There's No Place Like 'Oz'

Lots of gay and lesbian viewers are wetting themselves over the new Showtime series Queer as Folk, which follows the lives of fags and dykes in Pittsburgh. When it comes to the boys, Queer as Folk definitely gets it right, but sadly there are far fewer lesbians on the show, and the ones we do get are bickering, jealous bitches who just want to have kids and settle down. We've still got a long way to go. The show is being applauded for pulling no punches when it comes to the depiction of gay and lesbian lives. Words like "real," "uninhibited," and "gutsy" are simply euphemistic references to the show's explicit content—yes, they actually show you said queer people being sexual. In the world of gay TV, that's revolutionary stuff. On network television, while straight people routinely romp around in their underwear and grope each other, the supposedly slutty Jack of Will and Grace has never even been seen in bed with another man.

Queer people are starved for gay characters to be as sexual as their straight counterparts. Maybe you think I shouldn't complain because, after all, we did have Ellen. But Ellen never got remotely hot and heavy with anyone; she could have slipped her hand up a chick's skirt just once. Geez, she never even trimmed and filed her fingernails before a date. I'm holding out for the day I see Will butt-fucking a new boyfriend. OK, maybe that is asking too much—I'll be more realistic—Will being butt-fucked by a new boyfriend. It's easy to work into the show: We see him rolling around in the sheets with some hottie, but as he grabs for more lube he notices there is a brand-new bottle on his bedside table, which Grace put there. (How and why she got it can be a subplot.) Or what about gay John, the receptionist on NYPD Blue? How come we haven't seen his bare ass next to another man's butt? We've seen everyone else's on the show. And John Goodman's gay character on Normal, Ohio—no, I don't particularly want to see his ass, but why can't he get a quick blowjob now and then? Oh wait, that gay show's been canceled already.

So I thank the goddess for cable, where the possibilities for queerness and sex are seemingly endless. But with all the focus on Queer as Folk, I think gay viewers are missing the hottest gay show on cable television, and they don't even know it. It's called Oz (Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO), and it's a show about life inside the fictional Emerald City Unit of Oswald Maximum Security Prison. (C'mon, The Wizard of Oz reference should have given away that it's a big old queenfest!) I just got HBO, so I'm a latecomer to Oz, arriving in the second part of season four. What prompted me to check it out in the first place was actually Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. I've got a small crush on actor Christopher Meloni, who plays a detective on that show, and I recently read a blurb in Out magazine about him playing a gay guy on Oz. In general, we queers feel honored when heteros play gay, but I was more intrigued by a straight guy playing gay in a prison drama on HBO.

And Mr. Meloni has not disappointed me; in fact, he has exceeded my wildest dreams. Meloni plays Chris Keller, a convict in love with a fellow Oz-mate named Tobias Beecher. In a recent episode, Ronnie (played by the hunky, blue-eyed Brian Bloom), an old friend of Keller's, arrived at Oz. After Beecher had sex with Ronnie, a jealous Keller was determined to also get Ronnie in bed. Keller kissed Ronnie—and kids, I do not mean some tepid network television hug with a kiss on the cheek; I mean he kissed him full on the mouth, and if there wasn't tongue involved, well, these guys are even better actors than I imagined. Keller also got an intense blowjob from Ronnie worthy of any top-rated scene in a gay porno. And to shove it in Beecher's face (not his cock, but the fact that he did Ronnie, too), Keller made a little gesture to Beecher across the prison from his cell in the middle of the night. No, it wasn't the middle finger. Keller dropped his underwear for this fuck you, bent over, and spread his ass cheeks for his lover. Let's just say that this is an image I will not soon forget. As an actor, Meloni doesn't just have guts to play gay with such gusto, he's got balls, and an asshole, too. (I have seen them with my own eyes.)

Lest you think it's only love and lust behind bars, remember Oz is a prison drama. The amount of violence can be overwhelming and sometimes unbelievable—why do the prisoners have access to so many weapons?—and people die at an alarming rate. Some of the story lines are also over the top, and the "messages" can be annoyingly heavy-handed. But that's the idea—life inside is all black and white. And anyway, who cares? Guys are chasing each other around and fucking and it is my new favorite show! Unfortunately, after that great blowjob, Keller breaks Bloom's neck before he comes (something about being ratted out to the feds). Meloni's character is not exactly the gay poster child, and I don't think the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is gonna be running out and applauding a show where some of the men who like other men are also sadistic bastards.

But to me Keller is like the gay antihero. He's no role model or saint, but he's also no asexual Will, no nonthreatening Ellen. And I am telling you that watching Oz is like watching really good gay porn for me. Tough guys, danger, and violence mix with forbidden sex, sometimes forced, sometimes ugly, always hot. Watching Oz, I felt strangely like one of those gay male subscribers to Playgirl, ogling all the straight men, just wishing they'd fuck their buddies—and then they do! I swear the only thing that could make this show better would be if prisoners could break into song and dance numbers in Emerald City. But that's just my faggy musical-theater fetish talking. And that, of course, is an entirely different show.

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