Culture Club

What to Watch: Billy Porter & Idina Menzel slay, ‘Impeachment’ rules and a ‘Q-Force’ of gayness

Impeachment: American Crime Story “Exiles” Episode 1 (Airs Tuesday, September 7) — Pictured: (l-r) Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp, Beanie Feldstein as Monica Lewinsky. CR: Tina Thorpe/FX

Whatever your entertainment needs, we got your back (and hopefully your mind) with Queerty’s weekly “Culture Club” column with some of the highlights of new releases, streaming shows, classics worth revisiting, and what to drink while you watch.

The Fairy Tale: Cinderella

The iconic fairytale gets a Top 40 reboot this week, complete with queer and postmodern feminist twists. Writer/director Kay Cannon—hereto known as the screenwriter of Pitch Perfect—reimagines Cinderella as Ella (Camilla Cabello), an aspiring fashion designer with eyes on her own boutique. Her rigid Stepmother (Idina Menzel) won’t hear of it; forcing Ella to confine herself to the family basement and consider the proposal of a man she doesn’t love. When the rebellious Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) falls hard for Ella, she dreams of hobnobbing with the elite at a royal ball. Can her Fairy Godmother (Billy Porter) make her dreams come true?

By now, not a person reading this column won’t know the story of Cinderella, or its inevitable happy ending. Perhaps for that reason, director Cannon chooses to focus on the transformation of everybody except Ella: she’s more an agent of change than a traditional protagonist. As such, the secondary storylines upstage that of Ella and the Prince. Far more interesting are the marital problems of the King & Queen (Pierce Brosnan & Minnie Driver), the gender fluidness of the Fairy Godmother, and the trauma of the Stepmother. Cabello acquits herself well in her first leading role, though Menzel almost steals the movie outright. The Tony winner paints the Stepmother as an intelligent, frustrated, woman who, like her stepdaughter, had her big dreams quashed by her gender. Lush costumes and production design make the film into a visual feast, and despite losing momentum in the second act, Cinderella rebounds in its third for a fun conclusion. The film is a must for fans of Menzel and Porter, as well as for anyone needing a title to share with adolescents and teenagers.

Streams on Amazon Prime Video September 3.

The Bonkers: Q-Force

Sean Hayes and Wanda Sykes star in this new, adult animated series that combines the premise of Charlie’s Angels and the humor of Adult Swim with a big ‘ole whopping flood of queerness. Q-Force follows a band of misfit, queer secret agents led by Agent Mary (Hayes), a man committed to proving his own abilities as well as those of his team to the American Intelligence Agency. Partnered with a lesbian genius engineer named Deb (Sykes), a drag master of disguise named Twink (Matt Rogers), the forlorn hacker Stat (Patti Harrison), and the uber-straight lummox Buck (David Harbour), the team sets out to topple an international crime scheme involving the kidnapping of gay men.

Once upon a time in the LGBTQ world, we had our own vernacular, our own language of metaphors and terms which only other queers really could understand. Q-Force returns to that tradition, with results we found hilarious. For that matter, we’re not sure creator Gabe Liedman even cared about appealing to a straight audience: this show has enough references to lube, drag, Jackée Harry, bears, lesbian dog rescues, Debra Winger, circuit parties, Los Angeles living, and Eurovision that we spent half the runtime just wondering what goofy direction the show would try next. Q-Force also doesn’t shy away from the sexual, offering up no shortage of full-frontal animated nudity and love scenes. This is, in many ways, what so many other series and films have tried to achieve for so long: a story so proudly queer, so utterly unapologetic about its sexuality and gender that it throbs with sheer outrageousness. Much like a drag show, some viewers may find Q-Force a bit too over the top. For us, it’s an exercise in LGBTQ love—and a very fun adventure to boot.

Streams on Netflix September 2.

The Intrigue: American Crime Story – Impeachment

Season 3 of the acclaimed Ryan Murphy series arrives on FX this week, taking on its most ambitious subject matter yet. Impeachment follows the lead up to President Bill Clinton’s (Clive Owen) 1998 impeachment, predicated on his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein). If The People v. O. J. Simpson occupied itself with the machinations of the media and celebrity within the Justice System, and The Assassination of Gianni Versace played like a tragic opera, Impeachment combines elements of both. Here, right-wing bottom feeders, media whores, and one pathetic woman exploit Lewinsky and Paula Jones (Annaleigh Ashford) in the name of gaining influence. The result is, in short, captivating.

