Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018
 

The Winter Games Olympians play

Television


U.S. figure skater Adam Rippon, 28, is the first openly gay man to qualify for the Winter Olympics. Photo: Courtesy the subject
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They're back! It's Winter Olympics time, and we are so very ready. We were born in February, and have a familial lineage that traces back to the Norsemen. Snow is in our veins, and while we enjoy the sweaty bodies of the Summer Olympians as much as anyone, it's the Winter Olympics that get our hearts pumping. For the next 18 days it will be nonstop Olympians competing in some of the most dangerous and death-defying sports that test the body's endurance and abilities. Other than the high dive and gymnastics, there isn't much risk involved in the Summer Olympics.

Be prepared to watch extreme sports on snow and on ice. There are ski jumps where competitors are literally flying through the air. Rather than landing in water, as with a high dive, they're landing on the ground, hopefully in one piece. Skiing freestyle and cross-country, snowboarding, luge (most terrifying sport ever), figure- and speed-skating, biathlon, ice hockey and that most bizarre yet compelling (and not at all death-defying) precision team sport, curling. These are the sports that demand the most a body is capable of, and require not just skill and training, but nerves of absolute steel. The Winter Olympics are thrilling, and you are going to want to watch.

It's gonna be all TV, all the time. The Olympic Games return to NBC with a record-high 2,400 hours (!) of live coverage airing across the networks and digital platforms of NBCUniversal.

The highly anticipated XXIII Olympic Winter Games kick off from PyeongChang, South Korea on Thurs., Feb. 8, the day before the Opening Ceremony, and will conclude with the Closing Ceremony on Sun., Feb. 25. The complete schedule of competition and TV listings are available at NBCOlympics.com.

NBC's live coverage includes daytime coverage, airing from 3-5 p.m. ET on weekdays, and 3-6 p.m. ET on weekends across all time zones. Primetime coverage will air at 8 p.m. ET each night, and 7 p.m. ET on Sundays. Primetime Plus coverage will air during the late-night window following Primetime.

NBCSN will present 369 hours of coverage, including live primetime and 10 days of 24-hour coverage from Feb. 18-25. The PyeongChang Games officially begin on NBCSN on Wed., Feb. 7, 11 p.m. ET, with live coverage of mixed doubles curling.

CNBC will present 46 hours of coverage, including its curling telecasts beginning Mon., Feb. 12, ending Fri., Feb. 23.

NBC's USA Network will present 40.5 hours of ice hockey and curling coverage, most of which will air live between 7-9:30 a.m. ET. Coverage begins on Sat., Feb. 10, with a live presentation of the Women's hockey qualifying round, which is going to be amazing.

NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app will combine to present more than 1,800 hours of streaming coverage, including live streaming of all NBC network Primetime broadcasts. The site will also provide additional Olympic content including exclusive video coverage, extensive video highlights, and three digital-only programs: Gold Zone, Olympic Ice, and Off the Post.

For ultra-enthusiasts like us, for the first time, NBC Olympics will provide more than 50 hours of live virtual-reality coverage powered by Intel True VR during the Games to authenticated users with Windows Mixed Reality headsets, Samsung Gear VR, and both Google Cardboard and Google Daydream, with compatible iOS or Android devices via the NBC Sports VR app. It will mark the first time that VR will be available for a Winter Olympics, and that Olympic VR programming will be live in the U.S. on a wide range of devices and platforms.

There are myriad athletes to watch, but we'll be rooting for certain ones. Erin Jackson, 25, became the first black speedskater to qualify for the long track in 2018. Jackson became only the third black athlete to make a U.S. Olympic speedskating team, and the first black woman to qualify for the long-track competition.

There will also be a couple of out gay U.S. athletes to watch for the first time, and there will be a record eight out gay and lesbian athletes competing at the Winter Games: three men, five women.

