Now into three seasons, Pose takes us back to 1980s New York City, where large hair and shoulder pads rule above ground, whilst underground it’s all about vogueing, wigs and drag mothers. Grab your coat – we’re going to the ball daaaahling. Category is: amazing TV drama.
For people who haven’t yet got their heads around drag culture, in some ways this ball is pretty similar to your traditional ones – there are dresses, dancing, and people being judgemental. Except here, they’re judging a competitive challenge where drag queens catwalk and dance in high fashion outfits matching the given category. And the competition is as fierce as the queens themselves.
This bright, glitzy and typically Ryan Murphy series takes inspiration from the 1990s documentary Paris is Burning, and follows the mostly black, Latino, transgender and gay people who make up New York’s ball scene. We’re introduced to the ‘house system’ under which many LGBTQ+ people live, choosing their own family ruled by someone they call the House mother. When we enter series, our lead Blanca Rodriguez (played by trans actress MJ Rodriguez), is trying to break away from the House of Abundance, which is ruled by an authoritarian ball legend named Elektra (Dominique Jackson). Blanca commits the ultimate betrayal by creating her own competing house, the House of Evangelista – she goes about sourcing her own troop of misfits, including aspiring classical dancer Damon, who has been kicked out by his disapproving parents, and Angel, a transgender sex worker who is in love with the white, cisgender Stan, who is married and works for Donald Trump.
We hop from the colourful underground network of the LGBTQ+ ran balls to the white male dominated rat race in this thrilling exploration of New York City’s subcultures and their treatment by society. This series treats the culture and its people with respect and love, showing the fun and drama of the ball scene as well as the tragic consequences homophobia, transphobia and of the Aids crisis. And even though it handles these intense and heavy subjects, the show remains an absolute joy to watch, never becoming a lesson or a lecture, instead choosing to celebrate the beauty of this once hidden history.
It does that brilliantly. Murphy made sure that his casting was true to this story, employing a diverse cast and crew of black, Latino, queer and transgender people to create this progressive series. And it clearly pays off, as the show’s three seasons have garnered a huge fan base and won multiple awards including an Emmy.
Writing about season 3 in The Telegraph Marianka Swain calls it “the most melodramatic yet. Featuring screeching tonal shifts, it juxtaposes grim reality – the peak of the Aids epidemic – with a glittering fantasy of found families and fabulous fashion. Inspirational? Yes. Subtle? Good God no.” Of earlier episodes, The Guardian’s Chitra Ramaswamy says she’s “head over heels in love with this show,” which “thrusts a subculture into the mainstream without explanation, justification or a lecture on identity politics.” In Vulture, Matt Zoller Seitz calls Pose “a joyous series about giving love and staying fabulous no matter what life throws at you,” saying its “gallows humor and barbed-wire personality links it to a wider body of audiovisual works dealing with the political and apersonal impact of AIDS, as well as homophobia and class and race divisions within the LGBTQ community that were laid bare by the epidemic.” But The New York Times’s James Poniewozik praises the show, saying its “rough patches are lofted by its vitality and refusal to draw its characters in terms of tragedy,” calling the series “broadly empathetic and nonjudgmental.”
First shown March 2019.