Jeff Baker: Showtime’s Forgotten Brothers

Another fascinating piece of TV history from Jeff about a show I’d never even heard of, but one that sounds absolutely ground-breaking for the portrayal of gay men on television… A quick author’s note from Jeff himself: “In the interest of full disclosure, I did an earlier column about “Brothers” for “Queer Sci Fi.” I tried not to repeat anything here but it would be a glaring omission if I did not do one of these posts about this series, a fine show which is nearly forgotten.”

I struggled to find a decent picture of the series because it pre-dates the internet, but here’s a reminder of the show’s cast…


Pic credit: IMDb

            Remember back when big cable T. V. networks were all new and fresh and were trying all kinds of original programming to attract viewers? Showtime, one of the movie channels (along with HBO and Cinemax) beat them to the punch in 1984 by airing “Brothers,” cable’s first original situation comedy, a sitcom with pioneering Gay content.

            The first episode “Wedding Day” introduces Joe, Lou and Cliff Waters; three grown-up brothers who live in Philadelphia and are very close. Ex-football player Joe (Robert Walden) runs a restaurant while oldest brother Lou (Brandon Maggart) works construction and the two of them have raised their youngest brother, the twenty-something Cliff (the late Paul Regina) since the death of their parents. Cliff, who shares an apartment with Joe, is about to move out and get married when he abruptly calls off the wedding and shocks his siblings by explaining why: he’s Gay.

            CLIFF: “…it’s been going on a long time now.”

            JOE: “What’s been going on a long time? No, don’t answer that!”

            The three brothers love each other and do their best to accept Cliff’s being Gay even as they struggle with it (“That don’t run in our family, we play sports!” Lou grumbles.)

            Their initial reaction to Cliff’s flamboyant, out and proud best (platonic) friend Donald (Phillip Charles MacKenzie) is also a little shocked. But Donald usually gets the best lines. Commenting on Cliff’s coming out he quips “I mean, Hallmark doesn’t even make a card for this!”

            They soon become a large extended family, along with Joe’s grown daughter and co workers. What results is often very funny and sometimes touching with the first two seasons dealing more with Gay issues and themes, as in as in  “Fools Russian” where a closeted Gay Russian athlete Cliff is interested in falls for Lou (“He tried to go where no man has ever gone before.”) or in “Lizards Ain’t Snakes” where Joe and Lou try to get Cliff into an “Ex-Gay” group (this in the mid-1980s before the outrage about such groups hit the fan!)

            One reviewer said at the time; “Brothers is not only different, it’s decidedly entertaining.” And it still holds up today even if it hasn’t been regularly shown in years.             “Brothers” was a hit for the cable network and lasted five seasons during an era that also brought us the AIDS crisis as well as an increasing LGBT presence in media and civil rights. Times have changed in the intervening thirty plus years and more people are out and Gay culture has changed  too: the episode “It Only Hurts When I’m Gay” has a scene in a park used as a “homosexual rendezvous.” The show was made long before dating apps.

            “Brothers” was actually syndicated after its cable run but has not been shown lately (not even on the alleged Gay cable network “Logo.”) Fortunately, there are several episodes available on You Tube. No DVD release yet, but we can only hope!

            These days it seems that almost every TV show has at least one out LGBT character. Following the trail that shows like “Brothers” blazed (and occasionally flamed) almost forty years ago.

Fiona Glass: M/M TV shows to look out for #1: Smiley

Mea culpa – I completely missed the fact that it was Tuesday yesterday and didn’t post anything on the zine. To make up for the omission, here’s a fun little piece about a new (to me, at any rate) lgbt series on Netflix that I’m currently really enjoying. I hope to review a few more series soon.


If you’re signed up for Netflix, then look out for this Spanish rom-com set in a city centre bar. It features main character Alex, who serves in the bar and works out in his spare time, and architect Bruno. When Alex breaks up with his current boyfriend he sends a text (the ‛smiley’ of the show’s title) but accidentally types the wrong phone number and the message goes to Bruno instead. Intrigued, Bruno calls Alex back, the two start chatting and realise they both love old films, and a relationship ensues.

