Now That’s What I Call Glee: Volume Two

May 31st, 2011

The second season of Glee ended with a bit of a wet fart last week. I don’t agree with the common wisdom that the show suffered from a sophomore slump, but the last few episodes were definitely a disappointment, and the season introduced a raft of new flaws to replace some of the ones it fixed from the first season. The erratic personality swings were still there. The overwrought, over-familiar make-ups and break-ups kept coming. The horrific mash-ups still made themselves heard.

Yet the show’s biggest crime is over-familiarity. That’s usually what ’sophomore slump’ really means; that the thrill of novelty has gone. The show has to work harder to keep its fans interested. Next year they’re moving beyond their three-man writing staff and  introducing a writer’s room, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a bounce-back.

And the show still gets one thing right. It still knows how to put on a performance. Last year I talked about the fifteen best numbers from season one. This year felt like it had more songs, but the total was actually about the same, so I think what it actually had was more good songs. This year I’m giving you my top 25. Click on the titles or play the videos to hear the tracks. (No original songs feature on this list, and nor do any Matthew Morrison numbers. Take the hint, Glee.)

25. The Most Wonderful Day of the Year
New Directions (Ep 10, A Very Glee Christmas)

The Rudolph TV special has no cultural cachet for me, but this song about misfit toys was a perfect fit for Glee’s first Christmas episode. It had tons of charm and character, and was that rare ensemble number that gave a little something to everyone - like Santa!

24. Baby
Sam/Chord Overstreet (Ep13, Comeback)

It’s a Justin Bieber number but, as Santana says, ‘this song is actually really good’. I know that can be a hard thought to process, but it’s a future classic and a new karaoke staple. Hearing someone with a more pleasant voice than Bieber’s helps sell it. (Justin Bieber is a talented young man, but that pubescent squeak is something only a tween could love.)

23. Don’t You Want Me
Rachel & Blaine/Lea Michele & Darren Criss (Ep 14, Blame It On The Alcohol)

Season two has leaned too heavily on contemporary songs, neglecting its season one diet of Broadway and American rock. The 80s have barely ever got a look in, so it was a strange and welcome delight to hear this Human League song from the show’s biggest voice and its most engaging performer.

22. My Man
Rachel/Lea Michele (Ep 21, Funeral)

Rachel Berry does Barbra Streisand (does Fanny Brice). In theory Barbra is untouchable, but Lea Michele seems to walk that walk every day, and on this number she elegantly threads the needle between an admirable Funny Girl and a very Rachel Berry moment.

21. Thriller/Heads Will Roll
New Directions (Ep 11, The Sue Sylvester Shuffle)

Glee cannot do mash-ups. Or so I believed, until the Super Bowl episode came along. Thriller/Heads Will Roll was a mash-up in the modern sense; a dance remix weaving two numbers into a workable stomp.

20. Unpretty/I Feel Pretty
Rachel & Quinn/Lea Michele & Diana Agron (Ep 18, Born This Way)

And this was a mash-up as well! Actually, as a medley it was less successful - the West Side Story elements should have been dropped - but the women’s voices flattered each other so well on the TLC parts that it was a delight to listen to.

19. Landslide
Holly, Santana & Brittany/Gwyneth Paltrow, Naya Rivera & Heather Morris
(Ep 15, Sexy)

Glee’s stunt casting has usually tended towards Broadway stars that most people have never heard of, so the arrival of Gwyneth Paltrow was a big deal, and in her first episode at least it actually worked. ‘Sexy’ was her second episode, where she started to outstay her welcome, but Landslide was a great moment in spite of her slightly nasal tone, because it spoke to the ‘Britana’ story, and because the harmonies were lovely.

18. Listen
Sunshine/Charice (Ep 1, Audition)

The other bit of stunt casting was a smaller name unless you’re Filipino, in which case Charice is a huuuuge superstar. She’s certainly a huge voice, and though the show never did as much with her as it could have, she got a few showcase moments, and the best of them was on this, the lesser of the big Dreamgirls ballads.

17. Billionaire
Sam & Artie/Chord Overstreet & Kevin McHale (Ep 1, Audition)

I still don’t fully know who Bruno Mars is or why he got a near-Gaga number of his songs featured this season, but this number (introducing us to the show’s new blond pretty-boy Sam) was fresh and lively, and I find Chord Overstreet’s voice very easy to like.

16. Baby It’s Cold Outside
Kurt & Blaine/Chris Colfer & Darren Criss (Ep 10, A Very Glee Christmas)

The big story on-screen this season was the homophobic bullying that pushed Kurt to a rival school where he met dreamboat Blaine. The big story off-screen was the making of a new star in Darren Criss. This romantic winter duet between two gay teenagers was an unprecedented TV moment that kept the cold roaring winds of the haters at bay.

15. Marry You
New Directions (Ep 8, Furt)

Musicals are all about big emotional moments, and Glee has pulled off more than a few of them, but I didn’t expect I’d be made to care about the wedding of two minor supporting characters. This feel-good ensemble number, replete with dorky dancing, worked that magic - and YouTube will show that real-life couples are already trying to recapture it.

