When it was originally on: 2018-present
Original network: FX
Where you can stream it now: Netflix
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: Pose is set in the world of 1987 and “looks at the juxtaposition of several segments of life and society in New York: the rise of the luxury universe, the downtown social and literary scene and the ball culture world.”
Why I picked it: Ryan Murphy is one of the biggest showrunner names right now, but I personally haven’t connected with any of his work except for American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson where he’s an executive producer but not a writer. Nevertheless, there’s no denying the weight his name carries. Ironically, the one show’s he done that seems most up my alley is Pose, one that until now I haven’t tried yet.
Despite not being the mainstream success that Glee or American Horror Story is, Pose IS kind of a big deal by the metrics of so-called prestige tv. Its first season was nominated for Outstanding Drama at the Emmys, and Billy Porter won Best Lead Actor. It has a whomping 96% of Rotten Tomatoes. I wanted to explore a “prestige” show that was created by showrunner whose primary calling cards aren’t exactly “prestige,” especially since he appears to be slaying the prestige tv game.
What I liked: Pretty much everything. It does such a good job of immersing me in its world, one I knew very little about before I watched it. There’s so much energy in the ballroom scenes. The opening sequence especially gives us a crash course in what goes into these ballroom shows, while also revealing just how powerful the “house mothers” can be.
Our protagonist, Blanca, is strong and fierce while still vulnerable in all the ways it makes sense for her to be. In the pilot, she is diagnosed with HIV, so already we have several ticking time bombs in place. When is she going to tell other characters about her diagnosis? How long before her health starts to decline? Will she start any kind of treatment? A great pilot leaves me with interesting questions, and there are so many here. The diagnosis also inspires this Carpe Diem energy in Blanca that propels the whole pilot, and I’m fully confident that it’s enough to propel the whole series.
Damon is fantastic as well. He’s a great dancer, and while the whole newcomer-as-a-stand-in-for-the-audience schtick has certainly been done before, Damon is a believable, charming version of it. I think we also need his story because we know in the back of our minds that most of our lead characters have lived some version of it, and actually seeing a poor young gay man beaten by his father and disowned by his mother is heartbreaking, but powerful. Because the pilot shows, and doesn’t tell it in Damon’s case, it can better get away with telling, not showing it in Blanca’s case.
What I didn’t like: I really didn’t need the Evan Peters plotline at all. So much of this show revolves around trans women of color, and so the moments where this episode says “But wait! Let’s check in on how the white guy is doing!” were mildly annoying. It comes off as a plotline that’s only here because Ryan Murphy likes working with Peters and wanted to make sure he would have a job regardless of whether or not the character belonged here.
To be clear, there were still a lot of closeted, white, gay men with wives and children during the 1980s. Their lives weren’t easy either, and their stories are still worth telling. So I can definitely envision ways for this character to get interesting as the series progresses. In fact, a closeted character could prove instrumental in showing why so many people choose to come in out in spite of the all the scorn and ridicule they will face.
But in this pilot, it’s hard to say whether or not that’s actually the direction they’re going. There’s no real evidence that this character is gay or trans or anything other than a cishet man. He doesn’t show any interest in men, and MAYBE he has interest in a trans woman but we also have no idea if he knew she was trans before picking her up. Perhaps he was already questioning his sexuality and sees trans women as a more approachable alternative to gay men (which WOW a lot to unpack there if that’s the arc). Perhaps he was just a straight dude looking for a cis prostitute and didn’t fully understand what he was getting himself into. It’s hard to say. I’m scared he’s going to spend too many episodes using the LGBTQ+ community as a place to vacation on the weekends, which makes it really hard for me to like him.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! I already love the central characters, and even the ones I don’t quite love yet are people I can see myself learning to love as their arcs progress.