This fall and winter have been bleak for gays, especially gay male couples, particularly as they appeared in news and entertainment media. Congress passed the “Respect for Marriage Act,” assuring gays, and others, that imaginary threats to their right to marry would be rebuffed. But the marriages themselves, at least in the media, left something to be desired.
America’s highest ranking gay politician, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, was found to be AWOL exactly a point where transportation and supply chain issues in his portfolio threatened to add to Bidenflation. Mayor Pete had taken paternity leave to stay home and feed his newborns when there was a crisis in procuring enough baby formula for American babies. Apparently Mayor Pete’s husband and hired help couldn’t be counted on during a national emergency.
More horrifically, a gay couple in Georgia, William Dale Zulock, 33, and Zachary Jacoby Zulock, 35, appear (“allegedly”) to have pimped out their adopted pre-teen sons to area pedophiles (and had sex with them themselves on camera for additional monetization), so they could go on luxurious vacations and build a custom-designed McMansion.
Gays in Hollywood released movies on male coupledom. These offerings—Bros and Spoiler Alert—were also, albeit unintentionally, bleak. (As was the more recent Knock at the Cabin Door, which features a gay couple, but is so weird it could be about something else.)
Bros is worth little consideration, except for its commonalities with Spoiler Alert. Bros is written by and stars Billy Eichner. Eichner’s a comic actor who represents a devolution of gay Jewish comedy, where the intellectual plummet from Fran Lebowitz to Sandra Bernhard is evident. Bros was a commercial flop, despite “progressive” critics giving it glowing reviews. Though intended to be the first gay “romcom,” it ended up being a horror film in which Eichner’s character’s straight friends twerk and make anal sex jokes with their pre-teen children and Eichner presides over a board of directors at a gay history museum he’s creating who are a feuding group of politically woke and mentally-ill drag queens, “reverse” racists, and “gender queer” peeps. Eichner was shocked that more people didn’t turn out to see his movie—apparently not even the gay audiences, who, free of child-raising duties and expenses, patronize the premium streaming platforms and local live theater that in turn serves up so much gay content for which gays are willing to pay. Eichner then threw a public fit combined with a kind of penis measuring contest, where he insisted that his film scored higher on Rotten Tomatoes and other websites than films with much bigger box office. “Even with glowing reviews, great Rotten Tomatoes scores, an A CinemaScore etc, straight people, especially in certain parts of the country, just didn’t show up for Bros. And that’s disappointing but it is what it is,” Eichner huffed.
Eichner, as some critics pointed out, is a B-list actor, who couldn’t be expected to attract an audience. Spoiler Alert, released for the Christmas season, replaced Eichner with Jim Parsons, the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning star of The Big Bang Theory, along with awards-aplenty Sally Field. Instead of being an unintentional horror film of feuding gender queer monstrosities, Spoiler Alert is a kind of remake of Steel Magnolias—or at least Terms of Endearment—though Field (as Parsons’ “mother in law”) is the only Magnolia recycled from the earlier movie.
Both Bros and Spoiler Alert employ former stars, who happen to be gay, from beloved TV shows of yesteryear. Bros had roles for Married With Children’s Amanda Bearse, Glee’s Dot-Marie Jones, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’s Jai Rodriquez; Spoiler Alert has Thirtysomething’s David Marshal Grant as a gay marriage counselor. (Grant, who has extensive credits as a writer and producer as well as actor, co-wrote the film’s screenplay along with gay sex columnist Dan Savage.) Though he has more star power and a better resume than Eichner, Parsons, 50, isn’t looking like a leading man in a romcom. His body looks bony, with slightly odd proportions—a kind of skinny gay Lurch. In the first love scene with his eventual partner, he doesn’t remove his shirt, telling his bedmate that as an “FFK” (former fat kid) he’s ashamed of his body.
