In 1999, Russell T. Davies premiered “Queer as Folk”, his raw and exuberant British series about the life and lusts of young gay men in Manchester. As you start off in “It’s a Sin,” coming to HBO Max on Thursday, you might first think he did the same show again.
In this five-part series, three barely adulthood men leave home and find themselves roommates in London, where they can pursue their dreams, reunite with their people and have the freedom to be, socially and sexually, them. themselves.
The big difference between her and “Queer as Folk” is indicated by the date stamp opening the first episode: September 1981. The beautiful and hopeful neophytes of “It’s a Sin” suddenly enter the beginning of the movie. ‘AIDS epidemic, which will claim a lot of the characters we meet and an unbearable number of others.
But this first impression, that “it is a sin” could also be a kind of celebration of freedom and charity, is not wrong either.
Part of the power of this heartwarming and excellent series comes from the brutality with which it describes the story we know is coming inexorably. But the biggest part is how that also shows us the stories these young men should have had, the stories they were stolen from, the stories that society and fate allowed generations of straight men before them. .
We start with Ritchie (Olly Alexander), a bright and devious student from the Isle of Wight eager for adventures in the city, where he soon decides to drop out of law school in order to act. Colin (Callum Scott Howells), a quiet naïve from Wales, begins a career in the men’s clothing business of Savile Row. Confident Roscoe (Omari Douglas) has run away from his conservative religious family, who want to send him back to Nigeria to program the gay out of him.
The atmosphere is of rebellion, of promise, of opportunity. The series vibrates with New Wave music – Soft Cell, Bronski Beat, Pet Shop Boys (hence the title) – and overflows with sex, sometimes hot, sometimes groping. Ritchie makes a new best friend, Jill (Lydia West, from Davies’ Years and Years) and has an awkward affair with the experienced Ash (Nathaniel Curtis), who ultimately becomes a close friend with occasional benefits.
In clubs, pubs and parties, young characters begin to discover themselves and find their place. Even the boys who run away from the house also run towards her.
The disease enters history on the margins, in rumors, quickly laughing, of a “gay flu” in America. (“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ritchie says to an acquaintance, irritated. “That would be all over the news.”) Colin is caught up in the wing of a funny social co-worker, Henry (Neil Patrick Harris), who mysteriously takes ill, becoming a replacement for the generation of elders and mentors who would be lost to the plague.
“It’s a sin” is unsurprisingly heavy, but he never feels weighed down by its subject. In turn, the series is furious, festive, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes funny and playful. (One scene takes us to the 1980s set of “Doctor Who,” the science fiction institution Davies relaunched for the BBC in 2005.)
With a keen sense of how Thatcherite politics played out in Britain’s health crisis, the series tackles the indifference and hostility of the outside world to the lives lost. He also laments the way in which young men, in the confused beginnings of AIDS, internalized this hatred. Time and time again, the characters confess that they are “pure”, unlike the “dirty” men who they believe are victims of the disease.
It shouldn’t be a spoiler, I think, to say that everyone you love on “It’s a Sin” isn’t going to survive. The portrayal of the cruelty of the disease is flawless. But the story is not just a massacre; with the rise of the militant movement against AIDS, it becomes a battle.
Amid the show’s politics, Davies pays attention to the personal and nuances – Ritchie, for example, is adamant about his sexual freedom but also has a conservative streak. Among an utterly excellent cast, Alexander is especially good at showing off the childish light that Ritchie keeps alive even though he’s increasingly afraid it will be extinguished early on.
Davies’ structural competence is fully on display here; the first opus is an immaculate introduction that builds and builds and ends in love at first sight. His constant intelligence, rather than being casual, loads the work with immediacy and verve. The storytelling is urgent, with a few moments lost.
What is initially put together as a comprehensive narrative, however, doesn’t quite end like this; as “It’s a Sin” focuses more and more on Ritchie, he devotes less attention to characters like Roscoe. And while the show is clearly in love with Jill – Davies said she was based on a personal friend, and West is bright in the role – she is defined primarily by her selflessness.
Critics will sometimes describe shows as “It’s a Sin” as if watching them is also an act of self-sacrifice – phrases like “must see” imply a kind of duty to the story. And I won’t claim that “It is a sin” is not heartbreaking.
But it is also propulsive, galvanizing, even joyful. It is a moving requiem for the dead, crossed by a provocative life.