14. Hey Soul Sister
Blaine & The Warblers/Darren Criss & Tufts Beelzebubs (Ep 9, Special Education)

Tufts Beelzebubs are the sort of vocal group I expected Glee to be about when the show first started; preppy, primped and a capella. The show turned out to be about a rougher bunch with a lot more pop than prep, but it was nice to get a few glimpses of this other world and to enjoy the sterling showmanship of the Beelzebubs on numbers like this. The song is contemporary, but the performance is old school.

13. Dog Days Are Over
Tina, Mercedes & New Directions/Jenna Ushkowitz & Amber Riley (Ep 9, Special Education)

As an apt comparison to the Beelzebubs; this is the sort of group number that the New Directions kids excel at. There were no big Journey numbers this year, and weirdly they were actually missed, but this was as good as the ensemble got in year two. Joyous and energetic.

12. Take Me Or Leave Me
Rachel & Mercedes/Lea Michele & Amber Riley (Ep 13, Comeback)

Back before it became clear that the show would not neglect its lesbian constituents, there was some grumbling about the de-gaying of this passionate lesbian hate duet from Rent, but it also works as a diva-off  between the show’s leading belters. As a rock opera it perfectly bridges Rachel’s Broadway background and Mercedes’ big soul voice. For the record, they called it a tie but Mercedes won.

11. Le Jazz Hot
Kurt/Chris Colfer (Ep 4, Duets)

Kurt Hummel transforms himself into a one-man Berlin cabaret performance. Looking back, this was one of Glee’s boldest musical moments, a great character moment, and an extraordinary piece of staging. It was also incredibly, brilliantly, indulgently camp.

10. Songbird
Santana/Naya Rivera (Ep 19, Rumours)

The one sour note of Gwyneth Paltrow’s landslide was that I wanted the focus on Santana when it came to her same-sex Stevie Nicks serenade. Four episodes later, this was the do-over, and it was everything I wanted it to be. Naya Rivera usually excels at angry singing; it was a revelation to hear her perform with such sensitivity and sweetness.

9. Ain’t No Way
Mercedes/Amber Riley (Ep 17, A Night of Neglect)

If you’re going to do an Aretha number, do a lesser-known Aretha number. Amber Riley was given a gift with this song, because I had never heard it before but I will be sure to want to hear it again and again, and it will be Riley’s number that I come back to. Riley had way more chances to showcase her vocals this season than last. This was her best solo.

8. Never Going Back Again
Artie & Sam/Kevin McHale & Chord Overstreet (Ep 19, Rumours)

This beautifully bare Fleetwood Mac number will be a popular choice for a new generation of sensitive boys with guitars thanks to its Glee revival.

7. Sing
Tina & Mike/Jenna Ushkowitz & Harry Shum Jr (Ep 4, Duets)

Jenna Ushkowitz does not get much love on this show. Most of her solos are used as punchlines, and most of them aren’t very funny. This one was brilliant, introducing us to the voice of the one member of the Glee club who sings even less than she does, the dancing sensation Mike Chang. It’s worth watching online if you can find it, because this one is all about the performance.

6. Ohio
Sue & Doris/Jane Lynch & Carol Burnett (Ep 8, Furt)

Jane Lynch doesn’t get a lot of numbers - in fact I think this was only her second - but this was an ideal choice for her and guest star Carol Burnett (brilliantly cast as her mother, the Nazi hunter). Sue Sylvester was a mangled wreck of a character by season’s end, but this vaudevillian two-hander showed her at her very best; hilarious, absurd, but still recognisably human.

5. River Deep, Mountain High
Santana & Mercedes/Naya Rivera & Amber Riley (Ep 4, Duets)

If Glee continues to slide into nonsense in season three, we may look back on the episode Duets as its peak, and this duet in particular as the summit of all its joyful exuberance. Lea Michele deserves the respect she gets for her Broadway vocals, but for my money these girls are the best singers on the show, and hearing them let loose together is a too-rare treat. (I apologise for using an Italian video clip, but it was the only Fox-approved clip I could find.)

4. Rolling In The Deep
Rachel & Jesse/Lea Michele & Jonathan Groff (Ep 20, Prom Queen)

As on American Idol, when you hear a fresh arrangement of a hit song on Glee it’s often a safe bet that it’s a cover of someone else’s cover. I was disappointed to learn that this inventive version of the Adele song was a faithful copy of John Legend’s cover, re-imagined as a duet. Nonetheless, it was powerful and impressive, and absolutely perfect for the characters.

3. Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy
Rachel & Kurt/Lea Michele & Chris Colfer (Ep 4, Duets)

Speaking of apt choices; this number was not only right for the characters’ stories, but also right for the characters. A Barbra/Judy duet? For Rachel and Kurt? It’s what God intended! This was a medley from the days before they called all medleys ‘mash-ups’, and a master class in how these things should be done.

2. I Want To Hold Your Hand
Kurt/Chris Colfer (Ep 3, Grilled Cheesus)

It’s a little strange that Glee hasn’t done more Beatles songs, though I’m sure plenty of hardcore Beatles fans are relieved. Chris Colfer sang two in season two. One was the solemn Blackbird, made to seem goofy because he sang it to a dead budgie. The other was this usually goofy upbeat pop ditty, made beautifully solemn in this canny arrangement as a testament to Kurt’s love for his sick father.

