Queer as Folk Season 5 continues to follow the journey of a group of gay friends and lovers living in Pittsburgh. This critically acclaimed series brings with it mature stories about facing the challenges of same-sex parenting, discrimination, AIDS/HIV, cancer and morality. Gay has rarely been so glamorous as in the American version of Queer as Folk
. But the show's success rests on more than hard bodies and glossy, picture-perfect sex (though there's an abundance of that); this series gave its characters a multidimensional richness that rivals more high-profile programs like Six Feet Under
or The Sopranos
, while tackling an impressive breadth of social and political issues without ever (well, almost never) feeling preachy. The fifth and final season lays out its themes with authority: Alpha-gay Brian (Gale Howard) buys and revamps the sex club Babylon, declaring promiscuity and independence as a gay birthright, while Brian's oldest friend Michael (Hal Sparks, Talk Soup
) embraces domesticity with his partner Ben (Robert Gant); the flamboyant Emmett (Peter Paige) finds success as a tv personality, only to find his persona may trap him in a stereotype; and Ted (Scott Lowell) grapples with body prejudices within the gay community. Meanwhile, the crumbling relationship of Mel (Michelle Clunie) and Lindsay (Thea Gill) takes a more troubling turn when Michael demands more rights as the father of their daughter.
Most tv series would take a topic like this last legal wrangle and stretch it over an entire season, but Queer as Folk is more ambitious; the writers recognize that the resolution of one problem is rarely the end of the story, that muddy consequences can be as dramatically compelling as head-to-head conflict. This aggressive and effective plotting, combined with the show's willingness to explore the complexities of every issue--be it assimilation or the coming out of a celebrity--results in an increasing emotional power as the series steamrolls towards its final episode. Some subplots can be silly (Brian has a ridiculous stud-off with a new hot guy in town), the dialogue can sometimes veer from wit to camp cliches, and the omnipresence of sculpted, muscular physiques is absurd and even a little alienating for some viewers, but Queer as Folk's strengths--the compassion and intelligence of the writers, the commitment and nuance of the acting--make this show a true television landmark and a pleasure to watch. And then, of course, there's all that graphic and lovingly photographed sex. Rosie O'Donnell and Cyndi Lauper make guest appearances, and Sharon Gless (Cagney & Lacey) continues her much-loved performance as Michael's mother, Debbie. --Bret Fetzer