Q-Force, the forthcoming Netflix animated adult comedy series out on Sept. 2, had its wings clipped before it could truly get off the ground.
Back in June, during the last weekend of Pride Month, the streaming giant released a teaser for the show about a diverse group of LGBTQ spies, an obvious attempt to get queer people hyped for the series. “Hey, Twink!” Agent Mary says excitedly in the opening. “Oh, hey, girl!” Twink responds: “That’s my job, daddy.” Some Twitter users blasted the 40-second clip and said it showcased characters who leaned into harmful and outdated stereotypes about queer people.
“[Y]es because gay people love to be portrayed in a way where their whole personality trait revolves around being gay,” one disappointed person said. “Somebody really said, ‘let’s make an unfunny gay version of Archer’ and they just went with it,” another person expressed. “[T]he best description i have heard about this show is that ‘this would have been made in 2005 with the intent to offend,’” another added. Essentially, the trailer didn’t feel like a celebration of queerness, but a series of jokes made by queer people in order to mock gayness. One person who worked on the show even said as much: “I am one of the MANY queer artists who worked on this show and boy can I say with confidence that the trailer is AWFUL,” animator Alanna Train said amid the furor. “The clips they chose and how they edited them together, remove all plot, character dynamics and heart the show actually has.”
Having seen all 10 episodes of the series, created by Sean Hayes and Michael Schur, I can definitely say the initial trailer does not do the show any favors. Hayes first stole our hearts with his iconic character Jack MacFarland in the late '90s on Will & Grace, while Schur has produced some of the most memorable comedies in recent years, including The Office, Parks and Recreation, as well as The Good Place. But, unfortunately, Q-Force simply isn’t that good. And the few laughs that did manage to escape my mouth as I watched weren’t nearly hearty enough to make me love it. Though the show has some charm, it’s weighed down by uninteresting characters and dull “jokes,” which are really just random utterances of pop culture trivia like the names of actors, singers, and certain films. And though the show tries not to make its rainbow coalition of spies textbook stereotypes, it doesn’t completely succeed, especially when it comes to its queer women characters. Spoilers ahead.
Q-Force begins with a flashback of Steve Maryweather, nicknamed Agent Mary (Hayes), the valedictorian of his class at the American Intelligence Agency. He comes out during his graduation speech, acknowledging that this special moment is happening the same year as the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But before Steve can continue, he’s pushed aside by the agency’s director, Director Dirk Chunley (Gary Cole) who decides, on the spot, that Steve isn’t the valedictorian. That honor instead goes to Agent Rick Buck (David Harbour) who just “happens to be straight,” the director says. Steve’s dreams of leading the institution are dashed, and he’s relegated to covering a territory deemed a much better fit for a gay man: West Hollywood.
Flash-forward to present day, Steve still hasn’t recovered from his emotional snafu a decade earlier. One morning, he gets a taunting call from his old anti-gay nemesis, Buck: “Ten years in the field, three Medals of Honor. Remind me: Who’s head of the class now?” Feeling dejected and frustrated that his team hasn’t received a mission in years, Steve and his colleagues — Deb (Wanda Sykes), a Black lesbian who, without question, is the funniest character on the show, Agent Stat (Patti Harrison), a goth hacker who often feels like an outcast among the rest of the group, and Agent Twink (Matt Rogers), a master of disguise and drag queen — decide to go rogue. Following a tip from Twink, the team uncovers an illegal nuclear arms deal that the AIA otherwise wouldn’t have known about. The AIA begrudgingly tasks the team with finding additional information. But that moment of glory is short-lived because Buck returns in person this time with orders from Chunley to “babysit the sodomites.”
Quips like this make the show less interesting. Presumably Buck is meant to be a stand-in for an ignorant straight person. He constantly makes remarks at the expense of the Q-Force team, calling them “the Spice Girls” or “you chicks.” It’s obvious that his character’s purpose is to be an asshole, but the way he is written feels lazy. He's sometimes met with some sort of fabulously queer pushback, but his attacks just come across as extremely annoying, because they are relentless.
And it’s not only Buck who suffers from this one-note treatment; Though characters aren’t completely reduced to stereotypes like the initial Q-Force trailer seemed to imply, many of the comedic moments rely on common misconceptions about queer people. Sykes isn’t given a lot to work with as Deb. It’s a testament to Sykes’s skill, both as an actor and a comedian, that she manages to consistently outshine her castmates. Even the trite jokes about lesbians (if you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all) feel a bit more jazzed up because of Sykes’s talent. “Damn! Does every neighborhood out here have its own doctor and airport?” Deb says after an aircraft whooshes by. “Shit, me and Pam might pack up the U-Haul tonight!” (Curiously, for a show featuring a cast of queer animated characters in the year 2021, there are no trans characters, which feels like a major oversight.)
Other comedic moments fall flat simply because they feel a little too much like inside baseball. In Episode 5, titled “WeHo Confidential,” Twink and Steve team up to find out why several gay men have been going missing. It’s revealed that the police department in WeHo has been capturing actors and making them create “nonunion superhero TV.” As Twink and Steve watch things play out from afar, one of the actors breaks down, saying, “Please. We've been filming for three days straight. We need a break.” A man in front of a teleprompter replies, “Well, how about you try the writers room?” The actor is dragged away, screaming, “No, not the writers room! Please just kill me instead.” OK, whatever that means.
The series, though sometimes slow-moving, finds its footing toward the middle. If you know anything about queer history, it won’t be hard to figure out, but there’s a plot point that focuses on the secrets the AIA would like to keep hidden. Despite it being the most interesting part of the show, we don’t spend more time with the characters after the big reveal, which feels like a wasted opportunity.
There’s also the character Stat, the loner of the group who is by far one of the more fascinating personalities. Stat embarks on a relationship with an android named Jacqueline, and it’s genuinely compelling, though it does not last long before it, too, is polished off. Long story short: The relationship ends in a way that’s sort of tragic yet noble. This could be taken as a commentary about how fleeting love can be for queer people, but even still, the show becomes a lot less enjoyable to watch once that relationship fizzles. If anything good does come out of Q-Force, it will likely be memes. This show is ripe with one-liners that will probably have a longer life in the Twittersphere. “The gays love me, and I love the gays,” says Twink, in disguise as Ariana Grande, followed by the line, “Shoutout to my gay brother Frankie, who is gay.” Unfortunately, cute wisecracks alone do not make a great show.
While Q-Force isn’t as egregious as one may have been led to believe, it certainly isn’t great either. It’s a show that toes the line between blah and decent. Though it pains me to pan a work made by and for queer people, I’m heartened by the fact that we now live in an age where there are a lot more queer stories to choose from, from reality shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Queer Eye to prestige dramas like It’s a Sin, Special, and Pose, and so much more. I wanted Q-Force to be a lot more fun, but in the end it was kind of a drag.●