1. Teenage Dream
Blaine & The Warblers/Darren Criss & Tufts Beelzebubs (Ep 6, Never Been Kissed)

This was the moment that we met and fell in love with Blaine and/or Darren Criss, the dreamy diminutive brown-eyed be-blazered boarding school heartthrob with the shimmying dance moves and an ever-present back-up posse of male harmony singers. Who could resist? This became Glee’s top-selling iTunes release of all time, and deservedly so, because it’s an infectious and charming re-imagining of the Katy Perry song. Yet what makes it especially extraordinary, and guaranteed it the top spot on my list, was that it was a gay kid serenading another gay kid with a slightly saucy love song on primetime network television. It was a cultural breakthrough moment.

Fact: Before this song and video became a huge hit, only 44% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. After this song, 53% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. This is because Glee changed the world.

I am only slightly kidding when I say that.

Throne A Bone: The Men of Game of Thrones.

April 16th, 2011


HBO’s new epic fantasy series Game of Thrones starts on Sunday. This is the sort of thing that I’m expected to be excited about because I’m a nerd, but there are many shades of nerd in the world, and I am not an indiscriminate fantasy fan. Once was enough for Lord of the Rings, and I’ve never bought a book with barbarian on the cover. All I know about George R R Martin is that his middle name is the noise that an excited seal makes.

Yet I am a nerd all the same, and I am open to new nerdy things, and I actually am excited about Game of Thrones. I don’t know what it’s about, but it sounds ambitious, spectacular and sordid, and those are appealing features in any TV show. It also appears to be full of attractive men with big swords, and I’m all for that.

Game of Thrones is going to spark a thousand new crushes, and it’ll probably take a few episodes for viewers to decide who their preferred objects of affection are, but I’m always ready to leap to snap judgements - so here are my preliminary picks for the top ten men of Game of Thrones.

Some of them are familiar names, and some of them are new faces. For all I know, some of them may play characters who die in episode two, and some fresh-faced Guildhall graduate I haven’t mentioned could show up and out-hunk all them all.


10. Finn Jones (Loras Tyrell)
This skinny blond mop is really too much of a twink for my tastes, but you never know; his dewey-eyed peach-skinned prettiness could grow on me if his character shows a bit of grit.


9. Joseph Dempsie (Gendry)
Dempsie was my favourite as Chris on Skins. He’s a bit of a dweeb, and he looks a bit like Sandi Toksvig, but he has ample charm. Of course, on Skins he mainly had to compete with Nicholas Hoult’s wonky mouth. It remains to be seen how he’ll acquit himself now that he’s graduated to MAN action.


8. Sean Bean (Eddard Stark)
Bean is the obvious bridge between the two big fantasy franchises of our age - but I was more of an Aragorn guy. At 51, Bean is probably now playing kings rather than princes - but he was blessed with the sort of handsomely weathered face that it’s difficult to grow too old for.


7. Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister)
Dinklage is perhaps… shorter than the guys that most of us would typically go for. Even so, he’s become one of our generation’s more unconventional sex symbols. He may not be tall, but he is dark and handsome. Unfortunately, Game of Thrones has him playing a blond, and that could ruin everything.


6. Gethin Anthony (Renly Baratheon)
Anthony looks like a cross between Tom Hardy and an otter, and those are two things that make everyone happy! However, the name ‘Renly Baratheon’ makes me very unhappy. ‘Renly Baratheon’ is the sort of name that has stopped me reading books with barbarians on the cover. ‘Renly Baratheon’. What is that meant to evoke? It’s a good thing you’re cute, ‘Renly Baratheon’.


5. Kit Harington (Jon Snow)
Harington is a milky-skinned, dreamy-eyed whippersnapper with a silly Elizabethan name, so he’s basically a male Anne Hathaway. Or he’s Taylor Lautner after nasal reconstruction surgery. Either way, my money is on Harington to be the biggest hit with the Tiger Beat crowd (which includes most gay men in their thirties and forties).


4. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister)
Coster-Waldau has a leading man face that has long been in need of a leading man role. I don’t know if the great Dane has finally found it in this character, or if he’s playing against his looks, but so long as he gets to don chainmail and dash about a bit, I should be very happy.


3. Richard Madden (Robb Stark)
Given an appropriately swoonsome role, Madden’s big blue eyes and pretty lips could make him a huge star, and they may help him stand out from all the other boys in Thrones who have had to grow out their brown curls and short beards. I’m calling it; five years from now, Madden will probably be playing James Bond.


2. Harry Lloyd (Viserys Targaryen)
Lloyd is another victim of an unfortunate enblondening in this show, but maybe he can make it work. He already has a look of teutonic superiority, like a boarding school head prefect that you crush on despite your best intentions. He’s just so commanding on the lacrosse field! Lloyd is also one of the best young actors in the business, and talent is sexy.


1. Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo)
Momoa not only plays a barbarian savage in Game of Thrones (and I speak in the most savage-positive sense, here), but he’s also the star of the Conan reboot, making him the new model Schwarzenegger. This is alarming for a lot of straight men, who know on an instinctual level that old Conan was profoundly unsexy and therefore meant only for them, whereas new Conan is strikingly beautiful and therefore appeals to a broader demographic, and that is a threat to their straight boy cultural hegemony. Well, suck it, straight boys. Barbarians are pretty now. Khal Drogo even wears make up.