Writer/showrunner Sarah Burgess does something unexpected with the premise: the protagonist here isn’t Clinton or Lewinsky, but rather Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson), the “friend” of Lewinsky whose recorded conversations sparked the scandal. In a transformation worthy of Lon Cheney, an unrecognizable Paulson plays Tripp as a woman obsessed with her own self-aggrandizement. Her Tripp chooses to become a villain, destroying everyone around her to satisfy her own need for importance. It’s a chilling performance. Clive Owen looks more like former Double Dare host Marc Summers than Bill Clinton; though when speaks, the Clinton charisma comes through. Ashford and Feldstein both play Jones and Lewinsky as sweet, needy women. Ashford’s Jones doesn’t seem to realize how everyone around her his exploiting her. Feldstien’s Lewinsky comes of smarter, but still too naive to recognize the perilous situation she’s created.

Like all Ryan Murphy productions, Impeachment features a rich, all-star supporting cast. Here, two supporting players stand out: Billy Eichner as the gay, right-wing gossip monger Matt Drudge and Cobie Smulders as a frightening doppelganger of Ann Coulter. Like Tripp, both Drudge and Coulter obsess over their own self-aggrandizement, the show suggests, to satisfy a lust for power and significance. That seems to come from both a profound self-hatred and transparent loathing from everyone around them. Even the closest allies of Drudge and Coulter detest them…which only seems reasonable.

Impeachment will, no doubt, get people talking about the elements of sex, gender, politics, celebrity and obsession that fueled the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. It will also revive chatter over blue dresses, witch hunts, right-wing conspiracies, the definition of “is,” and phone sex—all nostalgic, though not in a way we enjoy. The show itself, on the other hand, begs for the binge treatment. It’s thrilling, astute, provocative drama and, for better and worse, an all-American story.

Season premiere September 7 on FX.

The Howler: Only Murders in the Building

Comic lions Steve Martin and Martin Short partner with Selena Gomez for this hilarious mystery about true-crime addicts on an amateur murder investigation. As co-created by Martin and gay writer John Hoffman (Looking, Grace & Frankie) Murders pokes fun at America’s strange true-crime podcast obsession. When a man dies under mysterious circumstances in their luxury New York apartment building, an out of work TV actor (Martin), a disgraced theatre director (Short) and a mysterious young woman team up to solve the mystery…and launch their own podcast about it.

Short and Martin, are, in no uncertain terms, comic geniuses and terrific actors. Martin also possesses a remarkable ability as a writer, finding humor and absurdity in sharp-eyed everyday observations. Both luminaries have their talent dialed to full power here, and we also happily report that Gomez manages to hold her own opposite these two heavy hitters. We don’t want to give too much away here—like any mystery, Only Murders in the Building plays best in a vacuum, with the audience having little-to-no foreknowledge of its twists and turns. We will, however, add that the show also features a first-rate supporting cast which includes Jackie Hoffman, Tina Fey, Nathan Lane and Sting (yes, really). It’s a delightful romp that captures both the fun of Agatha Christine-type whodunnits, and the perverse ridiculousness of a society that uses real-life murder as entertainment.

New episodes stream on Hulu every Tuesday.

The Soapy: Days of our Lives – Beyond Salem

Daytime soap fans should take note of this new miniseries landing this week on Peacock. Beyond Salem catches up with Days of Our Lives cast members old and new, with the residents of Salem flung to the winds all over the world. Their uniting quality: a peacock statue (cough) containing five rare gems stolen by a Salem resident years ago. As the gems begin to surface around the world, the residents find themselves drawn closer to one another amid a web of organized crime and international intrigue.

Oh, and plenty of lurid, sexy twists ensue. It’s Days of Our Lives after all.

Queer fans of the show—in case they need any more convincing—should rejoice at the return of “power couple” Sonny and Will (now played by Zachary Atticus Tinker and Chandler Massey). The so-called first gay power couple on daytime have, since leaving the regular Days cast, taken up residence in Phoenix after marrying each other a second time. Sonny suspects Will may have eyes for another man—but will his suspicions result in another divorce, or a threesome? Drag queen Jackie Cox also has a recurring role on the five-episode season, as well as gay favs Lisa Rinna and Jackée Harry (see above). It’s fun, silly, sexy way to reconnect with a groundbreaking gay couple…and enjoy all the soapy ridiculousness of it all.

Streams on Peacock September 7.

The Jam: Tony & the Kiki “Extra Express”

Queer punk rockers Tony & the Kiki drop a new single this week, a folk-blues power track about being queer and fabulous. Lead singer Anthony Alfaro channels the hairy-chested glam of Freddie Mercury, though for our money, Alfaro sounds much closer to Huey Lewis. It’s a barn-burning, head-banging ode to living out loud and indulging in fabulousness, which is always good enough for us.

Streams on YouTube.

The Sip: The Steve Martin

via Shutterstock

In honor of the release of Only Murders in the Building, we’ve opted to try out this drink so named for the series star. Smokey, sweet and classy–just like the man who inspired it–it should have you in hysterics in no time.

  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • ½ oz simple syrup
  • 1 ½ oz whiskey
  • 4 oz club soda

Mix lemon, syrup and whiskey in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass and top with club soda.