‘Pose’ fab­u­lous restora­tion ef­fort

The Republican Herald - This Weekend - - CALENDAR - BY HANK STUEVER THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Now that we’ve left “The Amer­i­cans” at the end of 1987, it’s time to travel all the way to ... 1987 again, where Ryan Murphy et al. (and then some), have vividly reimag­ined a dirt­ier and more in­ter­est­ing New York, a fondly re­mem­bered grit-and-greed Gotham where Trumpin­spired yup­pies rule the day and, by night, or­ga­nized “houses” of mostly AfricanAmer­i­can and Latina trans­gen­der mod­els and glam­our queens fiercely com­pete with one an­other at events called “balls” to see whose “re­al­ness” seems most real.

It’s “Pose,” dar­lings, a bold yet un­steady ex­trav­a­ganza of mu­sic, moves and an iden­tity aware­ness that emerged long be­fore the firmer sol­i­dar­ity of LGBTQ. Packed with more speechi­fy­ing than di­a­logue, the se­ries (air­ing Sun­days on FX) comes with a mighty long to-do list. Murphy and FX made cer­tain to cast the widest pos­si­ble net for “Pose’s” en­sem­ble, in­sist­ing that trans­gen­der char­ac­ters be played by trans­gen­der per­form­ers. With that, the show also boasts TV’s largest-ever LGBQT cast and crew. It’s a more than note­wor­thy ef­fort.

Thus en­no­bled and elec­tri­fied, the peo­ple of “Pose” put forth a daz­zling se­ries that is all about cul­tural course-cor­rec­tion, re­claim­ing the ball scene and its marginal­ized pioneers from the pop ap­pro­pri­a­tion that be­gan in 1990 with Madonna’s hit sin­gle “Vogue.”

“Pose” at­tempts to lend its char­ac­ters — all of them wounded in one way or an­other by so­ci­ety’s gen­der and sex­u­al­ity norms — the shape and em­pa­thy they never had, cre­at­ing forthright (if mostly fic­tional) quasi-his­tory. Think of it as a be­lated restora­tion ef­fort. Beau­ti­fi­ca­tion, not re­vi­sion­ism.

Mj Ro­driguez stars as Blanca, a frus­trated mem­ber of the House of Abun­dance, whose de­mand­ing mother/ leader, Elek­tra Abun­dance (Do­minique Jack­son), is the all-time cham­pion of the ball­room scene.

Fed up with Elek­tra’s or­ders, Blanca de­fects and starts her own fam­ily, House of Evan­ge­lista, en­sur­ing Elek­tra’s wrath. (If you think “Pose” of­fers noth­ing for you, do at least stick around for all the re­gally sharp trash-talk­ing.)

With early en­cour­age­ment from ball­room el­der Pray Tell (Billy Porter), Blanca’s first re­cruit is Da­mon (Ryan Jamaal), an as­pir­ing dancer liv­ing on the streets af­ter his par­ents kicked him out of the house for be­ing gay.

Blanca and Da­mon are soon joined by An­gel (Indya Moore), a Puerto Ri­can veteran of the ball­room scene who works the streets and Times Square peep-shows to make money. An early vic­tory for House of Evan­ge­lista es­sen­tially de­clares war with Abun­dance, and so we’re off. It’s a Cin­derella-meets”Flash­dance” story about ri­val­ries within ri­val­ries, with the war set to the best ’80s dance songs, all of it oc­ca­sion­ally clouded by such out­side forces as clas­sism, racism and, worst of all, AIDS.

The “re­al­ness” stressed by the com­pe­ti­tion is all about pass­ing in an up­scale white peo­ple’s world. Elek­tra brags that she is so real she can shop at Bergdorf ’s without a sec­ond glance (fi­nanced by her re­la­tion­ship with a rich white man). The mother-fam­ily dy­namic of­fers its mem- bers a sense of shel­ter and be­long­ing they’ve never had.

While ac­quaint­ing a wide TV au­di­ence with the ba­sics of a fringe cul­ture, “Pose” also takes on the task of weav­ing in the up­town story of Stan Bowes (Evan Peters), an ea­ger new ju­nior ex­ec­u­tive hire in Trump Tower. With his new­found white-col­lar pres­tige and salary, Stan, who has a wife, Patty (Kate Mara), and two kids in New Jersey, acts on a long-sup­pressed urge and hires a street­walker, who hap­pens to be An­gel.

That they fall in love — and pro­ceed to have ar­gu­ments built around her tran­si­tion is­sues and his awk­ward ad­mis­sion of his sex­ual de­sires — is just one of the many stretches of melo­dra- ma that keep “Pose” some­what clumsy and, at times, un­sat­is­fy­ingly preachy.

“Pose” makes no bones about its in­tent to school us on a litany of is­sues. A few of these lec­tures are mem­o­rably and even poignantly writ­ten and per­formed (I could lis­ten to Jack­son’s Elek­tra tell peo­ple what’s what all the way to 1989, at least), but most of them strain with ef­fort.

It’s al­ways been hard to con­vince Murphy that a lit­tle goes a long way, and view­ers will have to ad­mit that most of “Pose’s” weak­nesses tend to van­ish dur­ing the fan­t­a­sit­cally en­ter­tain­ing ball­room scenes. Madonna was wrong when she said “Strike a pose, there’s noth­ing to it.” Turns out, there’s a whole lot to it.


Indya Moore stars as An­gel in the new se­ries “Pose,” air­ing Sun­days on FX.

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