Twelve Idol Boys

March 1st, 2011

I do not intend to blog American Idol every week this year. I may not blog it at all after this week, because frankly we both have better things to do with our time. The show has lost much of its spark, and it’s hard to find something new to write about mediocre performers every week. Besides, American X-Factor is just around the corner.

So here are my first impressions of this year’s boys. I may also write about this year’s girls, but frankly the girls always seem homogeneous in the first week.

Clint Jun Gamboa

Clint has the look of a bitchy personal shopper, the sort of person who discourages you from buying the clothes in his shop because he thinks you’ll dilute the integrity of the brand. He also picked up a reputation for sneering self importance during Hollywood week because of his attitude to some of the other contestants, but it’s possible he was edited unkindly. Even so, he lacks likeability. He confidently belted his way through Superstition, a song choice so obvious and banal that it ought to cost him votes.

Jovany Barreto

Jovany (yes, that’s how they spell Giovanni here) is a shipbuilder with killer abs, who looks like he runs numbers for Big Frankie. He may in fact have been built in a shipyard by ancient magical fishermen with unlikely dreams of Billboard chart success. Their dreams remain unlikely. He sang a syrupy ballad that only a grandmother could have loved.

Jordan Dorsey

Jordan also came across badly in the Hollywood shows, but I don’t think he can blame editing. I think he’s just arrogant without anything to back it up. His performance of OMG was slack and boring. He told the judges it wasn’t his type of music, but we were told this season that the contestants wouldn’t have to attempt genres they don’t fit, so what happened?

Tim Halperin

I don’t remember this kid at all from the auditions. He looks like a soft serve version of last year’s abtastic Tim Urban. Evidently he’s an easy listening melody radio kind of a guy. America has an endless appetite for that kind of pablum, but it has to be done well, and this was not. (Steven Tyler reminds us that Tim is usually behind a piano. Now I remember him! He was much better behind a piano.)

Brett Lowenstein

Brett is one of the more interesting contestants, in true love-him-or-hate-him tradition. He looks like Mick Hucknall’s daughter, so naturally I’m inclined to hate him, but I’m trying to force myself to like him because he is at least interesting. Unfortunately his Light My Fire was disappointing, but probably not career-ending.

James Durbin

In the auditions James was referred to as perhaps the best Idol auditionee ever, which is a bit rich for a second-rate Adam Lambert impersonator. Durbin is so comfortably in Lambert’s vocal mould that it’s impossible to see him as anything but derivative and inferior, yet he conducts himself as if he were a true original. For this reason, I dislike him. But he did sing Judas Priest, and that is an Idol first.

Robbie Rosen

Robbie has a look of loose-limbed desperation, of puppyish love-me enthusiasm, of nerdy water-thinness. Yet he sings surprisingly well. He has tone and emotion. It’s middle-of-the-road, but likeable. I’m a little surprised. I think he may be a serious contender.

Scotty McCreery

Scotty has the most distinctive voice on the show this year; an impressively low and textured country rumble. When he’s in his zone he’s so effortless that it’s almost a caricature, and it’s very unexpected coming out of a kid who looks like Alfred E Neumann. He completely occupies his genre and can’t move out of it, but he’s one of my favourites.

Stefano Langone

The better looking of the two very Italian boys, but as a singer he’s in the same league as Jovany. His rendition of Just The Way You Are is painfully strained, with some ill-advised attempts at falsetto and some very poor enunciation. He seems completely unaware of his failure to deliver, so he’ll be this year’s dumb pretty contestant who hangs around too long, and sadly he’s not that pretty.

Paul McDonald

Another of the odder contestants this year, Paul doesn’t quite fit into any contemporary category, but his performance of Maggie May confirmed my one sure theory about him; he came to us from the 1970s. He’s a folksy, slightly creepy troubadour who got lost in the timestream. He might be David Essex.

Jacob Lusk

Jacob Lusk makes me smile from ear-to-ear. He’s something we haven’t seen on Idol that I can recall; a glorious, flamingly theatrical big black man with a gospel-by-Broadway voice that reaches the cheap seats. One almost wonders why he’s not on RuPaul’s Drag Race, such is his gift for emoting, performing, and shooting glances that are more expressive than most of the other singers’ voices. He’s my favourite, and I hope America appreciates him.

Casey Abrams

This year’s most unexpected contestant. Casey is amazing behind a double bass, and it’s a relief to see that he’s still damn good without it. Despite his resemblance to Grizzly Adams, Casey is an accomplished jazz wailer. Sure, his I Put a Spell on You is a little Appalachian for a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins number, yet it’s still convincing. The man makes zoot suit dungarees sound like a good idea. Terrific.

Obviously I want to see Jacob and Scott do well this year, but if the winner is going to come from the boys, I think it’s going to be Robbie or Casey. The first one sent home should be either Jordan or Stefano.

The girls perform tomorrow night. Or possibly just the same girl, twelve times.

