“Beautiful People” Makes For Beautiful Television

All photos credit: Logo/BBC

me, summer is not a season for television. It’s a season for kicking
back in the yard or the park with fizzy cocktails, eating meals
composed entirely of various types of ice cream, and laughing so hard
with your friends that your mother/landlord/neighbors yell at you or
you lose control of a bodily function.

Enter Logo’s (AfterElton.com’s parent company) Beautiful People, the first series of the summer to allow you to do all of these things in the comfort of your air-conditioned living room.

Equal parts wistful remembrance and raucous, candy-colored fantasy, Beautiful People is sort of what The Wonder Years would
look like were it directed by a relatively well-behaved John Waters.
Loosely based on the memoirs of Simon Doonan (first released in the U.K.
under the title Nasty), the series tells the story of an
impossibly fabulous and wonderfully precocious gay kid growing up in
working-class, small-town England.

Luke Ward-Wilkinson (Young Simon Doonan)

of the action takes place in and around the Doonan household, which is
filled with impossibly entertaining and quirky characters. Mum likes
her gin, supportive Dad busies himself with making potato wine and
fixing things, sister Reba is the town slut (with a heart of gold!),
and Auntie Hayley is a blind and aging hippie with a tendency for acid
flashbacks and accidents at funerals.

(played nicely and without a whiff of apology by Luke Ward-Wilkinson)
spends most of his time with his best friend, budding
partner-in-fabulousness Kylie (Layton Williams), who makes Ugly Betty’s
Justin Suarez look like Stanley Kowalski by comparison.

Over the
series’ six episodes (season two is on its way), Simon and Kylie busy
themselves with typical teen endeavors like auditioning for musicals,
dealing with visiting relatives, and of course perfecting dance
routines in and out of their bedrooms (and their mothers’ clothes).

(Pictured L-R): Olivia Colman (Debbie Doonan),
Layton Williams ("Kylie"/Kyle) and Ward-Wilkinson

In the hands of master executive producer Jon Plowman (Absolutely Fabulous, Extras, The Office),
the ups and downs of the comings-of-age of Simon and Kylie are
refreshingly free of angst, bullying, and sexuality-related trauma.
It’s an idealized vision of a gay kid’s learning about life, but it’s
one so long overdue in its clear intent to celebrate the absurdity of
it all that for me it hit home, and then some.

Is it patently
unrealistic to think that Simon could have so much fun coming up a gay
kid in working class England in the ’90s? Probably. But let’s face it,
beyond haircuts and guest-stars, sitcoms have never exactly been
accurate documents of the zeitgeist, have they?

Much like AbFab, Beautiful People celebrates
the absurd and takes life’s darker turns full-speed and without safety
belts (the episode where Brenda Fricker appears as Simon’s seriously
unbalanced grandmother is the blackest comedy you’ll likely see this

People smack one another about, die horrible deaths, drink
until they pass out and behave pretty terribly to one another. But the
underlying optimism of the show somehow encourages us to laugh it all
off as just part of the colossal mess we call life.

I do have to say that while I enjoyed the show tremendously (I seriously
laughed at the show’s second episode, which is a musical theater
queen’s dream, harder than I’ve laughed all year), it may be a tough
pill for many viewers to swallow, and not just because of the dark
humor and subversive tone.

Samuel Barnett (Adult Simon Doonan) and Gary Amers (Sacha)

one, it’s incredibly British. I fancy myself a casual Anglophile and
even I missed probably half of the jokes. And what’s more, Simon’s
formative years have been transported to the early nineties, a
wonderfully fertile period for hilariously bad fashion and music
references, but one that might not be terribly familiar to younger viewers.

Again, my own coming-of-age wasn’t too far off from the time
represented here, so for me all the references to Kylie, The Spice
Girls, Steps, Princess Diana and more made it for me what The Wonder Years must have been for my own parents.

The show is also insanely gay. Like, flaming-unicorn-with-a-handbag-full-of-rainbows
gay. I can’t picture a mainstream-targeted show with this strong an
emphasis on a gay kid’s life ever being made here in the States.

you imagine if Everybody Hates Chris, My So Called Life or Doogie Howser M.D.
centered on a gay adolescent and his gay best friend? (Well, that last
one maybe isn’t the best example, in hindsight…)

But Beautiful People is utterly
unapologetic, proudly ridiculous and beyond camp. And while all these
things are enormously appealing to me, I can bet that some viewers, gay
and straight alike, won’t cotton to the sheer fabulousness of it all.

I hope folks give it a chance. Even if you weren’t a young Simon
growing up (I know I wasn’t nearly as self-assured, style-obsessed or
adventurous as this character is), you might find the show liberating
and fun. And if the pilot hasn’t sold you given that it’s a bit clunky in that it
has to introduce the characters and flashback structure, at least hold
on for the second episode, which is sheer over-the-top genius.

far as the cast goes, it’s pretty tight. While Ward-Wilkinson is solid
as Simon, Layton Williams steals every scene he’s in as the impossibly
precocious Kylie, who sings, dances and sasses his way through life
with the polish of a chorus boy twice his age.

Olivia Colman (That Mitchell and Webb Look) is brilliant as Simon’s boozy, spunky but hot-tempered mum, and Beautiful Thing
fans will squeal when Tameka Empson appears as the village’s gossipy,
rum-scented hairdresser.

In the wraparound segments (which feature an
adult-ish Simon working his famous display windows at Barney’s with a
hunky boyfriend) Simon is played by History Boys vet Samuel Barnett, who may as well be playing a more self-assured Posner.

So this summer we’re not just stuck with reruns, a new batch of morons in the Big Brother
house and the itching urge to shell out big bucks for premium cable to check out the new
shows on HBO and Showtime. For the next six weeks you can spend that
cash on cheap wine coolers and enjoy the fizzy fun of Beautiful People instead. Landmarks in gay representation on television have seldom been this entertaining.

Beautiful People premiers May 26th on Logo.

Writer-filmmaker Brian Juergens launched CampBlood.org, the world's first website devoted to horror films from a gay perspective, in 2003.