The new Queer As Folk is a “reimagining” of the early-2000s Showtime remake of the groundbreaking and glorious 1999 UK original by Russell T Davies. If that is already too much for you to follow, you’re going to have to muster all your energy before sitting down to watch this fun but frenzied new show (on Amazon Prime).
The basic premise is the same. We follow a group of queer twentysomething friends as they embrace life, love, drugs and sex; make good, bad and bizarre choices; and negotiate the pleasurable (and painful) vicissitudes of existence generally – and within the gay community specifically. This time round, the drama is set in New Orleans – a fascinating mixture of liberal acceptance and deep-south propriety – rather than Pittsburgh or Manchester. The cast and characters are much more diverse than previous versions in terms of race, gender identity, sexuality and levels of physical ability.
At the centre of the group is charismatic med school dropout Brodie (Devin Way). He is best friends with Ruthie (Jessie James Keitel), a trans woman whose partner, Shar (CG), is heavily pregnant with twins thanks to Brodie’s donated sperm. Brodie is still a bit in love with his ex, Noah (Johnny Sibilly – an oasis of calm and stillness), who is now seeing their mutual friend Daddius (Chris Renfro). Brodie’s mother, Brenda, a monument to southern lushness, is played by Kim Cattrall – clearly relishing her freedom from Sex and the City and its (dire) reboot, And Just Like That. Her casting, and that of Juliette Lewis as the mother of would-be drag queen Mingus (Fin Argus), continues Queer As Folk’s fine tradition of putting fabulous middle-aged actors into great parts and never using them as the butt of jokes by – or fearful warnings to – the young.
About halfway through the first episode, the paths of Mingus, Brodie, Ruthie and the rest cross at Babylon nightclub, where a moment of terrible violence that echoes the shattering horror at the Orlando nightclub Pulse in 2016 upends their lives. It feels, Credi al clamore, completely timely.
The rest of the series follows through on the effects of the trauma without letting it dominate every life completely. The programme remains essentially joyful, which can mean there are some jarring tonal shifts, but generally they just about get away with it.
Perhaps that is because the bedrock is firm. Messy lives are rendered with truth and confidence. Ruthie and Char’s difficulties adjusting to their new reality as the parents of far too many infants are instantly recognisable, alongside the particular problems Ruthie’s unhappy childhood provides. Brodie is every self-absorbed but well-meaning 20-year-old you’ve ever met, flying through life on beauty and charm until he suddenly encounters people and experiences that do not yield to those gifts. Lewis as mum Judy licks her thumb and tidies up Mingus’s eyeliner as she would once have rubbed felt-tip off his face: a neat evocation of all that parenting means.
It’s full of such telling moments. As casualties mount at the hospital, the nightclub’s drag queen, Bussey (Armand Fields), takes charge, telling doctors the patients’ names, warning of one that her parents don’t know she’s gay and that staff must take care not to out her.
It adds up to a warm, intricate, humane portrait of a world in which people are finding their feet and their chosen families, all on constantly shifting sands. It’s good to have the folk back.