was touched on in the first series but is dealt with more fully here. Even Vince's Dr Who fandom, which helped round out his character in the first series, is missing.
The Stuart and Vince story is a gay variation on the old one about how a man and a woman, if both straight and unattached, can be just good friends without sex getting in the way. (They can.) As the makers of The X Files, for example, well know, sexual tension is much more intriguing than its release. Also, the writing falters occasionally, causing Stuart to deliver some very theatrical speeches. To be fair, he could have prepared his coming-out to his parents, but his last speech to Nathan is symptomatic of a descent into silliness in the final half-hour. They were right: two hours was enough.
If the programme itself is less good than the original, Queer as Folk 2 benefits from a better DVD package. Being a broadcast TV programme it was filmed in a ratio of 16:9, and that's what you get on the disc. However, unlike the first series, the transfer is anamorphic and virtually flawless apart from an odd stuttering effect during the final credits. The sound is Dolby Surround again, with a mix favouring clearly-recorded dialogue, the rear channel being primarily used for music. Unfortunately, as with the first series DVD, there are no subtitles available.
Where the first series had little in the way of extras, VCI have gone to greater effort here. You aren’t likely to check out the quotes (soundtrack excerpts over stills) and rather jittery video montages, and you may well have to strain to read the on-screen cast biographies. There are also three teasers and five trailers (all anamorphic) and an adequate if not over-generous seventeen chapter stops.
Far more worthwhile is a 46-minute featurette, also anamorphic, called "What the Folk...?". Although it's rather shambolically organised and padded out with clips (not all of them of relevance to what's being discussed), it's still more substantial than most such efforts. There are interviews with the cast and a few Manchester vox-pops, but the bulk of the interview time goes to Davies (filmed against a purple background, which oddly gives him a halo) and producer Nicola Shindler. They talk about issues such as how representative of gay life the series have to be. Extracts from Right to Reply show complaints that Queer as Folk uses every stereotype in the book, and will only give ammunition to bigots. Davies and Shindler reply that, with the dearth of convincing portrayals of gay men on TV, they cannot hope to be fully representative, and their main concern was to create fully rounded characters. Interestingly, Shindler cites Ally McBeal as an influence on the series' look, its colour and lighting giving an emphasis on gloss rather than grit. We also get Joel Schumacher, no less, discussing his forthcoming US version, to be set in New Jersey. Incidentally, if you want further evidence that TV is not a director's medium, note that only one of the three directors makes an appearance, and that briefly. The featurette is itself divided into six chapters.
For fans of the series, this DVD will be essential. If the programme itself isn't quite up to the original, then the featurette makes it a worthwhile purchase.