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Theatre, Music, etc.


February 15, 2008

On the medium low

Here TV series isn’t really DL,
but it’s fun anyway

The “down low.” Everyone thinks they know what it is, and everyone is correct, to a degree, even though practically no two people agree on a definition.

Keith Boykin, both in lectures and in his book Beyond the Down Low, makes a number of very salient points about “DL” as a new phenomenon. Among them: It’s not new, it’s not much of a phenomenon, and to a great extent, it’s a game of semantics.

However, society and its arbiters (like Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Springer and a score of others) continue to drum up fears among black women that their men are secretly creeping around on them, schtupping everything that stands up to pee. Generally, most films and books about the “down low” follow that train of thought.

Here! TV’s The DL Chronicles appeared to be among them, at first.

The inaugural episode of the first season, now out on DVD, is a trifling tale of Wes, a married man who may also be attracted to other men.

He was at least passably eager to fall into arms of his wife’s brother. He was drunk as a skunk at the time, he and his wife had argued earlier in the evening, and the brother-in-law (by far the cuter of the two) most definitely made the first move.

So, in Case Study 1, the audience is left to ask: Does drinking half a bottle of Jack Daniels constitute being on the down low?

While the acting in that first episode is decent, the direction seems . . . amateurish. It’s as if someone took a class on local access video production from their cable provider, and decided to make a television show right away. It’s filled with fast back-and-forth cuts between two people talking, no finesse in the camera angles, no seeing someone speak, then react as the other character says their lines off-camera. It’s like a tennis match in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

This did not seem to bode well for the series, or for any reporter trapped in his office watching the four-episode Season One DVD. The afternoon promised to be a long, painful one indeed.

Then writer-directors Quincy Lenear and Deondray Gossett pulled a fast one. The first episode is actually a short film they created. When they sold the series to Here! TV, the queer pay cable network that predates Logo, it helped them develop it and find a direction.

Suffice it to say, all was well in the universe.

Each episode is named for the “DL” man in it. Episode one is “Wes,” episode two is “Robert.”

It opens with Robert, a talent agent, being told by an attractive woman that his dinner is ready. He is startled, flustered--he was cruising for homo nookie online.

It appears that this will be another tale of some guy cheating on his wife with another guy. Oh, but how appearances can deceive!

By the time the episode ends, the audience has a few startling, amusing and heart-warming twists, and a happy ending, no less.

Happy endings are in short supply in the third episode, “Boo.” There is, however, a lot of flesh on display, as well as an incisive wit.

One of the nice things about Here! is that, depending on the cable system, they’re either pay-per-view or a pay channel, similar to HBO or Showtime. So while Noah’s Arc on Logo can’t show wieners and buns, Here! can--and does.

That’s gratifying in “Boo,” especially the scene where his ex-girlfriend won’t let him into her apartment, but the man who is spending the night is more than happy to confront Boo in the hallway . . . completely naked.

“My dick’s bigger than his,” Boo mutters while skulking away.

He fits the classic DL profile far more than the other three men. He is dating Keisha, and screwing just about everyone else. Men, women, the family pet, barnyard animals, nothing is safe from him. It’s like a George A. Romero movie--Night of the Living Dick. All the while, though, he carries on a monologue that flows from one trick seamlessly into another.

It’s an unexpected bit of comic schtick that really works to lighten the mood, especially with dark foreshadowing throughout the episode. It is the only one of the four that mentions condoms or HIV, and that always lingers at the edge of the frame.

There is also a marvelous scene using Edvard Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King” as the soundtrack for another visual foray through his various sexual partners, male and female, that was perhaps the funniest moment on the DVD.

Whether or not Boo’s uppance will come, he realizes by the end that his behavior is self-destructive, as well as endangering everyone around him. The audience doesn’t know if he will change, and isn’t sure if he deserves the second chance.

The fourth episode, “Mark,” is probably the funniest of them all, but also the farthest from the classic “DL” model. A guy who is living with his boyfriend but is not out to his family doesn’t necessarily qualify as being on the down low, but the resolution to the situation is far and above the most satisfying of the season.

Filled with a cast of eye-candy as fine as can be found, and acting that makes network neighbors Dante’s Cove and The Lair look like a really bad middle-school drama production, The DL Chronicles might not be a particularly hard-hitting look at the “phenomenon,” but it’s great entertainment.


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