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Queer As Folk is 15 years old: Looking back on a classic

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15 years is a long time. It's a whole Nathan Maloney. And yet - as much as Stuart Alan Jones would hate the reminder - today marks 15 years since Queer As Folk hit our television screens.

Since I was 10 the first time the show was on air, it's not much of a surprise that I didn't see it then (I assume I was more concerned with the Spice Girls and getting the DJ at our Year Six disco to play 'Sex on the Beach'). But watching it now, it's a pleasure to see that the show lives up to all its hype.

Queer As Folk

© Channel 4

The cast of Queer As Folk


Yes, it was a groundbreaking show. This was a series which focused on gay men, that didn't shy away from getting graphic, and that was unapologetic in its subject matter. But aside from breaking the taboos, and the importance of having a series like that on television, was it actually any good?

Luckily, the answer is yes. The surprising thing, watching Queer As Folk now, is how little it's dated. Sure, there's the fun of the odd reference - chunky mobiles! Magic Eye pictures! - but largely, the show's focus on relationships makes it still seem relevant today. Of course, there's been progress - there's more homophobia in the show than you'd hope there would be today, and Vince's dad's suggestion that he'll never get married is - thankfully - less likely.

But it's easy to imagine Queer As Folk being a new show. It's vibrant, witty and full of fun as well as touching moments, and the eight half-hour episodes - and two longer series two instalments - whizz by.

Craig Kelly

© Channel 4


One of the astonishing things about Queer As Folk, though, is how unlikeable the characters can be. Craig Kelly's Vince remains mostly adorable, thanks to his underdog status, his unrequited love for Stuart and his goofy, awkward inability with men he's trying to "cop off" with. Yes, he's unwittingly cruel to poor Cameron, who tries to date him when Vince's heart lies elsewhere, but largely Vince gets away with it. Plus, his love of Doctor Who will surely endear him to DS readers (he judges his relationship with Cameron on whether he can name all of the Doctors in order - an easier task back then considering it was pre-Eccleston.)

Then, though, we come to Nathan and Stuart. Nathan, for example, is a frustrating young man (even if it is amazing to see baby-faced Charlie Hunnam looking all sweet). It's understandable why he behaves the way he does a lot of the time; while he resists his poor mother, his dad's homophobia is obviously horrifying. On the other hand, he's selfish, self-righteous and, honestly, not all that good of a friend. His bestie Donna is always there for him, but he can rarely say the same.

Still, Nathan is young and figuring out who he is. His mistakes, while not always instantly forgivable, are certainly understandable. Then we come to Stuart.

Aidan Gillen and Craig Kelly

© Channel 4


Aidan Gillen proves how talented he is in Queer As Folk, because I absolutely adore Stuart and yet he is a horrible man. This is someone who sleeps with a 15-year-old - a plot which, by the way, I'm really not sure about - and then tries to brush him off; a man who sleeps his way through people to the extent that he tries to hit on someone he's already been with; a man who forcibly outs his best friend out of spite; a man who does what he wants and laughs afterwards; a man who sticks his kid nephew's head down the toilet.

Stuart is basically awful. He's selfish. He's manipulative. He's spiteful. But he's also a whirling dervish of a man, a thrilling ride, an overwhelming presence, a character for the ages (and a man who has a vending machine in his flat). And while he has his veneer, he's so sad. It's devastating to watch him at times, whether it's when he spits out a spew of homophobic language in his coming out speech to his parents (which he only does because he's being blackmailed by an 8-year-old) or when he tells Nathan that sex is all he has to offer, there's something deeply tragic and heart-wrenching about Stuart.

I like that not everyone on Queer As Folk is a nice guy - after all, who is in real life? But Stuart is there to represent something - the shallowness of one night stands, the loneliness of rejecting commitment. In fact, this could be one of the criticisms of Queer As Folk - that the characters are in some ways archetypes - except that the producers have apparently said that the whole thing is meant to be a fantasy (and that the actors make them feel real). It's pretty clear the show is a fantasy from the ridiculously fun over-the-top ending, but that's okay.

Aidan Gillen as Stuart

© Channel 4

Aidan Gillen as Stuart


Not everything about Queer As Folk is perfect, though. Whether it's the show's age or just how it's always been, some of the acting and dialogue can feel clunky. And then there's the issue of Stuart and Nathan, which feels uncomfortable - that may be the intention, but it's definitely a question that needs to be raised.

Still, there's no doubt that the show is worth celebrating; from an era when Channel 4 was breaking boundaries on a weekly basis, it's not a surprise that Queer As Folk has remained such a huge part of the cultural lexicon. Only a couple of weeks ago, new US drama Looking began - and invited comparisons to QAF - but more than that, ignoring its importance, it's just a massively entertaining, fun journey. What's more, the whole series is on 4OD, so there's no excuse - get watching.

Were you a fan of Queer As Folk? Are you surprised it's 15 years old? Let us know below!

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