Thanks to the recent widespread success of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the mainstream has come to be well versed in the slang, fashion trends and spirit of drag. And now, with the help of FX’s “Pose” — a drama set in 1980’s New York — a bright light is finally shed on the years of oppression and struggle that had to be endured to form the history of drag subculture as we know it.
Executively produced by Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story”) and featuring the largest cast of transgender actors and LGBT writers ever on network TV, “Pose” feels extremely fresh and outlines an engaging story of resilience and individuality.
We are first introduced to Blanca (MJ Rodriguez, “Nurse Jackie”), the fearless leader in our underdog story and a transgender woman, when an HIV diagnosis prompts her to live life on her own terms and form her own drag house.
Since the team members of a house both compete at drag ball shows and are a literal family, Blanca begins to assemble a squad of ragtag misfits in hopes of providing inclusion for the outcasted and making a name for herself in the world of drag. Rodriguez proves to be a real breakout star within the series, tackling her maternal role with charisma and passion.
The first youngun that Blanca adds into her drag house is Damon (newcomer Ryan Jamaal Swain), a teenager who has been living on the streets after his parents kicked him out of the house for being gay. With hopes of becoming a professional dancer, Damon joins Blanca to gain some stage experience and attempt to piece his life back together. Damon’s character arc in the pilot came off as the most predictable and cliché, though Swain does encapsulate the timid navieté of Damon with ease.
Perhaps the most intriguing storyline within “Pose” revolves around Angel (Indya Moore, “Saturday Church”), a transgender woman and prostitute who joins Blanca’s house in search of a mentor figure.
When Angel begins an affair with white, married and Trump-organization worker Stan (Evan Peters, “American Horror Story”), her world is flipped upside down as she yearns for a love she cannot publicly have.
Though the Trump references do at times feel forced in hopes of maintaining relevance, the juxtaposition of Angel and Stan’s two completely different worlds highlights the importance of appearances and facades in a largely discriminatory ’80s landscape.
“Pose” is not some cheesy drama exploiting the lives and hardships of the LGBT community. Rather, it functions more like a captivating history lesson that gives nuanced narratives to its main characters.
Exploring the intersection of gender, sexuality and status with full authenticity, “Pose” demands that a previously untold story of humanity be shared and accepted. To top it all off, with more elaborate dance numbers and sharp, enchanting graphics in the weeks to come, “Pose” has the potential to become Ryan Murphy’s best work yet.