Greetings gays and allies. I’m writing to you from the confines of my bedroom. My dear roommate, bless him, just illegally downloaded a copy of some Mark Wahlberg vehicle and I am typing against the strains of straight copulation blaring from our wall-mounted dumb box. So you must forgive your writer if they are under some degree of distress.
Recently I had a disturbing conversation over an otherwise idyllic car ride to Fire Island and no, we weren’t just just complaining because we were exactly one day late to see Liza Minnelli perform at Cherry Grove. Far worse, one of my companions suggested to your sensitive critic that Instant Netflix was a thing of the past, observing that services like Hulu and Hulu Plus and something else with a seemingly irrelevant name were the way of the future. Disoriented (and somewhat dissatisfied with the healthy snacks my generous hosts had packed) I was left to wonder: what is this all really worth? Is our Homoflix a thing of the past? Is anyone even reading? Watching? What is my life for?
Enter Lip Service, a relatively new addition to our site of criticism and a welcome relief from the thirty minutes of Kate Clinton – she’s a got a “new” special according to IN which means enough Bush jokes circa 2005 to make us all regret the invention of the double entendre – I subjected myself to before deciding I was not in fact suicidal, just desperate.
If you haven’t heard the news, I’m here to tell you – this show, a BBC Three import about a tight group of friends living and loving in Glasgow, blows The L Word clear out of the water and straight (pardon the expression) into the fascinating territory of dyke/het cohabitation (!) – did we know such peace was possible (or productive for that matter)? Now maybe I’ve just been fiending for some overwrought serialized lez drama for far too long – my own have grown stale and cyclical at best – but I’m pretty convinced that this program is up to some genuinely interesting shizz. I’ve just begun season two; fear not, this review/essay will only give a general assessment of the first ‘cuz Papa don’t wanna be no spoiler. Lip Service is worth its surprises.
Focusing on a small klatch of early-thirties young professionals and artists, each episode pleasantly clocks in at around an hour, ensuring a solid evening’s worth of pleasure (unless you’re me, it’s six AM and you’re still hungrily clicking towards the next installment, waiting for star-crossed ex-lovers Cat and Frankie to just loose knicker and clit-smack already). Standard storytelling and excellent acting propel the central story forward. Frankie, played with considerable smolder by Kristen Scott Thomas look-alike Ruta Gedmintas, is a hot-shot photographer living in The Big Apple. Episode 1 gets right to the id of the matter, an awesome trow-drop transpiring in record time as our hero shoots pics of a comely model in a Soho loft. She quickly gathers that the perspiration gently forming at the corners of her subject’s mouth are not the product of the klieg lights, just the typical result of any two minutes she spends alone in a room with any woman, man or child. Frankie likes to fuck and she is frequently encouraged to do so. Thirty seconds into the pilot, she’s got her hand down a pair of designer jeans and I’m hooked. Phone rings. Bad news from home. Her aunt’s died. Frankie quickly hangs up and when the pouty brunette awkwardly expresses her condolences, she shrugs impishly: “The way I see it, one family member down, two to go.” Back to sex, then back to Scotland!
This tendency towards fucking in the face of adversity will reveal itself again and again over the course of season one: a pathological and obsessive need to screw. The L Word certainly touched upon female sexual aggression in this way, and Gedmintas’ Frankie has been compared a fair amount to that show’s resident lothario, Shane. But where Lip Service excels over its American counterpart, in a combination of complex performance and dirty, uncomfortable stakes narrative, is a willingness to baldly and boldly explore the destructive powers of addiction and the lengths to which one will go to fill that insatiable hole. (I’d like to dedicate that last sentence to a current interest of mine – you know who you are.) Shane made a lot of mistakes when it came to romance and sex, but the sense of danger never felt quite real to me. She was always too cool to really embarrass herself over a shag, hiding behind a revolving door of asymmetrical haircuts. (Admittedly, I liked a majority of them, although Gedmintas has an easier time pulling off long bang/short back than the polarizing Kate Moennig, but this is already too many parentheticals for one paragraph.) Frankie is excessive in every way. She’ll have sex on the street, in a funeral home (yes, the body is live), and even (exhale bored gasp) with a man. “It’s like a strap-on without the strap,” she casually explains.
A not so subtle transition to my second point – and yes I know I’ve digressed far beyond our usual Homoflix surveys, but a. I’m overcaffeinated and b. I don’t have an editor – Lip Service takes an unusual position regarding the historically contentious relationship between queer women and straight men. According to series creator Harriet Braun, in an interview with Great LezBritain shared on afterellen.com:
I was interested particularly in exploring the relationship between straight men and gay women simply because I have straight male friends and I don’t think straight men are really seen anymore by gay women as the enemy. I think in the past there was obviously a lot of homophobia but I do think things have moved on and I certainly have a lot of friends across the board, straight women and straight men.
Chew on that! I know I have, three or four times, and while it wasn’t quite my bag – I’m resisting a second innuendo with all my might, thank you again, Kate Clinton – I was pleasantly surprised to find a representation of some of the loving relationships I have cultivated with straight, cisgender men over the years. Two major figures on the show – Jay and Ed – are counted as best friends by Frankie, Cat and my personal Lip Service crush, Tess. While the boys couldn’t be less alike in character, they both seem to share a genuine respect for the sexual preferences of their lezzie counterparts without the usual fetishization one might expect. Like any good soap, desire at times enters the equation, but there is a nearly utopic sharing of space which transpires across sex lines on this program. And how refreshing to see such a radical reversal: straight sidekick to gay lead! These fellas might not be my first choice for a wingman on a Wednesday night at the Woods, but bless them for trying.
Long story short, and this one was a little long, I concede, Lip Service gets two thumbs up, or two fists in my book. Who says Netflix is dead? I may just finish season two tonight.
Oh. And one more thing. Check out this essay in HuffPost by filmmaker Alexandra Roxo.
I selfishly find it pertinent to the question of why Homoflix matters, in its pursuit of creating discourse around ready-to-access GLBTQ content. Roxo relays her experience of trying to get the green light on a film with queer subject matter and addresses the unfortunate disparity between the richness of queer life and the limited selection of strong representations in entertainment and media. She’s preaching to the choir here, but it is an important reminder that we must keep fighting to tell our stories and be the change we wish to see. I encourage you to dialogue with our reviews and contribute to the conversation.
Sleep well, friends. And if you can’t, I know a stand-up special perfect for curing that problem. Good night!