Thursday, July 31, 2008

Logo's "Sordid Lives" -- Absolutely Fabulous!

I'm plum in love with cable network Logo's new comedy series Sordid Lives, which premiered last week. Logo, from the Viacom/MTV family of networks, specializes in gay-friendly programming. In their own words:

Logo is entertainment programming for lesbians and gays and just about anyone who enjoys a gay point of view. Logo is for us, our friends and our family.

Logo is also for anyone who's looking for the consistently interesting and always well-acted series Queer as Folks and The L Word now that they're off Showtime (a Logo sister network.) Unfortunately both shows are edited for content now, but what do you want from basic cable anyway? (Well, perhaps a bit more than just an edited version, considering what FX gets away with on their original series.) However, if you want the full monty at least you can get hold of the DVDs.

The series Sordid Lives is a prequel to the 1999 movie of the same name, which itself was an adaptation of a popular stage play. The world of Sordid Lives was created by Del Shores, a talented writer/director/producer who's been turning out successful, hilarious and often meaningful comedies for over twenty years, in addition to writing for lots of episodic TV . His own works are informed by his experience as a late-blooming gay man, which makes Logo possibly the perfect venue for this latest incarnation of the over-the-top antics of Sordid Lives. As with all great art, however, the sheer excellence of the material transcends all boundaries. Sordid Lives is a series that will please all sorts of people on every kind of level.

SL's basic story resolves around a small town family in Texas, a wild bunch of colorful characters whose excesses and eccentricities are many and varied. I won't even attempt to summarize the plotline; Logo has an excellent and quite detailed overview to get you started caring about the folks on Sordid Lives, and I believe that you will care after you've watched even a few minutes of the show. In addition to Del Shores' snappy and snippy dialogue, the chief charms of SL are the performances of the marvelous cast, many of whom are reprising their roles from the movie. The talented comedy veteran Rue McClanahan is new to the SL world in the role of the clan matriarch Peggy, with familiar face Beth Grant (Donny Darko, Little Miss Sunshine) as her sister. Peggy has two grown daughters, one a little wild (played by Ann Walker) and one straight-laced (played by Bonnie Bedelia -- do you remember when she married Little Joe on Bonanza?), and a son who has spent the last twenty years in a mental institution mainly because he goes around in Tammy Wynette drag, and where he is currently under treatment from a vainglorious and deluded therapist bound to dehomosexualize him.

And so it goes. Alongside McClanahan, Grant and Bedelia, comic actress Caroline Rhea is terrific as the sexually unsatisfied Noleta, whose husband has two wooden legs and the hots for other women. Actor Leslie Jordan, Emmy-winner for his recurring role on Will and Grace, is absolutely amazing as Brother Boy, the locked-away son. He's hilarious, of course, in sequined drag outfits as he milks the broad comedy with everything he's got, but Jordan's also incredibly touching in the role and takes Brother Boy to a level where a lesser actor couldn't go. There's tremendous heart in his portrayal, and overall there's a huge well of compassion and genuine human emotion in this show. In this respect it reminds me a great deal of the Canadian hit Trailer Park Boys which also manages to find truth, beauty and authentic modern family values in the midst of slapstick and non-stop profanity. Sordid Lives has a core of warmth and affection that is obviously not accidental and is completely winning.

There's also a plotline involving Peggy's grandson Ty (the appealing Jason Dottley) who is an ex-soap opera actor in Hollywood struggling with the decision to come out. This allows for some show biz lampooning and some prominent guest stars -- Margaret Cho, Carson Kressley -- and if right now Ty's life doesn't seem to have quite the pizazz as his Texas brethen's, it's still mighty enjoyable. Even the insanity of Hollywood life can barely hope to compete with a cast of veterans going all out in well-written flamboyant farce. I don't mean to forget Olivia Newton-John as a just-released-from-prison bar singer befriended by Peggy. N-J is a good sport and her wonderful voice is a treat.

The first two episodes are a two-parter, and it looks like current and future episodes will be played many times to allow for new viewers to join in. My recommendation for now would be to tune in this Saturday night at 9pm for "The Day Tammy Wynette Died - Part 1" and stay for Part 2 immediately following at 9:30pm. I predict you'll be completely up-to-speed and hooked on Sordid Lives after the hour. Visit the Sordid Lives website on Logo for entertaining character profiles and other background material, though unfortunately no full episodes available for viewing. (That seems like a mistake; clips just won't cut it these days. Better we get our episode fix from Logo's website than finding it elsewhere...and we will find it elsewhere.) I also suggest reading this terrific post from written by Del Shores about the show and his life and how they are related, and you will also want to check out his website here.

Now I've got TWO shows I can't wait to see each week: AMC's Mad Men and now Logo's Sordid Lives. Summer TV rocks!

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