Like all love affairs in romantic comedies, true love hardly runs smooth, as both men convince themselves, and each other, that they’re not each other’s ‛type’. Needless to say, we can see that they’re really crazy about each other, but one barrier after another prevents them from admitting it and they both end up with someone else.

As well as the main pairing, the show also features Alex’s colleague/boss Vero and her partner Patri (Patricia), the bar’s owner and drag queen Javier, Bruno’s colleague Albert, and loads of other characters. All are sympathetic and (surprisingly for a rom-com) realistic, and all face problems in their relationships, be those gay, lesbian or straight.

The dialogue is obviously in Spanish, but Netflix has excellent subtitles which mean you can keep up with the action. The only time that’s difficult is when the show uses a split-screen mode – which is often very funny, but it can be hard reading text on one bit of the screen while watching two hot guys humping on the other!

Unlike US (and even some British) comedy series there’s no canned laughter, which I much prefer. It’s probably closer to comedy drama than a strict rom-com, but overall it’s fun, sparky and true-to-life, and having watched most of the first season I’m really enjoying it and hoping there are more seasons to come. I’d probably rate it 9/10. If you track it down, I hope you enjoy it too!

Gabbi Grey: Charlie David – An Innovator in LGBTQ content

This week I’m delighted to welcome a brand new contributor to the zine – Gabbi Grey, who writes contemporary, somewhat angsty m/m romance. She’s come up with a fascinating piece about gay Canadian actor and narrator Charlie David, who’s been at the forefront of LGBTQ content on TV for many years. He’s not someone I’m familiar with so it was really interesting to read about him. And if you fancy finding out more about Gabbi, you can check out her website here.


Pic credit: The Mo in Montrose on tumblr

Canadian Charlie David has been at the forefront of providing audiences with a glimpse into the gay experience for almost two decades now and he shows no signs of slowing down.

I first encountered Charlie as a narrator.  He helms one of my favorite series – Gregory Ashe’s Borealis Investigation series. North and Shaw are two endearing characters and Charlie brings them to life in a wonderful way.  He’s also narrated Damon Suede’s Hot Head as well as several series for Ella Frank including Confessions and Prime Time. Even now, he’s one of the few narrators whose voice I can conjure up at a will.  I wish I could have him narrate some of my books.

My second encounter with Charlie was as an actor.  I watched Shadowlands which was a series of three episodes.  Charlie didn’t star in the first two – one about a surgeon in 1928 who was obsessed with perfection (this one was a little dark and disturbing) or the story of two men in 1951 sorting out their relationship.  The final story was about a young couple.  One man falls ill and, tragically, dies.  The other man is left to sort out the grief and pain.  He does so by creating a painting of his dead lover.  OMG, all the feelz.  I still remember how I felt watching Charlie’s performance.  Stunned and moved.  Also, a song and video came out of that – Marc Devigne’s Ca Fa.  I watched it again while preparing to write this piece and I was moved just as much this time as those previous.

Charlie’s also a producer and director.  I recently watched his documentary film, Pat Rocco Dared. I loved how he showed the aging director’s love for the male love story.  Charlie also has produced some wonderful series out of Toronto including Drag Heals – about how embracing drag can bring healing – and Dating Unlocked.  I love queer people of all stripes finding love in whatever form that comes in.  He also did a documentary about the healing power of touch, Serviced. I was thrilled to see my cousin!  That one has a special place in my heart. Also worth checking out are: I’m a Porn Star: Gay4Pay, I’m a Stripper, and the older, but lovely Scenes from a Gay Marriage.

I’ve only touched on Charlie’s immense talent, but I encourage readers and connoisseurs of LGBTQ content to search out his body of work.

