With Looking, back in 2014, a cis white character, Patrick played by Jonathan Groff, led us into the world of contemporary gay San Francisco, a city that back in the early 1990s a naïve cis white future ally Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) had drawn us into a 70s period depiction of in Tales of the City. Even Pose, when it launched in June 2018, took us into the world of the 1980s Harlem ballroom scene partially through a cis white married couple played by Evan Peters and Kate Mara. Nothing against any of these beautifully written and acted series, they are all groundbreaking television and brilliant in their own ways, just an observation that there’s a degree of initially drawing audiences in with characters likely to be the most familiar to the widest audience at play. And although not necessarily categorised as an LGBTQ series, one of the exciting things about last year’s Euphoria was its mixed race queer omniscient narrator Rue (Zendaya) and her co-lead best friend, trans teenager Jules (Hunter Schafer), opening up the world of their high school to us. In any case it’s refreshing in 2020 to be led into a new LGBTQ+ series by a non-binary pansexual Latinx character. As wide-eyed 18 year-old Rafa (captivating, nuanced work by Clara Gallo) arrives unannounced at an apartment in São Paulo to live with her slightly neurotic gay cousin Vini (an endearing, hilarious Kelner Macêdo) and his straight roommate, committed feminist Maia (an engaging, reflective Julianna Gerais), in the opening scene, so too are we introduced to the world of HBO Latin America’s new comedy drama He, She, They/Todxs Nós/Todxs Nosotrxs. All eight episodes are now streaming in the US on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and partner streaming platforms.
It’s also refreshing that Rafa announces their non-binary identity and preferred pronouns to a fellow LGBTQ+ character, Vini. Clearly he hasn’t been in contact with many gender non-conforming people and, along with Maia, doesn’t know quite how to react to the news. They affectionately refer to Rafa as a ‘unicorn’ for the rest of the season. So often on screen it’s characters from outside the LGBTQ+ community whose minds are expanded, or not as the case may be, when an LGBTQ+ character comes out. There’s authenticity, along with some humour, to Vini and the liberal Maia having to take some time to get used to Rafa’s identity and how to refer to them. Meanwhile Vini’s vivacious mother Inês (a wonderful Gilda Nomacce), who’s thrilled to have a gay son, “I love your lives” she says as she adoringly watches her son and boyfriend kiss, is way ahead of him with the appropriate language to use about Rafa, guiding him to say “’They’, like they do in English. Anglo-Saxons are way ahead.”
Rafa has left their hometown for the big city to escape their domineering father Ulisses (Lourinelson Vladmir) who, they complain, refuses to use their preferred pronouns. When Rafa’s parents catch up with them, a deal is struck, with Rafa allowed to stay in São Paulo for six months. If they’ve made it there on their own after that time they can stay. With their father’s credit card as security in hand, Rafa’s not in on the joke when they go to a trans and genderqueer support group and complain they are hard done by in their situation, while others talk about being thrown out of their homes, being raped and abused. Unaware of their own relative privilege, Rafa feels the reason they are not embraced by the group is down to reverse racism; a theory that the mixed raced Maia doesn’t even want Rafa to utter, warning them once they’ve said it they won’t be able to take it back. This first support group scene is later contrasted when Rafa returns after more time in the city, and having suffering a traumatic experience. As well as being part of their coming of age journey, there’s also a wry commentary here on perceptions of privilege and a kind of hierarchy of suffering, without it being at the expense of genuine empathy for any of the characters. A tricky tone that He, She, They manages to pull off successfully throughout.
Full of youthful confidence, Rafa decides that the world needs their talents as a tattoo artist, specialising in non-binary merpeople, and they quickly embed themselves into the edgy yet luxurious fantasy land of a tattoo parlour run by the non-binary duo, X (Flow Kountouriotis) and their business partner Juno (Xad Chalhoub). X and Rafa soon become intimately involved, with some beautifully shot pink-lit sex scenes. But as the two spend more and more time together, Rafa is accused by Maia and Vini of behaving like a “fuckyboy” when they overhear them complain to X that they’re becoming too clingy. Initially unwelcoming to Rafa, Juno gradually thaws towards them. But are they genuinely looking to turn their three-way business relationship into a romantic throuple, or does Juno have more sinister motivations?
Vini works in the café and office at a theatre company along with his boyfriend Júlio (a charismatic Felipe Frazão). Somewhat delusional about his own acting ability, Vini is frustrated at being cast in the chorus of an avant-garde production, dressed in a body covering sack like costume playing an organism, while the lead role goes to the gorgeous, but shallow soap star Rael (Lucas Drummond), who hasn’t gone public about being gay, but sends suggestive nudes to Vini. Meanwhile Júlio is struggling with monogamy and sets up a threesome with himself, Rael and Vini. The only problem is, he hasn’t told his boyfriend what he’s planning. Cue some serious dramatics and self- pity as Vini’s life begins to spiral.
When an assault accusation surfaces from a woman against one of the drivers at the ride share company Maia works for, she’s caught between retaining her job and her loyalty to the feminist group she’s a member of when the firm refuses to act on the claim. An astrology devotee, Maia is falling hard for a colleague, Antônio (Rafael de Bona), whose star chart makes them a perfect match. Unfortunately though, he’s already in a relationship with someone else.
Although the situations that the characters find themselves in, with love triangles and issues at work, might be relatively well-trodden plots in TV drama, it’s the diverse mix of flawed yet lovable characters, and the atmosphere that combination creates that enlivens this show and makes it so appealingly fresh. And it’s representation that never feels like its ticking off an LGTQIA+ character checklist. There are some really funny moments throughout the series, but it’s not afraid to go dark at times too, exploring the potential consequences of drug-fuelled unprotected sex and violent anti-LGBTQ+ hate, both descriptive, and at one point graphically depicted in brutal detail.
One of my favourite elements of the show is the innovative high-speed, fast-cut recaps at the start of each episode before the title sequence, which itself is stylish, and varies each episode, with the three roommates dancing, surrounded by cartoonish neon patterns. Created by writers and directors Vera Egito and Daniel Ribeiro (who made the stunning The Way He Looks), in collaboration with Alice Marcone and Thays Berbe, He, She, They might just be my new favourite LGBTQ+ narrative television show, and in Vini, Maia and Rafa I feel like I’ve made three new best friends, who despite or perhaps because of their flaws, I’ll want to visit again and again.
By James Kleinmann
All eight episodes of He, She, They/Todxs Nós/Todxs Nosotrxs from HBO Latin America Originals are now streaming in the US on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and partner streaming platforms.