Reflections on a Golden Gong

February 28th, 2011

If you had asked me a week before the Oscars if I thought James Franco would be a good host, I’d have given you a ‘maybe’. He can be funny, and he certainly seems confident, smart, and proud of what he does. If you had asked me again a day before the Oscars, after his prissy response to Ricky Gervais in which the actor lectured the comedian about what is or isn’t funny, and I’d have given a more confident answer. He was going to suck, because he thinks that his business is too important to be mocked, and the Oscars isn’t entertaining if it isn’t a roast.

It’s easy to joke that Franco looked stoned, but of course it isn’t a joke. With his eyes half closed and his face slack, he brought down the energy in the room every time he appeared, and that was a big room with a lot of uppers going on. Even when he strode on to the stage in Marilyn drag, it was more stunt than gag, with no payoff or punchline.

younghiposcarYounger, hipper Oscar

Anne Hathaway was better. She was by no means good, and I doubt she’ll ever be invited back. I thought she would be a total non-presence, but next to Franco’s sleepy stiffness she had a gushing affability, like this was the superest gymkhana that daddy had ever taken her to.

Every Oscars gets dubbed the worst Oscars ever, and it is hard to remember a good one, but no-one watches the Oscars because they expect the whole show to be good. It’s the moments that matter. What made this such a bad show was that it had so very few moments. Taken as a whole, the Oscars are never good. People speak fondly of the Billy Crystal years, but when Billy Crystal hosted I always felt like I was watching a daytime game show. Yet I admit that his brief appearance was one of the scant few highlights. Melissa Leo’s bad language was another. I’m struggling to name a third, as I found Kirk Douglas’s stroke-afflicted mumbling more frightening than charming.

None of the speeches stand out in my memory. Colin Firth’s speech was good for the first half hour, but it waned as the leaves turned. I would have enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s speech more if he had delivered it while walking to and from the podium. Christian Bale’s speech ought to have been spectacularly mad, but in the end it was only remarkable because he forgot his wife’s name.

Lowlights were many, mostly in the form of the hosts’ strained attempts at banter, delivered with all the art and dexterity of a Slap Chop, but all their horrors paled next to the holographic ghost of Bob Hope, an exploitation of the dead that seemed to drag on much longer than the too-abrupt In Memoriam package.

Who should host the Oscars next year? The job usually goes to comedians - stand ups and talk show hosts. Hugh Jackman two years ago and Franco and Hathaway this year have been failed attempts to do something that’s both new yet conversely a little more ‘old Hollywood’. Last year’s Alec Baldwin/Steve Martin double act bridged the actor/comedian gap, but failed to live up to its promise. If an actor is picked again next year, it needs to be someone with enough wit and charm to win over audiences both in the theatre and at home, and preferably someone heavyweight, yet able to laugh at themselves. Robert Downey Jr, George Clooney and Kevin Spacey spring to mind.

If they go back to comedians, Tina Fey would be a laudable choice. Ricky Gervais would be too untamed, and the Oscars probably wouldn’t want the Globes’ cast-offs. Perhaps Ellen DeGeneres deserves a second chance, and Jimmy Fallon might deserve a first chance, except that he’s on the wrong network, which makes the most plausible contender for the job one Jimmy Kimmel.

On second thoughts, James Franco might do better next time, right?

British Steel

February 3rd, 2011


Full disclosure: I’ve been an admirer of Henry Cavill’s work (by which I mean his bone structure) for a while now. I’m fairly confident that he’s the most handsome man in the world (a position previously held by George Clooney), and he’s overdue a shot at the big time, so I was giddily over-excited to hear that he’s been cast as the new Superman.

From what I’ve seen, the general response online has been very positive. Most agree that he looks the part. He has the jawline, brilliant blue eyes and dark hair. He’s not a bad match for John Byrne’s definitive modern interpretation of the character, though no human being could look good with the bulging neck that Byrne always drew. In fact I’d say Cavill’s only flaw is that he’s perhaps too good looking for Superman, who is the most sexless of all the superheroes. Cavill is also one of the shorter actors to play the role,  but short here means 6′ 1″, so I think the magic of cinema can make it work.

As you may have heard, some people do have a problem with the casting - because Cavill is not American, and Superman is an American icon. The objection is frequently underscored with the question; “How would you feel if an American played James Bond?”

Yet it’s hard to think of a British icon who has not been portrayed by a non-Brit. Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Queen Elizabeth I and, yes, James Bond have all been played by foreigners. In fact the first actor to play Bond was an American named Barry Nelson. Technically Woody Allen also played an American Bond in the 1966 Casino Royale. Even if you don’t count that, two of the five major movie Bonds were Australian and Irish, and plenty of Americans have been considered for the part, including  Adam West, Clint Eastwood, James Brolin and Burt Reynolds.

A better example than James Bond would be Doctor Who (or the Doctor, if you’re picky), who has always been played by British actors on the show, though he, like Superman, is an alien. Some fans probably would be appalled if an American took the role, claiming there is some quintessential British quality to the character that an American can’t hope to grasp, but I would put them in the same crackpot category as the Cavill bashers.

