Still from a "shock" UK TV ad from 1987 warning about the dangers of unsafe sex, which features in the series.
What is it?
A 2021 UK miniseries (5 episodes), written by Russell T. Davies.
We’ve never reviewed a miniseries before!
No, this is a first.
So, what’s so special about this series? Why make an exception?
Because I kept hearing about how wonderful it is and people couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it.
Well, it only took you a couple of years.
Thanks for the understanding. Understanding—a quality curiously missing in this series.
Oh boy, this doesn’t bode well. Can we start at the beginning? What is this series about?
It’s about a group of young queer folk in London who come together in 1981 and share an apartment, which they call the Pink Palace. A very large apartment, I might add, which a couple of them (both struggling actors) later manage to buy! So … we’re already in the realm of fantasy. I lived in London in the 1980s and everyone I knew, even those from well-off families, lived in a single room in someone else’s house!
Anyway. The AIDS epidemic hits soon thereafter, and the rest of the series is about the impact of the epidemic on their lives (and loves … and deaths).
Are there other elements of the story that stretched your credibility, apart from the size of the apartment and them buying it?
Most of it. But let’s face it, a lot of television isn’t exactly realistic. But there are bigger problems.
Where to start … The whole thing is shallow. None of these characters seems terribly involved in their own life. One example of many I could cite: In episode 4, most of the main characters take part in a protest against the drug companies that are profiting from the plague. They lie down on a London street (they’re smiling at how jolly exciting this all is), and then police arrive and arrest them and beat them up. Then we see them in the back of the paddy wagon, all of them with bloodied faces, and none of them seem bothered that they’ve just had police smashing their faces in.
And then later, in the last episode, one of the characters, on death’s door, remembers all the sex he had, and he smiles and says, “But it was so much fun.” He’s thirty years old and dying, and he infected a lot of people because he continued to have unprotected sex after his HIV diagnosis, but hey, you know, it’s okay because all that sex was fun. Is this for real?
Okay, that’s one moment in a 3½-hour drama—
And then, at the end, the most sympathetic character in the show, the young woman who has been volunteering since the beginning of the epidemic to help sick gay men, has it out with the mother of one of the characters and says everything is the mother’s fault because she didn’t realize her son was gay and she raised him to be ashamed of his sexuality. Excuse me, but where’s her understanding and compassion suddenly disappeared to? That character—admittedly a shallow characterization, like most of them in this series—suddenly loses all empathy and blames the AIDS epidemic on a mother who’s just lost her son! Come on.
You didn’t like this series much.
It frustrated me, because there were moments that were deeply moving. (It’s hard to make a film or TV series about the AIDS crisis and not hit the mark occasionally.) But this series is to the AIDS epidemic what Gone with the Wind is for the Civil War. It’s an unconvincing melodrama that uses a historical tragedy of epic proportions as a plot twist.
Oh for goodness’ sake, John, maybe tone down the hyperbole a notch.
Well, it irritates me when people have so much money and so much talent at their disposal and they come up with something like this. Honestly, if you’re curious about the AIDS epidemic, watch this or this or this or this or this.
No! This was a major disappointment. And it could have been good. It makes me mad. So maybe I’ll go and throw a television set through a store window, which is what one of the characters does when he’s a bit ticked off! (And the woman whose store it is doesn’t really react, which is par for the course in this series. As my acting teacher would say, the stakes aren’t very high for anyone in this series. Even death can be shrugged off because it was preceded by good sex.)
I think we get that you don’t like this series—
That same character who threw the TV set through the window also, at another moment, urinates in the coffee that’s about to be served to the prime minister. I think that bit was meant to be funny. So.
This minireview, which has gone way over the allotted length, is over. Thank you!