In the opening scene of ‘Noah’s Arc,’ the first scripted series from the four-month-old digital cable channel Logo (Comcast channel 166), the four lead characters stumble over each other both literally and figuratively when, on rollerblades, they encounter a new acquaintance of the show’s eponymous star.
“He’s straight?!” shouts one of the four, named Alex, an HIV/AIDS educator played by Rodney Chester, when they discover Noah’s potential new boyfriend chatting a moment later with a bikini-clad female.
In the background of that scene strolls an elderly Caucasian couple. Along with a waitress whose face we never see a couple scenes later, they are the only white people found in the entire hour-long premier episode (scheduled to debut Wednesday, October 19 at 9 p.m.). All are undoubtedly on the periphery.
It is useless trivia; of course, given the premise of the show is a detail of four gay African-American men living in Los Angeles. Noah (played by Darryl Stephens), whose voice is so consistently – perhaps methodically – soft at times, a comparison with Michael Jackson becomes inevitable, is a struggling screenwriter who spends the entire first episode getting to know Wade (Jensen Atwood), a handsome successful screenwriter who may or may not be gay, too.
Chance (Doug Spearman) is a college professor who moves in with his boyfriend at the opening of the series. A calm voice of reason among the four friends, he acknowledges the uncharacteristic speed with which his new relationship is moving.
Alex (the aforementioned Chester), the HIV educator, has been in love with Trey (played by the devastatingly attractive Gregory Keith) for seven years and is about to discover some truth to the stereo typified “itch” inherent to partnered life for that long.
And the Christian Vincent character, named Ricky, is for all intents-and-purposes…the gay Samantha Jones.
In fact, with the indecisiveness and insecurity that Stephens brings to his Noah character, he could easily stand in for Carrie Bradshaw; and Spearman’s Chance appears so grounded – and has so whimsically entered into cohabitation – that the parallels to Charlotte York are impossible to deny.
But by the time you reach the scene where the 1985 Jermaine Stewart hit, “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off” crescendos to the fore (as Noah vamps and poses in exactly the same way Carrie did in one episode of ‘Sex…’), you won’t care.
That is, if you stick around that long. And you certainly should.
While the first half hour of the premier starts very slow – the first ten minutes are so hyper-gay and cliché-ridden, I caught myself spontaneously, uncontrollably cringing a couple times – the second half more than compensates. So good, it’ll guarantee a devoted audience in the weeks to come.
And you’ll be able to tell the difference. At the very beginning of the second half, Noah introduces Wade (and, in turn, all of us) to his three friends – all four of whom are, up until that point, indistinguishable and virtually interchangeable.
It is there that Chester’s Alex begins to break out from the pack most deliciously. From the intentional misidentification of Chance’s new step-daughter near the beginning of the episode to the quote torn straight from the 1990 film ‘Ghost’ somewhere around the middle, and the new euphemism for gay male sexual anatomy toward the show’s close, the Alex character manages – by the end of this episode – to have stolen every scene.
Some of the (coincidentally) gayest television recently has been derided for its use of voice-over narration, for hitting us on the head with the point of the story – for tying up loose ends and pulling the episode full circle – instead of allowing the audience to deduce it for ourselves.
‘Noah’s Arc’ turns away from this trend, and I’m unsure whether that’s to its commercial benefit. The lack of a structuring theme shared among the four lead characters throughout each episode, as well as the lack of a narrator, forces us in today’s television landscape to identify the show as more soap than comedy, despite the sitcom-friendly half hour running time (only the premier is a full hour long).
And when the gay-identified cable station channels the most popular and, yes, the gayest television shows of the past few years – ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Sex & the City’ – the choice to forsake two of the genre’s secrets to success may prove to be its riskiest move, in the end.