There are some characters that probably should only be played by someone from the right country. Captain America springs to mind. He actually, literally stands as a representative of his country, down to his very name, and I think a substantial crowd would boycott an un-American Captain America. I don’t think many other characters fit in the same category. For all the rest, it’s more important that they are played as the right nationality than that they are played by the right nationality.

And when you get down to the nitty gritty, it actually makes perfect sense for Superman to be played by a non-American. I don’t mean because he’s an alien, since that obviously limits the casting possibilities (and Rene Zellweger would be wrong for the part), but because he is an immigrant. He’s an American icon because he represents the dream of coming to America to achieve. His creators came from immigrant families, and their view of America was through immigrant eyes.

Super-nerdy side note: If you read Action Comics Annual #1 from 1991, it’s established that Superman was legally recognised as having been born in the US (”from an artificial womb”) so that he would be eligible to run for president, but (a) we know that Superman was born on Krypton, (b) this is obviously a very stupid story, and (c) the immigrant reading of Superman is much more romantic and pro-American than the needlessly defensive ‘artificial womb’ reading.

A few people have also complained that Tom Welling should have got the part. You know, the kid from Smallville, who plays pre-Superman Clark Kent. There is so much wrong with this idea that it’s barely worth rebutting, but the most obvious objections are that Welling is a terrible actor with wet eyes, and making a movie that’s associated with a crappy CW show with an audience of three million would needlessly hamper the movie’s appeal. We should all be very grateful to be spared a big screen Tom Welling Superman.

On the other hand, he is an American.

Shades of Gay

January 30th, 2011


Jonathan Knight of New Kids on the Block is the latest celebrity to come out as gay. Sort of.

I don’t mean he’s sort of gay. Rather, he sort of came out. In his own words, he was already out and has been for twenty years - he’s just never talked about it publicly. In a note on the NKOTB fan site, Knight said, “I have lived my life very openly and have never hidden the fact that I am gay!” This explains the confusion when former pop star Tiffany casually referenced his sexuality on a talk show, thinking that the whole world already knew something that was previously only a confirmed certainty within Knight’s social circle.

Of course, until the recent NKOTB comeback, Knight was out of the spotlight; he was working as a real estate developer in Massachusetts. It’s easier to keep your private life private when no-one is looking in your direction. Knight is not a celebrity who came out as gay, but a gay man who came out as a celebrity.

Even so, Knight is not unique. It used to be that if you were famous and gay, you kept your sexuality a secret, and any questions about your love life were answered with lies. ’50s teen idol Tab Hunter ‘dated’ Natalie Wood and Debbie Reynolds at the studios’ arrangement so that stories about his homosexuality would not destroy his career, and most gay actors since have followed the same course.

In more recent years a second option emerged; gay celebrities could come out on the cover of People magazine (or similar) and have their love lives reported on the same as any other public figure. Stephen Fry used to be an outlier; now we have Neil Patrick Harris acknowledging his husband and kids at an awards show. These celebrities need neither lie nor evade.

Now, in addition to those in the closet and those bursting out of it, we are seeing the emergence of a two new types of gay celebrity. The first is those who, like Knight, neither deny nor proclaim their sexuality. White Collar star Matthew Bomer seems to be a fine example of the type. He is often photograped wearing a wedding ring, but both he and his employers deflect any questions about his sexuality without issuing denials. Says Bomer; “the other people in my life didn’t necessarily choose to be in the spotlight.” And echoing Jonathan Knight, he adds, “Anyone who knows me, knows me”.


Bomer is not alone. CNN anchor Anderson Cooper’s sexuality has long been an open secret. Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto has reportedly refused to get himself a fake girlfriend. British actor Ben Wishaw belongs to the ‘I don’t like labels’ school, telling one interviewer, “I’d prefer to let the work do the speaking” - though he did not correct another interviewer who suggested that he was straight.

Journalists now face an interesting new challenge in deciding how to talk about these people, who are neither in the closet nor proclaiming themselves on tabloid covers. Straight people do not have to declare themselves straight in order to be written about as straight. So is it outing to talk about a gay person in the same way? Can the papers describe Anderson Cooper’s boyfriend as his boyfriend? (One newspaper recently upgraded the man in question from ‘friend’ to ‘companion’.) If the common view is that same-sex relationships are neither shameful nor abnormal, newspapers should be able to talk about Cooper’s boyfriend or Bomer’s husband without the authorisation of an ‘I am gay’ headline. If we accept that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, there can be no such thing as ‘outing’ for anyone who has come to terms with their own identity.

There is value in the coming out story. Every time someone like Ricky Martin adds his name to the ranks of the out and the proud, it changes the world a little bit for the better, and makes life a little easier for the next generation. Yet there may be even more value in not having a coming out story, if we can treat gay celebrities and their relationships as normally as everyone else’s. If they want to keep their private life private, that should be an option regardless of sexuality - but the fact of one’s sexuality should not be treated as one’s ‘private life’, because that perpetuates the idea that homosexuality is shameful. Celebrities who want to keep their partners and kids out of the spotlight to not pretend that their partners and kids do not exist.

So, ‘privately out, publicly silent’ is the new, third type of gay celebrity. The fourth is much bolder; the celebrity who has always been out.


