Logo's much-anticipated new series Shirts & Skins debuts tonight and there is something for everyone. Die-hard sports fans and basketball aficionados will enjoy the hardwood action. Gay activists will appreciate the attention devoted to coming out amidst the changing attitudes on gays in sports. Oh, and who can resist the shirtless basketball practice and Out 100 phenom DeMarco Majors on your plasma screen?
The best news after watching the first two episodes of Shirts & Skins is that the show does not overdose the shirtless mancandy and faux drama that has become standard operating procedure on many gay-themed reality shows. But more than any other reason, Shirts & Skins should be required viewing because the majority of the cast are black and it can serve as role models for young black gay men who are starved for positive images.
Shirts & Skins follows the players, manager and coach of the San Francisco-based Rock Dogs. Most gay sports fans are familiar with the Rock Dogs—the team has literally dominated gay hoops for two decades and won more gold at the Gay Games than any other basketball team. The series follows the relatively new roster of players who have rented a trendy loft in San Francisco as they practice and train for the National Gay Basketball Association championship in Chicago. Oh, and for bonus points, design queens will enjoy the exposed brick and frosted shower glass in the renovated loft.
From a strictly dramatic point of view the standout character is Jamel Lewis who is nicknamed "Jamonce" for his devotion to all things Beyonce Knowles. Jamel is a fierce basketball competitor who is part Karamo Brown and part Alex from Noah's Arc. (With blue contact lenses. Gurlll.) Jamel also claims to be "saved". At the outset of the first episode Jamel claims being gay "is a choice" and he "doesn't get hard" when he sees a hot man. Interesting. This would be remotely believable if he didn't perform bootylicious dance moves in the shower and advise others on how to "get a man." Jamel's professed new beliefs create major conflict with the team and the story arc should continue throughout the series..
Mike Survillion narrates the show and is newly out. "I am still going this whole transition," he tells he teammates. "I want to tell people but I don't know how they will react." (Umm, obviously everyone will know after tonight.) Mike is concerned with how his friends and family will react but doesn't want to hide his sexuality. "I want to be an influence on those who are not out," he says in the second episode. Good for him. The abtatstic hottie is also one of the resident eye candy magnets of the show, regularly stripping down to his boxer briefs and soaping up in the shower.
More shirts and much more skin after the flip.
Mike and Jamel are the most developed characters on the show but that's relative. Mike is the narrator but we do not learn very much about his terrific back story such as playing basketball in college, how he tried to make the pros, etc. DeMarco Majors is the best known member of this cast—the former pro basketball player made the Out 100 last year and was featured in a Beyonce video—but could also use more airtime. This is too bad because his arrival in the second episode is met with much fanfare. The teammates look up to DeMarco, he is a natural leader, and, more importantly, has great screen presence. Hopefully we will learn more in the weeks to come.
DeMarco's cousin Jay White is another member of the Rock Dogs and the two are estranged. When DeMarco arrives in the second episode, we are told the cousins have not spoken in more than a year and they interact very little with each other on camera. It's fascinating that cousins are both gay and basketball players. It would have been great to hear their stories and even better to learn why they do not get along.
There are two other players who we would have liked to learn more about—Chris Johnson and Francis Broome. Both are solid basketball players who are just as comfortable shooting three pointers or rattling off the names of designers.
The series premiere of Shirts & Skins is set against the Rock Dogs competition with the San Francisco Fire Department. It's a tough competition and interesting to see the dynamics between the players as they train and prepare. The conflicts with Jamel's sexuality are introduced and this will probably be a story arc for the duration of the series. In the second episode, out former NBA player John Amaechi visits and counsels the players on their game and their emotions. We learn much more about Mike in the second episode.
This is a fun show to watch. One minute the guys are hustling on the court and practicing their defense, the next minute they are kee-keeing about men and debating the merits of Jamel's Beyonce's routines. It's a seamless transition, too, and, along the way the guys are talking about the challenges faced by gay athletes. "I like the fact straight guys don't expect me to dunk like I do," Mike says. "It puts a smile to my face."
What would we change? The relatively short format cannot be overcome—at least not now—and this is the principal reason why the some of the characters are not developed. The half-an-hour episodes clock in at 22 minutes long and could easily run twice that, and, apparently only six episodes of Shirts & Skins were ordered. Here is to hoping the show catches on and is expanded in the second season.
The only other major problem—and this is a big one—with the show is its time slot Mondays 10P ET. That's up against Monday Night Football. It's odd that Logo's only sports show is up against the week's biggest football game on television. It is what it is. Hopefully many sport fans will TiVo the show.
Shirts & Skins should be required viewing. It's a new show, the characters are fresh and it breaks new ground in exploring gays and sports. At a minimum you should watch the show because the cast is predominately black and provides an oasis of color to the otherwise vanilla landscape of gay television. What the show might lack in character development it more than makes up for as a source of inspiration for young black gay men and young athletes.
Shirts & Skins premieres tonight 10P ET on LOGO.
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