A television series about a previously ignored group of people certainly deserves attention, and I applaud the creators of Noah's Arc for daring to present the first series about the lives of African-American Gay men. Even better, after watching both seasons on DVD, I found that Noah's Arc mostly lived up to its well-deserved accolades. The characters are quirky, the plot lines fast and furious, the laughs frequent and genuine and the drama quite effective.
I admit I was initially disappointed by the quality of the acting, until I realized that it took a few episodes for the cast to fully hit their stride, and I believe that the series perfectly fit its tag line, "A comedy about drama". After I relaxed into it, I came to care about the characters and their situations quite a bit. By the time I finished the DVD of Season One, I was so addicted to Noah and his friends that I had to purchase Season Two, even though it seemed the creators sometimes tried to squeeze just a little too much plot into a 22-minute format. But considering the constraints they had to work with, in the end I marveled at how skillfully the writers weaved in a myriad of subjects and plotlines, subtly handling many important issues without ever being heavy handed.
The lead character Noah is a case in point. I quickly caught on that his character is deliberately rather feminine, and I realized that the writers wanted viewers to get comfortable with the idea that this slight, delicate and very femme gay man managed in eight short episodes to attract the romantic attention of a half-dozen masculine, sexy co-stars and guest stars. The story of Noah's romance with his on-again off-again boyfriend Wade (played by the adorably dimpled hunk, Jensen Atwood) is the primary focus of the plot, although each episode also found time to explore the daily lives, loves and dramas of his three best friends, Alex, Ricky and Chance (for those who don't get it, Alex Ricky Chance = Noah's ARC, according to a comment by the series creator).
But at first I wasn't sure if Noah's wardrobe and femme manner were meant to be the biggest "in-joke" of the series. In an early episode, while his character is crying poverty and falls behind on his rent, he is dressed (as always) in an ever-changing ensemble of ultra-chic couture, much of which makes him look even more effeminate. Eventually, the effeminacy issue was tackled head-on quite satisfactorily, and one character's speech about "effemina-phobia" and his subtle but powerful comments on the anti-eroticism / ostracism of femme men in the gay male subculture was extremely thought provoking. This is the show's biggest strength; it manages to delve very subtly into issues that many members of the gay male community (and indeed, many gay films and novels) completely ignore, without spoiling the humor or getting too preachy. Before long, I realized that the creators were definitely making a statement with the fact that some of Noah's outfits bordered on cross-dressing, even while I could never be sure if his clothes were meant to be taken seriously or not. Noah's boyfriends were all extreme hunks (one thing this show does not lack for is eye candy) but all the while the disparity between Noah's feminine nature and the masculinity of his various suitors made me feel uncomfortable and definitely conscious of the looks-ism and anti-femme bigotry that permeate the gay male world today. Bravo!
In fact, the most satisfying aspect of the series was that it tackled a surprising number of real-life issues with humor and charm, and I was amazed that through the relatively short run of this show, Noah's Arc discussed a variety of important topics, like HIV testing and awareness, the "down-low" subculture, sero-discordant couples, gay dating, gay marriage, sexual compulsion, monogamy, gay bashing, and the previously mentioned delicate issue of "effemina-phobia" (and whichever writer on this show coined that word deserves a medal), all with a refreshing mix of light-hearted laugh-out-loud humor and (at times) dead serious drama. As often as I found myself laughing hysterically, I also found myself extremely touched by the dramatic situations and challenged by the serious, provocative subject matter.
There was one major disappointment - although I was aware even before I acquired the Season Two DVD set that the show had not been renewed for a third season, I was not prepared for the abrupt, unresolved cliffhanger ending of the final episode, which left the fate of one of the main characters completely up in the air. This was quite annoying, since there was no opportunity to resolve this plot point. For this reason alone, I must subtract one star from what would otherwise be a five star review.
Despite this shortcoming, Noah's Arc gets five stars for effort, ten stars for its genuinely funny moments, and a big thank you for discussing so many important topics without being preachy or trite. May it be a harbinger of things to come.