That’s possible, sice the bedmate is a much younger and juicy British actor, Ben Aldridge. (Aldridge currently plays Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce Wayne/Batman, in the excellent HBO series Pennyworth and also appears as part of a gay couple in Knock at the Cabin Door.) Aldridge is the attraction of Spoiler Alert, playing the philandering partner of Parson’s character, who’s afflicted with an aggressive rectal cancer after they’ve been together, but not married, for 13 years. The couple never resolves the issues that sent them to a marriage counselor and separate dwellings, and instead to become friends (or “friends with benefits”), a duo where one’s a hospice patient and the other a caretaker.
“Representation matters!” Hollywood “progressives” always say. But in these two films, which promoted themselves as being Hollywood’s first gay romcom and first gay sob sister weeper, we learn that Hollywood doesn’t know how to depict a happily married monogamous gay couple. Maybe there is almost no such thing (though if you ask around you’ll find people who claim to be in them). But then, HBO stepped up, and showed how it is done. And in the process gives us what may be the most libertarian show on any platform this year. The Last of Us is a new HBO show of which one might not expect much, as it’s based on a video game. One of the creators of the video game is a writer for the show. (Paramount’s Halo was last season’s Syfy show based on a video game, and the results were somewhat middling.)
The Last of Us is also derivative of previous apocalyptic TV fare. As in AMC’s The Walking Dead, humanity has been almost obliterated by a disease that has turned most people into zombies. As in Fox’s 2019 good but short-lived vampire apocalypse tale, The Passage, a hero (in this case Pedro Pascal, in a turn reminiscent of his role in The Mandalorian) must get a young girl who has special qualities (in this case, immunity) across the country to scientists who can study her biology and thereby save humanity. Escaping Boston (cities are ruled by a fascist hyper-Covid lockdown regime, that prevents travel and frequently kills healthy people, just to reduce vectors for infection), Pascal and his young charge seek out a small compound he’d visited once before.
The compound is a small Massachusetts town. Its population was exterminated in the early days of the plague by the federal government, to reduce the number of people who might become infected. Hiding in a basement, as his neighbors think they are being evacuated, is Bill (a character in the original video game). Bill (Nick Offerman) is a conspiracy theorist and survivalist. He prepared for apocalypse and for fascism for years, with a hidden basement bunker with food, weapons, surveillance equipment, a yellow Gadsden (“Don’t Tread on Me!”) flag, and a shelf with copies of Guns and Ammo.
Bill happily loots the local Home Depot, turns back on the local natural gas pipes to his house, trucks a giant generator into his backyard, builds an electrified fence and installs land mines and other weaponry around his perimeter, and plants a vegetable garden. And lives happily ever after, a kind of Tom Bombadil, visited rarely not by Hobbits but by refugees and resistors like Pedro Pascal. Until at one point one of these passersby is Frank (also a character in the original game). Frank is played by Murray Bartlett, the (gay) Australian actor who had a star turn in HBO’s first season of The White Lotus. (And years ago portrayed the main character in Tales of the City.) Bartlett is probably the sexiest comic actor and the funniest sex symbol currently on any streaming or television show (even sexier than Aldridge, who’s 15 years younger).
In the game “Frank” is already gone, a suicide, with only a letter left behind. This third episode of The Last of Us is a flashback, showing Bill over nearly three decades, and his relationship with Frank over two. It begins with his allowing Frank inside the electric fence, feeding him dinner, allowing him a shower with real hot water, and then letting him play the piano. They play Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 love song “Long, Long, Time.” It’s a touching story. We see what happens with the couple as they defend their compound and take care of each other through illnesses and injuries, and eventually get married in a homemade ceremony. And they fight. In one of the most libertarian moments, the paranoic Bill, worried that Frank is talking to people on short wave radio that may bring government attention to their paradise screams, “The government are all Nazis!” Frank, who one suspects was a conventional gay liberal before the plague, shouts back “Well, yeah, now! But not then!”
It’s a beautiful episode and it adds to the texture of what looks like a great series. But is Hollywood telling us that the only way you can have a happy gay marriage is if all the distractions and temptations that might threaten it have been wiped out in a world-ending apocalypse?