Adam Lambert almost fits into this category. He avoided saying what everyone already knew for much longer than made sense, but he never hid who he was. Glee’s Chris Colfer and X-Factor’s Joe McElderry just about fit; they did have to ‘come out’, but teenagers get a lot more leeway; they have to first come out to themselves. But Britain’s Russell Tovey belongs firmly in the ‘always out’ camp - he acknowledged his sexuality the first time the question was asked. Soap actor Scott Evans (above) was outed as ‘Chris Evans’s gay brother’ before anyone saw him as an actor in his own right, and he insists he would never have hidden who he was. Swimmer Matthew Mitcham, singer Jake Shears, and actor Cheyenne Jackson are all as far from the closet as a person can be.

Yet these are not household names. Lambert’s fame was manufactured by a reality show. Colfer enjoys a rare synergy of bringing the right talents to the right story at the right time. None of these people have established a replicable path to success for an openly gay performer or athlete.

We have not yet established just how accepting and tolerant the majority audience is prepared to be, though I’m sure that today is better than yesterday. It may take a few of those ‘out from the start’ celebrities to break into the big time before some of those ‘out in my own life’ guys are courageous enough to walk down a red carpet with their partner on their arm.

Two Boys, One Cup

December 13th, 2010


FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that gay football fans attending the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 “should refrain from any sexual activities” in the country, because same-sex sexual activity in Qatar is punishable by up to five years in prison. Judging by the reports on Sky News, Blatter found this very amusing.

It’s disappointing that the World Cup should go to a country where gay sex is still illegal, but international sporting events have been to much dirtier places than Qatar - most famously the Olympics in Berlin 1936. The idealist in me says that these plum events should be withheld from countries that refuse to meet basic standards in respect to civil rights, but sports have never been quite that sporting.

I assumed that this wasn’t the first time gay sex has been illegal in a host country, given that the tournament is eighty years old, so I cross-referenced two Wikipedia lists to see when this happened before - LGBT rights by country and FIFA World Cup hosts.

The next two hosts, Brazil and Russia, are in the clear. The same goes for the last several hosts, South Africa, Germany, South Korea, Japan and France. The last host country where gay sex was illegal was actually the United States of America in 1994. Sodomy was still illegal in fully half the 50 states in 1994; four of the tournament’s nine stadia were in states where gay sex was illegal. Why should FIFA take a moral position on this now, when the leader of the free world only deigned to join the 20th century in the 21st century?

Going back beyond 1994, we find that Colombia and West Germany both legalised gay sex five years before they hosted the World Cup, and Spain did so three years before it hosted. The last country to fail this test was… England, in 1966. England and Wales legalised sodomy in 1967. (Scotland and Northern Ireland followed in 1981 and 1982.) And with that realisation,  any moral superiority I might have felt over the Yanks is diminished.

Chile failed the test in 1962, and didn’t legalise gay sex until 1999. The first host, Uruguay, failed in 1930, but legalised gay sex in 1934. So Qatar joins an ignominious list with four others; Uruguay, Chile, England and the USA. Qatar still has twelve years to get off this list, but I’m not optimistic. Qatar is one of about eighty countries that still has laws against gay sex, and it’s a Muslim country, so within its region it’s still well in the majority. It was one of the first Arab countries to give women the vote, and it only did that in 1999.

I won’t pretend that the legality of gay sex was ever a consideration in giving the World Cup to Qatar. I only wish that it had been. I suppose I can take some solace that a journalist asked the question at all. That’s a sign of how things have changed since Uruguay in 1930. Maybe one day gay rights will be the sort of issue that determines a country’s right to sit at the big boy table. It will help a great deal when countries like the US and the UK can boast that they offer full equality.

The Bible: The Alignment Chart

December 9th, 2010

The Bible is a rich source of poetic philosophy and elegant exaltations. It’s also packed with weird contradictions and bugshit cray-cray. You could probably populate a hundred alignment charts with Bible quotes. I settled for just this one.

Ladies and gentlemen; The Bible. Some people think that every word of it is literally true!


Glee: The Alignment Chart

December 7th, 2010

My friend Christopher Bird has a thing for alignment charts. If you don’t know what that means, these people will explain it to you.

This week Christopher made the Mad Men alignment chart, followed by the DS9 alignment chart, and since he’s declared Alignment Chart Week at his his blog, I suspect there’s more to follow.

It seems like the sort of nerdy thing I like to do, so I thought I’d have a go at it - hey, it’s Alignment Chart Week! - and because I thought it was a fairly safe bet that Christopher wasn’t going to do one for Glee, I decided to step in to the breach. The world needs a Glee alignment chart, right? It was either this or classic Warner Brothers musicals. Maybe I’ll do that one next.

Click to make big.


I know someone will surely call me a misogynist for putting women in all three ‘evil’ slots, when I could have put Sandy Ryerson or Dave Karofsky or Brian Ryan in there. My response to that is, shut up; evil women are awesome.

Music Music Music (Video)

November 30th, 2010

I feel like music videos have a renewed cultural importance these days, because watching short videos of all kinds has become a major way for people to entertain themselves, especially when they should be working. When I was a kid I had to tune in to The Chart Show on ITV every weekend in the vague hope of catching a good music video, and I was frequently disappointed. Now good music videos find you, because people want to share the videos that they’ve enjoyed.