Jeff Baker: The Private Life of Jodie Dallas

Thanks Jeff for this thought-provoking article about an early portrayal of a gay character on US daytime television, at a time when this was kept very much in the nearest closet. It’s certainly an era I knew very little about – and a surprise role, perhaps, for actor Billy Crystal? Over to Jeff to explain…


Pic credit: IMDB

            “This is the story of two sisters…”

            That opening line of the 1977 TV comedy “Soap” sets up the premise of the weekly sitcom spoof of daytime dramas (called “Soap operas” back then.) A show that was controversial even before its premiere. Religious groups in particular organized so many protests that the network could promote it with the line: “If you miss the premiere of Soap, you’ll be the only one.”

            Created and mostly written by Susan Harris, the show dealt frankly (for the time) with (among other things) sex and the fact that people enjoy sex, especially when the two sisters get together to talk.

            JESSICA: “Our mother never told us that it would be pleasant.”

            MARY: “What Mother said was that it was required, like going to school had been and the best thing to do was to lay back and make out your grocery list.”

            One of the show’s biggest controversies was the presence of openly Gay character Jodie Dallas, younger of two sons of Mary Dallas-Campbell (one of the aforementioned two sisters.) And Jodie remains controversial to this day in some circles.

            Played by Billy Crystal (yes, THAT Billy Crystal in one of his first breakout roles) Jodie was initially written as being a nelly, cross-dressing caricature who hatched the extreme plan of having a sex change operation so he can be with his football-player boyfriend. But neither Crystal nor the writers wanted Jodie to remain a stereotype and they worked to change how he was depicted making Jodie a well-rounded character, albeit one who was living in a soap opera. “It felt like we had the chance to do something special and important,” the actor recalled years later. The nelly aspects were dropped in favor of more human moments such as when Jodie is dumped by his boyfriend on the eve of hospital treatments and swallows a load of pills in an effort to end it all. Jodie lives and gets his act together.

            Jodie is pretty revolutionary for TV of the time: he has apparently been “out” all his life and makes no apologies for who he is and is one of the first regular Gay characters to love sports.

            And, like everyone else on the show, Jodie can be very funny. Witness the scene where he tells his mother and stepfather Burt that he’s going to be a father and stepdad Burt (the magnificent Richard Mulligan) gleefully freaks out. And then there’s his conversation with his dippy Aunt Jessica explaining that there have been Gays throughout history.

            JODIE: “Alexander the Great was Gay. Plato was Gay…”

            JESSICA: “Plato? Mickey Mouse’s dog was Gay?!?!”

            The controversies in later years come from the fact that Jodie has a one-night-fling with a woman that produces a child. Was Jodie really Bi all along? Or was the network pressuring the show to make him straight? LGBT fans today are leery of the idea that Jodie was anything but totally Gay and claim that his character was watered down due to pressure from network sponsors.

            Nonetheless, Jodie fights in court for the right to raise his daughter and is an excellent father. Watch the tender and funny scene where Jodie and his infant daughter Wendy are together for the first time.

            Of course, there are soap opera-style complications to their lives.. Like a kidnapping, the court case and Jodie’s accidental regression through hypnosis to a previous life as an elderly Jewish man.

            Looking back today with what we know about the complexities of sexuality and its fluidity, Jodie’s seeming indecision about his sexual preference makes sense and that he was most likely Pansexual instead of Gay or possibly Bi.

            “Soap” is still playing in reruns and is on DVD and is a very well-done series especially in its first three seasons. It can be hilarious one moment (Jodie and his brother trying to gross each other out) and heart wrenching the next, as in the scene where Jodie finally convinces his brother Danny that he really is Gay after years of his being in denial.

            “I’m still the Jodie who plays tennis with you, I’m still the Jodie who bowls with you, I’m still the Jodie who laughs with you, I’m still the Jodie who counts on you.”

            Jodie Dallas is still among the Gay characters in the pre-Will and Grace era who was a touchstone to LGBT youth who didn’t see themselves depicted in any positive way on screen. And the show still holds up and is entertaining generations who weren’t born during “Soap’s” four-year run forty-plus years ago. When my twenty-something niece saw the show recently she laughed her head off and pointed at Jodie and asked “Who’s that guy who looks like Billy Crystal?”

