(photo credit: Courtesy)
Next time you're convinced that you've got the most bizarre, deadbeat family ever, you might want to switch on Yes Stars Comedy's Sordid Lives.
A prequel to the movie by the same name that creator Del Shores called "a black comedy about white trash," this series certainly lives up to its billing. It's made all the more fun, however, by the incredible cast that the Logo channel, aimed at the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population, was able to line up.
With performances and a script that are so much fun, it's worth tuning in.
The initial episode, entitled "The Day Tammy Wynette Died," offers the viewer the feel and mood of Winters, Texas, circa 1998, the armpit of a town where Shores grew up, that the absolute desperation the poor townspeople never seem to overcome is palpable.
Ty, an aspiring actor who's left Winters for LA, introduces the entire, dysfunctional Ingram clan. He's the still closeted son of Latrelle (Bonnie Bedelia), one of Mama Ingram's two daughters - the other being Lavonda - who narrates the story with a certain, if not nasty, je ne sais quoi.
It seems like Mama (the wonderful Rue McClanahan of The Golden Girls) has disappeared, sending her family into a tizzy. Actually, she's just gone to Mountain View Jail to invite Bitsy Mae Harling, (played by Olivia Newton-John, no less) a singer with a bad reputation who was convicted of arson, to move in with her for companionship. Mama's been lonely since her husband died. "I hated the old goat, but he was a warm body at night," she admits tearfully.
Mama's sister Sissy (Beth Grant of No Country for Old Men and Jericho) is just a superb character, first seen puffing away on the couch. Watching TV, an ad shows a perfectly healthy lung ("nice and pink," she comments) and then one of a two-packs-a-day smoker ("like bubbling tar on the highway.")
Behind her house lives trailer park trash Noleta, whose husband wants to try sex without his prosthetic legs, leading her to thoughts of "chopping him up and putting him in the freezer in zip-lock bags, cuz who would look there?" Asking Sissy if she ever fantasized about killing anyone, Sissy quietly replies, "No, I can't say I have. And I've been through five bad marriages."
Taking the show all the way to the top, however, is Mama's third child - Earl "Brother Boy" Ingram (Emmy-winning, gay actor Leslie Jordan of Will & Grace and Ugly Betty), whose ruby-red lips introduce us to the fact that he's a Tammy Wynette freak. So much so, in fact, that he's been dressing up like her in the mental institution he's been in for the past 23 years, placed there by the family.
When Sissy hears Tammy's dead, the family rushes to make sure they're the ones who tell Earl. Too late - the prison guard's already spilled the beans when Earl refuses to have oral sex with him. "When Judy Garland died, homosexuals around the globe jumped out of windows to their own demise - you deserve at least one," says Earl, climbing up to the cell window. Fortunately, he's too heavy to make it through the bars.
Don't worry too much. Tammy's ghost soon appears to him, played by Wynette's actual daughter.
Lives is also the kind of series where observations of social significance come up all the time. When the women worry that mama might be dead in a ditch somewhere, Sissy notes that she really doesn't hear about too many people dying in ditches with the exception of one case involving the town drunk. "His mama dropped him on his head when he was a baby - while bowling," she recalls.
Kudos to Yes for taking a chance on this slightly off-center comedy, which even drew an advertisers' boycott from a group called the Florida Family Association. So you know it must be good.
It's the priceless writing, bizarre characters played by great actors and the total off-the-wall quality that makes Sordid Lives such a treat. Besides, spending half an hour with someone else's crazy family might help you to appreciate your own.
Just put down those zip-lock bags.
Sordid Lives airs on Yes Stars Comedy on Wednesdays at 9 p.m.