There’s never been anything on television like Pose. From the creative minds driving it to the actors bringing the stories to life to the stories themselves, Pose is breaking new ground and doing it in incredibly powerful ways. At first glance, it’s a story about ball culture—the underground LGBT+ community of ballroom competitions—in 1980s New York City. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a story about family, identity, and what it means to find acceptance in a larger world that refuses to see you for who you truly are.
The best television shows do more than just reflect the changing world; they help create change by introducing the world to stories that need to be told. That’s exactly what Pose is doing by giving members of the LGBT+ community—especially the transgender community—the chance to tell their own stories. And with the announcement that Pose has been renewed by FX for a second season, those stories will continue to change hearts, open minds and eyes, and move viewers to tears for at least another year.
Before tonight’s season finale (airing at 9 p.m. on FX), I wanted to write my own little love letter to my favorite new summer show, so here are 10 reasons why you should make Pose your latest summer binge!
1. It’s telling stories that need to be told through the words, direction, and performances of the people best equipped to tell them.
Pose is a unique show not just because it’s focusing on the stories of people of color in the LGBT+ community, but also because many of the people in charge of telling those stories and bringing them to life are members of that community. Pose has the largest cast of transgender actors as series regulars in television history, and many members of the cast have personal experience with ball culture and its ability to build a community. In addition, the show has a number of members of the LGBT+ community, including the transgender community, as writers and directors, with writer/director/producer Janet Mock serving as the first transgender woman of color to write and direct an episode of television with the episode “Love Is the Message.” The personal connection that has gone into every part of Pose’s production comes through in every honest, celebratory, and revelatory moment. Representation matters both on screen and behind the scenes, and Pose is taking that idea to important new heights.
2. It will remind you of the power art can have.
Ball culture is about the ways people use art—dance, music, fashion, and more—to find themselves and to define themselves on their own terms. That idea is reflected in every moment of every episode of Pose. Whether it’s Damon finding a rare sense of freedom as a young, gay, black man in dance rehearsals or Blanca and Pray Tell lifting each other up through the music of The Wiz, these characters use art inside and outside the ballroom to celebrate life’s high points and to find the strength to get through the tough times. That universal idea of art as the truest form of self-expression has led to some of the show’s most moving moments and has served as a powerful reflection of the show itself—an artistic expression of truth, beauty, and identity for a group of people who have been pushed aside for too long. (Not to belabor the point, but if you haven’t watched Billy Porter and Mj Rodriguez sing “Home,” you haven’t fully lived.)
3. It’s both an emotional and educational journey through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
Every generation needs its own story of this period in LGBT+ history, and Pose brings an air of heartbreaking authenticity to its depiction of the AIDS crisis. Whether it’s the unflinching realism of an AIDS ward (complete with nurses who wouldn’t deliver food to the patients) to the incredibly important scene of the characters getting tested for HIV, this show is presenting viewers with important information about a disease that played a huge role in LGBT+ history and still infects thousands of people each year in the United States. However, one of the most powerful things about Pose’s depiction of the AIDS epidemic is that it balances heartbreak and hope. In showing characters like Blanca and Pray Tell living full lives as HIV-positive people but also showing their fears and struggles, it treats people living with this virus as people and not as symbols of loss while they still have lives left to live. In doing so, it’s giving audiences one of the most well-rounded depictions of life at this time in American history, and so much of that comes from having people involved—especially Billy Porter—who lived, loved, and lost during that period.
4. Every character has a story to tell.
Pose has a large ensemble cast, and it could be easy for some of the characters to get lost in the shuffle, serving only to further the plot or develop other characters. However, the goal of telling stories that need to be told has extended to nearly every member of this ensemble. Even characters who could be one-dimensional, like New Jersey housewife Patty, are given layers and both sympathetic and realistically frustrating character traits. Perhaps the best example is the character of Elektra, who was initially introduced as the show’s antagonist. However, as her struggle with whether or not to get gender confirmation surgery against her wealthy lover’s wishes unfolds, she’s given true depth, and her arc in the show’s penultimate episode left me in tears on my couch. Every character on this show has a story worth telling, and it will be exciting to see how those stories progress even further in the second season (and hopefully beyond).
