Poor Logo. It’s unfortunate when the four major stars of the animated Rick and Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World The Complete First Season, in their DVD interviews, all repeatedly call the animated show as “edgy”. “Edgy” is about as interesting a descriptor of anything as “interesting”.
Worse, there’s nothing particularly edgy about Rick and Steve. The show follows the exploits of a veritable rainbow of queer friends, the three central couples in committed if not entirely monogamous domestic partnerships, as they live their lives in the gay ghetto of “West LaHunga Beach”. The show reasserts the dominant logic of recent lesbian and gay politics that idealizes hetero-style domesticity, or what Lisa Duggan, in The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (Beacon Press, 2003), has termed “homonormativity”.
In his interview, Alan Cumming asserts the show marks a shift in queer cultural consciousness, insofar as “we” can finally make AIDS jokes (his character, Chuck, is a paraplegic with AIDS, who is grumpy, wry about his “conditions”, and unapologetically hypersexual). According to Cumming, the show demonstrates the healthy ability of queers to “make fun of ourselves”. His comment is a bit disingenuous, as self-critical humor has long been a part of queer responses to AIDS in particular, and societal intolerance more generally — in clubs, cabarets, drag shows, stand-up comedy venues, and other live performance spaces. Maybe this kind of irony was surprising in 1999, when creator Q. Allan Brocka’s first short was making the queer short film circuit, but it’s hardly novel today.
Lack of originality is an ongoing problem for Logo. Will & Grace, never a favorite of mine, nevertheless was spot on in parodying Jack’s (Sean Hayes) work with a similar gay TV network. Original programming on that network, as on Logo, largely amounts to retooling successful mainstream shows by inserting openly gay characters. The teaser preview for Exes and Ohs included on Rick and Steve is a barely veiled Logo version of Showtime’s The L Word. Noah’s Arc is the network’s only completely original show and, considering the dearth of representations anywhere of queer black men, it’s a pretty great show.
Rick and Steve does occasionally approach the representational bar set by Noah’s Arc. Cruz’s Evan is a Latino twinky, tweaky party boy married to his older white “daddy” type Chuck. Rick (Will Matthews) a conservative Filipino-American is married to uber-WASP and gym rat Steve (Peter Paige). Mulleted butch dyke Dana (Taylor M. Dooley) is married to baby-femme Kirsten (Emily Brooke Hands), who is desperate to have a baby and suborns best gay pal Rick for his contribution. It’s unclear whether these stereotypes are in fact critical or merely self-replicating, but the show’s queers do represent a range of colors and dis/abilities, and so do offer something that might be termed “edgy”.
As well, the first season is littered with moments of trenchant cultural criticism. In the episode “Bush Baby”, Chuck quips that having anonymous, restroom sex “like a politician” indexes scandals involving closeted public figures’ furtive sex lives. In “Damn Straights,” after Chuck denies him access to his medical marijuana and prescription pills, Evan heads out to the straight community next door to claim HIV+ status and get some drugs. When he’s mistakenly believed to be dead (this during a riot for “gay rights”), the community organizes a memorial vigil. Here Rick and Steve seizes the opportunity to skewer straight celebrities (like Ben Affleck in this instance), who cotton to queer causes in order to raise their public-do-gooder images, all the while insisting, incessantly, on their heterosexuality.
Still, such critical humor is rare. The more reliable pleasures of the Rick and Steve DVD set are the bonus “digisodes” included on the DVD. The shorts (all under two minutes) originally appeared (and are still posted) on the Logo website, and more focused and funnier than the sitcom-length episodes. In “Straight Jokes,” Kirsten is outraged at common public perception of queers being able to make fun of straight folks, while the reverse is not true. She and Dana create a list of straight jokes about queers she’s found on the internet: “Why did the straight cross the road? It was only once in college, and I was really, really drunk!!!”
In “Stereotypes”, Dana and Kirsten worry they are fulfilling dominant stereotypes of lesbians. Dana asks, “Is this about my mullet? Because just say the word, and I’ll get a flat-top.” The women go on to list the ways they are stereotypical, only to end with a number of ways in which they are not: Dana admits she “hates cats,” while Kirsten says she finds k. d. lang “bo-ring”. It’s a great bit that challenges and in part reaffirms the status, function, and “truth” of stereotypes. It’s unfortunate that the longer episodes couldn’t match such complexity. Instead, Rick and Steve tends to uphold those stereotypes and celebrate homonormative domesticity.