The TV Show To Watch Tonight: Pose

The TV Show To Watch Tonight: Pose

Launched to nothing but praise in America last June, we’ve been avidly awaiting the arrival of Ryan Murphy’s exploration of NYC’s 80s drag ball scene on UK screens. Tonight, BBC2 is broadcasting episode one of Pose – here’s everything you need to know about its long-awaited debut.

What’s the premise?

Set in the 1980s, Pose explores the juxtaposition of several segments of life and society in New York: the ball culture world, the rise of the luxury Trump-era universe and the downtown social and literary scene.

We begin by being introduced to Elektra Abundance, a ‘mother’ whose ‘house’ encompasses a self-selected family that provides support to LGBTQ youths who have been rejected by their birth families. Together, they compete in Harlem’s famous drag balls, where house members challenge each other in various categories and are judged on their outfits, attitude or dance skills. Then there’s Blanca Rodriguez. Armed with a recent HIV diagnosis and a will to leave a legacy, she breaks away from Elektra to form a rival troupe of her own.

Who stars in the show?

When it was released last year, Pose made television history: the show features the largest cast of transgender actors in regular roles in a series, as well as the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever for a scripted series. The transgender cast includes powerhouse fivesome Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Hailie Sahar and Angelica Ross – all of whom rocked the red carpet at this year’s awards season. It’s also been praised for its high proportion of people of colour in the cast, and for having the likes of Transparent’s Our Lady J and transgender scriptwriter, presenter and director Janet Mock in the writing room.

This inclusivity makes for a thriller debut series. Front and centre are Mj Rodriguez (Nurse Jackie) who stars as Blanca, the first to break from the House of Abundance. Her formidable former house mother Elektra is played by Dominique Jackson (Hollyoaks). As rival mothers, the pair ooze ambition and attitude.

Drop-dead gorgeous Indya Moore (a Dior and Gucci model who danced in Katy Perry’s ‘Swish Swish’ video) plays Angel, a transgender sex worker who develops feelings for her new client, married businessman Stan (Murphy regular Evan Peters, who’s been in every series of American Horror Story). Elsewhere in Blanca’s gang is Ryan Jamaal Swain, who plays Damon, a homeless dancer who’s been recently ejected from the family home.

Overseeing the lot is Pray Tell, a ‘Godfather’ to the ‘children’ who compete in these high-stakes balls, played by Tony Award-winning, Oscars scene-stealer Billy Porter (that gif of Glenn Close admiring his dress was our moment of the ceremony). Add in Stan’s loving wife Patty (House of Cards’ Kate Mara), who ends up getting sucked into the glamour of downtown New York, and his Trumpian boss Matt (Dawson’s Creek’s James Van Der Beek) and you’re in for an intriguing look at the microcosms of 80s NYC.

Will you enjoy it?

We defy you not to be overjoyed by the first ten minutes. Billed by many critics as the best opening sequence of all time, we witness a ‘house’ escaping a museum clutching bags bulging with stolen royal regalia, ready for a ‘Royalty’ runway of their own. From there, we’re exposed to the colourful underground world of drag ball culture – one that inspired Madonna to write ‘Vogue’ –
where the music’s loud, the outfits are dazzling, and the humour is razor sharp.

Like the seminal 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning (currently available to watch on Netflix, and you really should), Pose takes a deep dive into why this scene became such a shelter for those who entered: whether they were queer, black, Latino, homeless, abandoned by their families, or – frequently – all the above. The series also explores the AIDS crisis yet makes sure to never define any of the characters by their illness. The show instead chooses to focus on their boldness and bravery.

Unlike Murphy’s former on-screen battles (Scream Queens, Feud, American Horror Story) there’s conflict between the two houses, but there’s never any nastiness. In fact, deep down there’s nothing but respect. Throughout his career, Murphy has always celebrated the lives of the LGBTQ community, from Glee right up to last year’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Ultimately, what Pose is about – once you’ve stripped away the costumes, cutting quips and Voguing – is family, and how you should always choose your own.

Where can you watch it?

Pose begins tonight at 9pm on BBC2. Each of the eight episodes will be available to stream on iPlayer.

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