Figure skater Adam Rippon, 28, the first openly gay man to qualify for the Winter Olympics, was selected for the U.S. figure-skating team on Jan. 7. Having earned a spot on the U.S. Ski Team Jan. 21, Gus Kenworthy is the second openly gay man who will compete for the U.S. Kenworthy, 26, placed second at the final Olympic qualifier for freeski slopestyle, according to NBC. This is exciting news. Previously, figure skater Johnny Weir competed in the Winter Olympics, but was not out at the time. (He has since flamed his way out of the closet with flamboyant abandon.) Another gay athlete, luger John Fennell, had hoped to compete, but didn't make the cut.

Rippon has already been outspoken about the Trump Administration's choice of Vice President Mike Pence to lead the U.S. Olympic delegation. In an interview with USA Today last month, Rippon said, "You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence who funded gay conversion therapy? I'm not buying it."

Rippon told USA Today, "If it were before my event, I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren't a friend of a gay person but that they think that they're sick," Rippon said. "I wouldn't go out of my way to meet somebody like that."

Rippon, who has said he was bullied badly for being gay in Scranton, PA, said of Pence, "I don't think he has a real concept of reality. To stand by some of the things that Donald Trump has said and for Mike Pence to say he's a devout Christian man is completely contradictory. If he's okay with what's being said about people, Americans and foreigners, and about different countries that are being called 'shitholes,' I think he should really go to church."

Rippon said he will not go to the White House post-Games. Lindsey Vonn has also said she would not go to Trump's White House.

There are no openly lesbian athletes from the U.S. this year, but there are some from other countries, notably the Netherlands' Cheryl Maas. At Sochi, after Vladimir Putin proclaimed there could be no expressions of homosexuality because "of the children," Mass gave a snowboarding salute to LGBTQ folks in protest to Putin, holding up her gloves, covered in rainbows and unicorns, in view of the cameras after a run. Maas is married to former Olympic snowboarder Stine Brun Kjedlaas, and the couple has two children. This will be Maas' third Olympics.

Austria's Daniela Iraschko-Stolz won the silver in Sochi in 2014 for ski jumping, becoming the second openly gay athlete to medal in Russia. Before heading to the 2014 Olympics, she married her partner Isabel Stolz, telling the Kurier newspaper at the time, "I don't want to hide myself. I never cared at all what other people think about me."

Snowboarder Belle Brockhoff and cross-country skier Barbara Jezersek both qualified to represent Australia. Brockhoff came out as a lesbian in 2013, a year before competing in the Sochi Winter Games. At the time she was vocally critical of Russia's anti-gay laws, telling BBC Sports, "I'm not afraid of these laws, and I want others that live in Russia who are homosexuals to see that."

Brockhoff was also one of 27 athletes to sign a letter opposing Kazakhstan as a host nation for the 2022 Winter Olympics because of the country's anti-LGBT policies.

 

Way gay

The two gayest shows on TV right now are also the most compelling: "American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace" and "The Alienist." Alas, both shows are vivid, painful evocations of the horrors of homophobia.

There was such deep poignancy in the Jan. 31 episode of "Versace," which focused on Andrew Cunanan's (Darren Criss) murder of real estate magnate Lee Miglin, that it was painful to watch. The episode belongs to the brilliant Judith Light, who gives an Emmy-winning performance as Marilyn, the wife who has spent decades pretending her husband isn't gay because he, too, was pretending right along with her. Until Cunanan exposed the lie.

Lee is so conflicted and deeply self-loathing, he has his own chapel deep in the basement of the couple's swank townhouse. As played by Mike Farrell ("M*A*S*H") in a beautiful, haunting performance, Lee is the picture of yearning. He loves his wife. They go to bed together at night holding hands, she de-nuded of her excessive make-up, yet with a touch of perfume, because she remains hopeful of intimacy. He aches to be in the arms of another man, to feel the kind of kiss the young, beautiful and virile Cunanan, the paid escort he tragically chooses, offers. The tragedy of the closet is so vividly depicted in this episode it takes one's breath away.

