Monday, June 10, 2019

TV REVIEW: FX's 'Pose' - Season 2

FX's Pose returns for its second season on Tuesday, June 11 at 10/9c. The new season stars Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Billy Porter, Indya Moore, Ryan Jamaal Swain, Dyll├│n Burnside, Hailie Sahar, Angelica Ross, Angel Bismark Curiel and Sandra Bernhard.

Read on for my thoughts on the new season after screening its first four episodes.

If you watched the first season of Pose for Evan Peters, Kate Mara and James Van Der Beek, then you will be surely disappointed in the second season. However, if you enjoyed the vibrant and wonderful performances of Mj Rodriguez, Billy Porter, Dominique Jackson and Indya Moore, then you will be pleased to hear that the show continues to build on all of the excitement and joy that was previously established. It's a creative change that plays into the elements of the show that were working while eliminating those that weren't. Peters, Mara and Van Der Beek are all fantastic performers who are willing and able to find work elsewhere. Their importance on this show just always felt like the creative team or network being unsure if an audience would tune in for a show starring a largely unknown transgender ensemble - even one co-created by known hit maker Ryan Murphy. Those three actors gave legitimacy to the project in the early going. But it was mostly just a way into this world to grip audiences with the stunning performances and central conflicts elsewhere. And now, viewers should be returning to see how the various Houses are competing in the balls as well as how the world continues to change and evolve for the LGBTQ+ community. This is such an inspiring and hopeful show. One that tells these stories in such a vivacious and moving way. However, it never shies away from the true reality of the 1980s and 90s. That is a very delicate balance that the show has always walked carefully. It only gets trickier in the second season as the show really increases the stakes pertaining to the outward and internal threats against these characters. But the craftsmanship on display as well as an ensemble that is working in lock step with one another makes the second season an unequivocal success. Pose returns as one of the most empathetic, colorful and powerful shows on television.

The new season opens in 1990 with the release of Madonna's hit song "Vogue." That single drastically changes the world immediately and the perception of the ball scene. Some of the characters are hopeful and inspired by it. They see it as their community being welcomed and accepted by the world. Others see it as yet another example of cultural appropriation. It also means the ballroom events have to be more over-the-top and elaborate than ever before. Those sequences were always full of high-octane energy and passion. That continues in such a delightful way in the new episodes. The costumes and tricks are more creative while the competition is more cutthroat than ever before. The House of Evangelista mothered by Blanca, the House of Ferocity mothered by Lulu and Candy as well as an exciting and formidable new house take center stage and prove that they are all capable of taking home trophies and the respect of their community. Plus, "Vogue" inspires the community to take action in pursuit of their own goals and ambitions. It's a freeing season because it delivers the message that it's perfectly okay for people to be ambitious and go after what they want. It's terrifying because this community has been subjected to so much violence and oppression. That quality is still felt in these storylines as well. But there are many signs that things are looking up as well. Blanca starts a new business - though runs into trouble with her shady landlord played by Patti LuPone, whose character is best summed up by her dogs being named "Cash" and "Credit." Meanwhile, both Angel and Elektra are on some exciting and intriguing new paths. At times, it's thrilling to watch the comic simplicity of it all. But it remains very effective when certain turns occur that could absolutely devastate or lift up the characters as well.

The season is also choosing to play more into its activist side. Every episode now ends with a quote or statistic that paints a stark picture about the current reality of this world or inspires people to continue their activism. This show may be set in the past where fear and uncertainty could drive people insane. And yet, it wants the audience to stand up and notice that there are so many tragedies that are still happening to this day. The world needs to watch these stories and go on these adventures full of highs and lows with these characters. But they also need to be allies outside of the show and defend those who need it the most right now. The show is using that platform very effectively. In the show's circumstances, everything is marred with tragedy because there is the growing sense that the characters are either in the ballroom or attending a funeral. Those are the predominate settings this year. The HIV/AIDS crisis continues to hit close to home with it terrifying and crippling some characters with what might be in the not so distant future. The relationships continue to evolve and change. But the passion and excitement grows as well. Sandra Bernhard's Nurse Judy returns in a major way too. She presents as the way into the doctor's office to make sense of the new numbers as well as the activist world in which the community is organizing to hopefully get the rest of the world to care about the abuses being down against them in every day life. It's an ongoing struggle for love and acceptance. These characters are constantly thrown down in unfortunate circumstances. And yet, the empathy remains forever clear to the audience. We desperately want good things to happen to the people of this world. The compassion that we extend towards them is palpable. The show is very respectful of that even though each episode in the early going will bring the viewer to tears. But that never feels like the show is manipulating our emotions. Instead, it's just powerful and insightful storytelling that hits the closest for those who know the profound impact seeing all of this can have on people throughout the world right now.