He’s one of the most creative and controversial figures in TV right now, and director Ryan Murphy is back in force this week – with his new series Pose now available on Showcase, and American Horror Story: Apocalypse starting in the same place on September 13.
But if there’s one show you need to watch this week, it’s neither of them!
With Murphy’s critically-praised Pose presenting a fictionalised retelling of Manhattan’s late 80s drag ball and voguing scene, intrigued viewers should instead first head to Netflix to watch the documentary film that started it all, Jennie Livingstone’s 1990 classic, Paris Is Burning.
There are several scene-for-scene recreations of moments from that film in Pose, and some of the character arcs are clearly inspired by the real people it featured.
Paris Is Burning was a big cult hit when it first emerged – inspiring Malcolm McLaren’s Waltz Darling album, and Madonna’s classic number one hit, Vogue.
She got all the attention and glory from the mass market - and it is a great song - but the real creativity is seen in Paris Is Burning, with the originators of the art form, most of whom never got any of the riches or credit that then flowed from the mania surrounding voguing.
But the film has grown enormously in esteem and cultural impact since. We now see a constant stream of references to it in music, TV and film.
It's incessantly quoted on RuPaul's Drag Race, Beyonce has done call outs, and things have now almost got the point where you might even hear your mum talking about throwing shade.
There are very personal stories included in Paris Is Burning that still resonate decades on - one of them notably haunting and tragic.
And now we have Pose, which is the biggest spin off, or rip off, or loving homage to the film – whatever you prefer to call it - yet.
Pose is essentially a family soap opera. The kind of families formed when one doesn’t fit in with their own. It’s a theme we’ve seen run consistently through Ryan Murphy’s work, especially in American Horror Story: Coven and Freak Show.
Another big Murphy theme here is the clash of the divas - most obviously the central axis in his Feud: Bette and Joan.
In Pose, we have Mj Rodriguez as Blanca Rodriguez, who breaks from the House of Abundance troupe, earning the scorn of her former house mother, Elektra Abundance, played Dominique Jackson.
The character of Angel seems to be inspired by Venus Extravaganza from Paris Is Burning. Tragically, Venus was murdered – a crime that still remains unsolved - and I think we can probably expect developments that grim as Pose goes on.
Murphy’s series is sometimes heavily stylized and heightened, it’s almost like a fairytale in comparison to Paris Is Burning.
But the slightly silly sequence at the beginning, with a raid on a museum for ball costumes, might give the impression this show is going to be more fantasy-based and absurd than it is. Things improve greatly after that, and I was hooked.
Moments of dialogue and delivery can sometimes stray into stagey camp, and at one point some of the lines sounded like they were written by John Waters for Divine. Some of the acting is distractingly rough.
But the show soon finds its rhythm, and it's fascinating viewing.
The music is very of the time, the shadow of AIDS hangs over some of the characters, and we’re exposed to Trump-style excesses at the top end of town – all very much rooting the show in the New York of the late 80s.
There’s even a callout to The Donald’s purportedly solid gold loo.
It’s fantastic that so many of the cast are transgender or openly gay in real life. Especially when you consider how often the voguing scene has been appropriated in the past.
By all means check out Pose – it’s a lot of fun - but please watch Paris Is Burning first.
To hear an in-depth discussion of Pose and Paris Is Burning, listen to WHO's TV podcast, Binge list. Check out the show on Apple http://po.st/1vN2h7 or Google Podcasts: http://po.st/yUocbZ or Spotify http://po.st/7Zn8WQ