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Episodic television progressing with LGBTQ themes in 'Eyewitness'

"Eyewitness" is a mystery thriller bound by gay characters .
Photo credit:
USA Network

I have always found episodic television a curious teacher as it acclimates us to new ideas and culture 

In 1998 the American people met ” Will & Grace”, an episodic series about a gay lawyer - Will Truman (played by Eric McCormack) & his best gal pal - interior designer Grace Adler (played by Debra Messing).

The comedic show, famous for its quick gay wit and one liners, aired on NBC (1998-2006). The American people were introduced to the idea that gay men had hot girl friends and YES men DO have intimate relations and families with other men.

Not long after ”Will & Grace”, Showtime brought us “Queer as Folk” (2000-2005).

The new series featured: Gale Harold, Peter Paige, Hal Sparks, Sharon Gless, Scott Lowell, and Thea Gill.

This controversial show was set in Pittsburgh, PA and depicted the lives of sexually appealing gay men faced with: drug addiction, HIV, gay marriage, homophobia, hate crimes, gay families, and relationships with a lot of gay sex just this side of porn.

The show was so controversial that some casting agents wouldn't even send their clients to audition for the pilot. Ultimately, “Queer as Folk” broke down barriers for five consecutive seasons, leaving an LGBTQ legacy of 83 episodes.

Jump ahead a few years ,well a lot of years to be honest, to find the next but very short lived episodic series “ Looking."

The show aired on HBO (2014-2015) and told the story about a group of friends in San Francisco.

I am still a little annoyed with HBO for canceling the show after only one season but at least they thought enough to give the viewers some closure with a two-hour show finale. In my opinion, ”Looking” would have gained momentum by the end of the second season.

In the last two decades, we’ve only experienced a handful of episodic shows that feature the LGBTQ lifestyle in a way that’s had any real redeeming value in our culture.

This statement is not meant to include reality shows like “Ru Paul's Drag Race," “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,"  or”Modern Family” - a series whose supporting characters are gay.

NBC Universal explores this issue with it’s new series ” Eyewitness," which debuted on USA Network (Fall 2016).

The story was adapted from the Norwegian series “Øyevitne” by Adi Hasak.

The Creator & Executive Producer who's bold vision brings us the first American dramatic series where the main characters are two gay high school seniors in the beginning of their relationship.

In the first episode Lukas Waldenbeck (played by James Paxton) and Philip Shea (played by Tyler Young) are in the throes of passion in a remote cabin in upstate New York. They are soon interrupted by a car pulling up to the cabin. Fearful their relationship is about to be discovered, they both quickly jump up out of bed. One of them dives under the bed while the other hides in the closet.

They both become witness to a triple homicide. The murderer then notices Philip hiding under the bed.

Quick to save his boyfriend, Lukas hits Ryan Kane (played by Warren Christie) in the back of the head knocking him out cold. The two teens flee saying nothing to Philip’s foster mother & town sheriff Helen Torrance (played by Julianne Nicholson) well known for her role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Nicholson is very well suited to her role, giving a believable performance.

Helen's husband Gabe Caldwell, the town veterinarian, is played by one of my all time favorite actors (Gil Bellows) known for his roles in “Shawshank Redemption” and most recently “Dead Draw”.

Bellows, a seasoned actor and director, plays the compassionate and supportive foster father to Philip and husband to Helen. His character has the rugged masculine quality that will earn him some new LGBTQ admirers, increasing his already large and diverse fan base.

I had the pleasure of running into Bellows at the 2016 San Diego International Film Festival for the premiere of his new film ” Dead Draw." 

I asked him what his thoughts were on “Eyewitness” and whether or not the American audience is ready for it.

This is what he had to say: “To me, Eyewitness is a thriller that manages to become a character piece about love and all its manifestations and consequences. ”Eyewitness” is a mediation on humanity.

You have young love between two high school seniors and the fear to share it publicly; the love between sisters on either side of the law; forbidden (illegal) love between a man and an underage girl; a gangster father's love for his wild daughter; a woman's love of her profession; a man's love of his family; and finally a husband and wife loving one another through it all. For all of those involved in this story, the cost of their relationships may be too high.

”The cast of “Eyewitness” brings a thrilling story to  American television . The man behind it, Adi Hasak, requires more  examination. I have spent several months getting to know Hasak, the words that come to mind are: WOW, innovative, creative and accurate. Meaning he portrayed the LGBTQ community in a realistic manner.”  

In an interview with Hasak  I wanted to know, “With our current political climate, why now ?” and “ Is America ready for a show that pushes perceived social norms?”

Here is what he had to say: 

“I think American and International audiences are ready for this story as evidenced in the way fans around the world have embraced the characters of Philip and Lukas. Fans on Twitter have practically exploded the internet with an outpouring of love and fan art each night a new episode has aired this fall, and many even started pleading for a season two in the very early days of the series.”

It is clear that Hasak is a true supporter of the LGBTQ community and for the record he is not gay, the question looms why are gay characters are so present in his work?    

“Depicting diverse, non-stereotypical LGBTQ characters in my work is a priority for me not only in “Eyewitness”, but in “Shades of Blue”, the NBC series I created in which Ray Liotta plays a strong gay man. I plan to continue telling LGBTQ story lines, much the same way I intend to continue telling nuanced human stories that push boundaries and defy cliche's and stereotypes. As a society, I think it’s our duty to support positive representations of LGBTQ characters on television and to ensure these stories continue being told.”

If you are a fan of the " Twilight series" cinematography you will love ”Eyewitness” on USA Network & “Shades of Blue” on NBC. If you missed the first season of “Eyewitness” you can catch up by watching select episodes on USA now or the complete first season on HULU. “Shades of Blue” airs this Spring on NBC 

Writers note USA Network did not request a second season of Eyewitness, however a precedent has been established. Adi Hasak received an award from GLAAD for how he portrayed the LGBTQ community on television.