            For more information on Crystal’s portrayal of Jodie, check out Billy Crystal’s autobiography “Still Foolin’ ‘Em,” published by Henry Holt and Company, 2013.

Jeff Baker: “Eric’s Buddy” A Deep Dive into “That 70s Show’s” Gayest Episode

A brand new insight into an unusual episode of an old US comedy show. As Jeff himself says, “Just in case you never saw it: “That 70s Show” was an American sitcom about a bunch of friends hanging out and smoking weed in the 1970s in the fictional Point Place, Wisconsin.” It was first aired in 1998 and ran for eight seasons, but the gay character that was planned for the show never fully materialised… And we m/m fans can dream about Jeff’s final sentence!


Pic credit:

“So, she’s like your girlfriend?”

            “I dunno. I dunno.”

            “It’s okay to be confused, Eric.”

            Eric Forman isn’t confused, but he is a little naive. Okay, he’s a lot naive.

            We won’t be naive as we go for a deep dive into “Eric’s Buddy,” the eleventh episode of “That 70s Show,” written by Philip Stark, which introduced a Gay character who was supposed to be a series regular. But it didn’t happen that way.

            Buddy Morgan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a somehow unspoiled rich kid who goes to the same high school as Eric and his friends. Buddy and Eric meet when they are assigned to be lab partners in science class. He has a snazzy new car that Eric admires and soon they are riding around and hanging out to the dismay of Eric’s other friends who are dismayed that he seems to be neglecting them. There is a fun montage of the two of them palling around in Point Place with the “Best Friend” song from “Courtship of Eddie’s Father” playing in the background. It is implied that Buddy does not get along with the rest of the gang who hang out in Eric’s basement, as they can be jerks sometimes. A fact Eric actually acknowledges.

            It is while parked and sipping sodas that Eric begins to talk about his relationship with his sort-of-girlfriend Donna and Buddy misunderstands and tries to take their relationship a step further by leaning over and kissing Eric there in the front seat. Eric’s panicky reaction presents a wonderful bit of physical comedy from Grace which was not well-received by the LGBT community at the time but which comes off as very human and very funny at the same time as he registers utter shock at the kiss he didn’t see coming.

            This leads to Eric showing up in the basement hangout and making a big deal out of being straight while trying not to let on that he’s just been kissed on the lips by a guy.

            The scene is plain old hilarious. Especially Kelso (the underrated Ashton Kutcher) and his vain assurance that any Gay guy would first make a pass at him!

            We never learn Fez’s real name, let alone where he’s from but he is the one of Eric’s friends who realizes that Buddy is Gay, even before Eric tells anybody. This leaves us with some implications, some of them rather dark. First off is that probably Fez has been around enough Gays in his young life to put the clues together. Secondly is the very dark implication that the very good-looking Fez (who is straight) had a few Gay sexual experiences in his home country, maybe even some forcibly. This is a very dark speculation which goes against the general pot-fueled merriment of the show and it is unspoken, but it is there.

            It all leads to a well-played scene between Grace and Gordon-Levitt in the school parking lot where Eric asks Buddy timidly “Why…me?” Buddy’s response is wonderful: he likes Eric for probably the same reasons that Donna does. During this scene we get the feeling that Eric has really never imagined himself as the romantic lead in anyone’s story. The two of them realize that they can still be good friends.

            “Eric’s Buddy” caused some controversy among fans, which was probably ginned-up by the conservative right in those early days of the internet who opposed any appearance of any positive Gay character.

            For whatever reason, Buddy Morgan never appeared or was mentioned on the show again. But Gay viewers can speculate that he was always there, just outside the scene and didn’t get along with Eric’s other friends and he and Eric kept up a largely platonic friendship. Probably. But maybe Eric realized he wasn’t as straight as he thought he was, even though he was in love with Donna. Remember, the producers brought Buddy in as a potential “love interest,” so who knows?

            In the episodes where he and Donna split up, maybe Eric sought refuge in Buddy’s arms?