TV Review: Pose (Seasons 1&2)

This review will (obviously) contain spoilers. Don’t read on if you want to avoid them… just press play.

Season 1: ★★★★★★ (6/10)
Season 2: ★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10)

It’s my first review for this blog for a long time. A month is a very long time in this world, but maybe I’ve realised that I need to shut up more, and listen and watch and appreciate things more. Maybe I’ll elaborate on these things in a post in a few days time, who knows? But here, it is time for ‘Pose’.

Let me set the scene. Blanca Evangelista, a trans woman in her mid twenties, is sick and tired of the way her Mother, Elektra Abundance, treats her and her other children. So she sets out, in the pilot episode, to make her own house, from nothing, and turn young, queer people of colour into incredible people, not just in the ballrooms, but also in the wider world.

Where did I come to this series from in my head? I think I wanted an escape; I think most of my Netflix history right now is deeply rooted in the world of the 20th Century. But I also wanted to challenge myself. Too often in the past, I’ve watched TV shows, mainly soaps, and whenever something vaguely “gay” goes on, I’ve shied away, and found it difficult to watch. And that’s not from a homophobia side of things in any way (I now have a pride flag watching over my bed, which I would never have been able to do a year ago), more a… this is too close to the bone for me, people like me, being happy, in relationships, is an ideal which hurts because I’ve not experienced that yet, and I don’t know if I will. Only time will tell with that. I’ve definitely come a long way from being triggered and haunted by ‘Pride’ just over a year ago (if anyone who was there when we watched it that night reads this, do not feel bad, it helped me). I not only wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and throw myself into being proud, I wanted to learn a bit of culture and history in a non-preachy way, and while I’m still not interested in watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race, I have a much deeper appreciation of everything that it takes to be on that runway.

But god, it took a lot to get there. And that’s because I came into ‘Pose’ with the preconception that Ryan Murphy is probably the worst series producer in the business. I still don’t have a high opinion of his abilities, but they’ve come a long way from the pile of whatever the first couple of season 1 episodes of this were. He reflected big time afterwards I feel, and season 2 is far better from it. But I need to reflect on his mistakes too. They weren’t huge, necessarily noticeable. The thing which wound me up most about the first season was a footnote, really, something which unless you were thinking about it, wouldn’t effect you.

So this is the drama with the most (if not, one of the most) transgender, POC transgender, actors and actresses in America. Guess who was first on the credits list of Season 1? Not Billy Porter, MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, no, but frickin’ Evan Peters. EVAN PETERS. A side-note in the story, really not representing the show at all, and had one of the most hateable characters I’ve ever seen. Honestly, I did feel sort of bad for him when looking back, when the show tried to make us sympathise with him, but I did smile when his wife left him in the first season. I smiled even more when he didn’t come back. It was a rookie mistake from Murphy and Co, and they also didn’t do the balls in the right way either (pardon my French). Instead of furthering the story, it was almost a fetishised glamorous look at drag and fashion, with not a huge amount happening around them bar being a weekly event. As season 2 showed, if you want to show off some kink, you can do it a whole lot better than that.

Large swathes of story were dull too. Damon’s backstory was necessary, but very cliche. They pushed the romance with Ricky way too soon. I also could not stand him at the start, and only in the second season did he get better. The whole show got way better with him. Subtle things such as including a quote from Black, queer voices of the 80s and 90s, showing the deeper fundamental social side of being LGBTQ+ in the early 90s beyond voguing and materialism, along with looking at characters deeper than being just caricatures. It takes its platform and position in the community and wider culture more seriously second time round.

MJ Rodriguez is incredible as Blanca. She came from the ballroom scene herself, from when she was just 14, and that definitely shines through in her acting. The raw passion, the pure emotion put into every word, is absolutely incredible – and there’s no way she could have done it without her life experience. The casting for this show is great. Her character is great throughout – her progression into a mature, wise woman by the end of the second season is summed up by her lip-sync rendition of Whitney Houston’s Star Spangled Banner, which gave me chills. I teared up a little at the end of the season, when the story seemed to go full circle, and I never cry at shows. I would fight a war for Blanca.

Indya Moore is the other stand out for me; they are another actor who I cannot praise enough. Angel is my favourite, and she knows Blanca from the start too, being in Abundance when Blanca leaves. She makes many mistakes, but always manages to grow from them. In season 1, she falls for Evan Peters’ character, Stan, a married banker, and winds up as his mistress in a secret house. She finally finds the strength to recognise his toxicity, and leaves him to his own mess of a life. In season 2, Blanca confides in her about her AIDS diagnosis, and prepares her to be a mother in her own right. She finds love with Lil Papi, who I also adore, and a modelling contract. Throughout it all, she learns, she grows, and she never stops being Angel. From the 1st episode to the 18th, she progresses from lost child to successful, adult woman.

I could go on all day about how great everyone is, but I also want to talk about the second season’s structure. It is far better; more laid-back and happier to diverge from the expected road. The last two episodes are a sure sign of that – a summer holiday vacation courtesy of Elektra (and a rich client she has in her new role as a dominatrix), before an eight month time leap to May 1991. Instead of going through the formula of having a ball or two every episode, and being focussed on how the Houses, they become second fiddle to their place in the world and, for the characters, they become second too to their own struggles. Season 2 also takes the ‘camp’ to another level – for example, when Elektra, Candy and Blanca have to work together to dispose of a body – but never forget how the black trans community were not (and still often aren’t) respected by the police and white people in general.

Pose is a good watch for those who want to learn some queer history and raise their social consciousness. A trans-led, POC-led drama is a unique premise, and although the first season doesn’t capitalise on its platform, season two sees ‘Pose’ using its position more responsibly and creating a better drama.

Pose seasons 1 and 2 are available on Netflix worldwide. In the UK, it is also available on BBC iPlayer. Season 3 is expected in 2021.

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