5. Blanca will become your new favorite TV character.
Although every character on Pose is given a compelling story, Blanca stands out above the rest because of how relentlessly likable she is. From the first episode, I was instantly drawn to her warmth and her desire to make a name for herself not just by winning at the balls but also by taking care of her children and inspiring the next generation of her community. Blanca is the kind of woman I aspire to be—welcoming and kind but also strong and unflinching in her principles. She’s the kind of female character the world always needs more of—a woman who loves beautiful clothes and blushes when a guy flirts with her but also stands up for what she believes in and will fight to protect those she loves. Sometimes I cry while watching Pose because Blanca is just such a good person, but her goodness never feels forced or insincere. She’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Leslie Knope since Parks and Recreation ended, and anyone who knows me knows that’s the highest compliment I can give a TV character.
6. The cast is filled with revelations.
So much of Blanca’s warmth and sincerity comes from the work Mj Rodriguez has done bringing her to life. Rodriguez might be known to some for her early work as Angel in RENT, but this is a true breakthrough role for her—and she’s made the most of it. The same can be said for so many members of this ensemble. Indya Moore brings both strength and vulnerability to her role as Angel, Dominique Jackson can deliver a line with the kind of poised ferocity most of us can only dream of possessing, and the innocence radiating from Ryan Jamaal Swain’s entire being is one of the loveliest things on television right now (and his chemistry with Dyllón Burnside is almost too adorable). Each member of this incredibly talented cast is making a name for themselves on this show, and I hope it opens the door for more professional opportunities for them in the future.
7. Billy Porter is a national treasure.
Every member of the cast of Pose is brilliant, but Billy Porter is a legend for a reason. The musical theater community already knew he was something special, and it’s been wonderful to watch the rest of the world come to appreciate his talent during this first season of Pose. As Pray Tell, Porter has found a powerful balance between being the entertaining, quotable voice of the balls and being the tear-filled eyes through which we see the devastation of the AIDS epidemic up close. He’s as good with a biting one-liner as he is with an emotional monologue, and that’s a skill few actors possess. If you can watch his work in “Love Is the Message” without crying, I’m not sure you’re actually human. He’s going to win an Emmy next year, and you’re going to want to see why.
8. It’s the perfect example of the “found family” trope.
Pose is a show about community; it’s a show about a group of people who were abandoned by their families forming their own. As such, it’s about as perfect an example of a show about found families as you’ll ever find. That’s what a house is in the ball community; it’s a family. It’s a mother and sisters and brothers who take care of you and care about you. Blanca is the best mother on television right now, and watching her love and nurture her group of children (and Pray Tell…and Elektra…and pretty much everyone she comes across) is a reminder of everything a family should be. She’s built the House of Evangelista into a home for people who don’t have one anywhere else, and it’s become a place I love spending my Sunday nights.
9. Stories about identity are for everyone.
Even if you think Pose isn’t your kind of show, I highly suggest giving it a chance. Beyond the glamour of the balls, it’s telling a stripped-down story about identity and self-definition, and that’s a story everyone can relate to. Although it’s a powerful representation of the transgender community and the struggles its members go through to feel accepted for who they are, the quest for acceptance and the fear of not being loved for your true self are things so many people can relate to in their own way. Pose never shies away from the hard truth: Not everyone is going to accept you. But is also embraces an even more powerful truth: The right people will. If you live your truth and stand in the sun as you are, the right people will stand with you. You’ll find a place to feel free and a family that will ensure you never have to stand alone. That’s a beautiful message of hope for the LGBT+ community and for anyone who has ever worked through the long and often lonely process of self-definition.
10. It has more heart and soul than any other show on television.
Pose has more in common with shows like Parks and Recreation and even Once Upon a Time than a lot of other Ryan Murphy shows. At its big, open heart, it’s a show about hope. It acknowledges that there will be hard times in life—especially in the life of a member of the LGBT+ community—but it also acknowledges that there will be so many beautiful moments in every life worth celebrating. And that’s what Pose is: It’s a celebration. It celebrates family, friendship, love, music, dance, and the power of owning your truth in a world that’s often afraid of people who are unashamedly themselves. There’s a warmth to this show that’s unlike anything else on television right now, and even the most heartbreaking episodes will have at least one moment that makes you feel good. The total lack of cynicism on this show is so refreshing, and if you’re looking for something to help you feel better about what can often feel like a bleak and endlessly depressing world, Pose is the show for you.
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