So after years of MTV-imposed exile, music videos have a renewed presence in the Zeitgeist. Just as plants make their berries look extra delicious so that passing birds will propagate their seeds, so videos need to resonate with their audience to ensure that they go viral. For that reason, music videos may be a better barometer of our culture today than they ever were before. (It does also help if the music is good.)

One trend I’ve noticed in recent music videos is that there’s an increasing presence of gayness. I don’t mean the gay sensibility or the camp aesthetic that have informed pop musicians for as long as there have been pop musicians; I mean actual gayness. I mean same-sex relationships.

It’s not unprecedented, of course. Christina Aguilera showed boys kissing in the video for Beautiful more than seven years ago, and even she was not the first. But Aguilera’s video was edited on most TV broadcasts, and fear of having their music kept off our screens steered most artists away from exploring gay relationships in their videos. Now we live in a world where Cee-Lo Green’s video for Fuck You has had over 25 million views on YouTube; the old rules no longer apply.

Our Friends the Divas

As Christina’s example suggests, one place where there’s always a chance of some man-on-man action is in videos by modern pop divas, who know which side their bread is buttered. If the gays don’t love you, you’re nothing.

Examples from the past few months include videos from Pink (Raise Your Glass), Kylie Minogue (All The Lovers), and even sometime opportunist homophobe Katy Perry (Firework). If there isn’t a gay kiss in the videos for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way next year, I will eat a goat.

Of course, these videos have also been edited or blurred somewhere in the world, but the censors are less relevant every day.

The Gay Artist

Interestingly, I don’t remember seeing any gay relationships explored in videos by The Scissor Sisters or Adam Lambert, the foremost chart-troubling gay disco acts of our age, possibly because it’s tougher for actual gays to push the envelope. Only Nixon could go to China. Only a tiny straight Australian woman can writhe on a rising tower of omnisexual orgiastic naked bodies in the middle of the street.

The first Idol winner, Will Young, has been making music videos for the best part of a decade, and his videos are usually tremendous short films - but they’re never gay love stories, at least not explicitly. It took four albums before Young dared to even mention a male lust object in a song.

But Will Young is part of the old system, the big music label system, which still runs scared from the idea of teen girls ripping posters off their walls in horror at the idea of their favourite singer batting for the other team. It’s now easier and easier for small label artists - or no label artists - to make and circulate videos that don’t play by those rules.

One example is gay musician Tom Goss’s video for Lover, about a man waiting for news about his soldier boyfriend, and featuring real soldiers discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Another example is Ice Cream Truck by gay rapper Cazwell, which became a viral hit this summer precisely because of its risqué uber-gay go-go boy response to booty-shaking R’n'B videos. I should warn you now that it’s not entirely safe-for-work.

The Shameless Tease

Then there is Robbie Williams, who has never been afraid to flirt with the myth  (probably) of his own gayness. This year, in his reunion with Gary Barlow, he crossed a Rubicon of gayness with his Brokeback Mountain-themed video, full of lingering looks, bromantic shirtlessness and homosensual tension. It’s tongue-in-cheek, and there’s certainly no kissing, but for any straight (probably) male major recording artist to make a video like this feels like a watershed moment.

The Dream

When is a music video not a music video? This clip from Glee wasn’t made as a video, but it served the same purpose. It was released a week before the episode aired, and spread like wildfire across gay blogs and entertainment blogs. As a result the show’s 113th single (113th!) became its biggest seller, even outperforming its very first single.

This is a slightly bigger deal than you might think. The video shows one gay teen serenading another gay teen with a song about love, skintight jeans and going all the way, and the core of the song’s appeal - besides the delightful harmonies of the Tufts Beelzebubs - is singer Darren Criss’s flirtatious enthusiasm and Chris Colfer’s bashful, enchanted reactions. This single didn’t scrape its way to the top in spite of the video’s gayness. It distinguished itself from a crowded field because of its gayness.

The Sweet Love Story That Is Older Than The Sea

I thought Glee’s Teenage Dream would be the peak of the year, gay-musically speaking, but the last week has brought something that might be even better into my life.

Like Robbie Williams, Cosmo Jarvis is (apparently) a straight singer with a gay-themed video. As with the Glee clip, Jarvis has created buzz by showcasing a same-sex relationship. Like Cazwell, he made the video on the cheap, without major label support. And like Kylie, he put some gay kissing in there.

But Jarvis has gone one further than any of them, because his Gay Pirates is a whole gay love story in song. It sounds like a cheeky sea shanty, but it has something to say about homophobia, and it’s surprisingly sweet, sad and tender.

Gay Pirates has scored almost 90,000 hits on YouTube in just over a week. That’s not bad for a singer you’d probably never heard of.

The internet has led to the democratisation of creation. We don’t need MTV any more, and our media consumption is no longer constrained by conservative standards. In among the Kylie flash mobs and the videos of waxed twinks lip-syncing to Miley Cyrus, there is room in our media for gays to fall in love. If these are videos that people want to share, then maybe one day they actually will stop blurring out the kisses on TV.

As Cosmo Jarvis sings; “We deserve much better than we’ve had”.