Lee, like other older married men Cunanan targeted, is so starved for male companionship he's willing to follow Cunanan's lead, not knowing the seething brutality Cunanan feels for his own sexuality. Lee allows Cunanan to lure him to the garage, tape his face and head, remove his hearing aid. He wants to experience the senses that Cunanan has awakened in him, not realizing where it will lead.

Ryan Murphy doesn't play with his audience in "Versace." We aren't treated to some facile explanation of the tortured reasons why Cunanan does what he does. Instead we see him as he was: beautiful, seductive, conniving, and above all, dangerous. Cunanan lacks all empathy for his victims, and kills with impunity to get what he wants. It doesn't matter that any of it would be given to him freely, he needs to take it and leave no trace. That all of his victims except Versace put themselves in his path with their closeted desire is the contrapuntal melody in this chilling orchestration.

TNT's new series "The Alienist," based on the best-selling novel by Caleb Carr, taps some of the same undercurrent as "Versace," but from a century earlier. Psychology is a newly created (1879), not well-established science in 1896 when "The Alienist" opens. Mental illness is still a vastly misunderstood terrain when the alienists, those who study the mentally ill, are operating in New York City.

A series of gruesome murders of boy prostitutes has gripped the city. Newly appointed police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt calls upon Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruehl) and newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) to conduct the investigation in secret. Joining them in the probe is Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), secretary to the police commissioner, as well as Jewish twin brothers Marcus and Lucius Isaacson, both detective sergeants in the NYPD.

"The Alienist" is both sumptuous period piece and shocking expose. Scenes of the madhouses are horrifying, as is the way the "boy whores" are paraded like meat, with only the choicest bits making the cut. Complicating the action is that the term homosexuality is itself new, having just been devised in 1892, as is situating "homosexuality" within the newly created field of psychology.

Bruehl is superb as Kreizler, devoted to his work and to peeling back the layers of the human psyche to discover whatever depravity lies beneath. Evans evokes the barely restrained emotive character of Moore, as he and Kreizler delve deeper into the crimes. Fanning is dogged and ethereal as she attempts to make a place for herself in this male world. "The Alienist" is compelling: part thriller, part documentary, part horror story, it lures the viewer and holds us there.

Out gay actor Luke Evans makes this series even more compelling. In 2002, when he was only 23, Evans said of his sexuality, "Everybody knew me as a gay man, and in my life in London I never tried to hide it," and that by being open he would not have "that skeleton in the closet they can rattle out." If only the men in "Versace" and "The Alienist" had followed the same precept, their lives would have been so different.

Finally, a few films are streaming this month on Netflix that you might want to see for the first time or again. Highly recommended: "Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2," because who doesn't feel like Uma Thurman taking off some heads right about now? "Terms of Endearment," because Shirley MacLaine is our role model for how to advocate for the sick when her daughter Debra Winger needs pain meds for her cancer. "Amelie," because it's one of the most charming films ever made, and it's a template for how to remain civil in these uncivil times.

"West Side Story" is also available this month. One of the best musicals ever made, this version of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is as heartbreakingly realistic in its depiction of racism and the conflict between one set of immigrants and another as it was in 1961 when it premiered. Plus, "WSS" is inherently gay, with its beautiful and haunting score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, as well as the Oscar-winning performance of the great George Chakiris, whose gayness kept him from more and better roles despite that Oscar. The inimitable Rita Moreno sets fire to the screen and even the why-did-they-cast-a-Russian-as-a-Puerto-Rican winsome Natalie Wood is charmingly sweet and, in many respects, perfectly cast. There's talk of a remake, but that rooftop scene with Chakiris and Moreno singing and dancing to "America" is perfection and will never be bested. Watching Patti LuPone perform "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" at the Grammys, we were reminded of how the first often remains the best. We still get chills thinking about it.

Last but not least, because we need superheroes so badly right now, "Wonder Woman" is also available this month.

So for the knee-jerk jingoism that is always just below the surface when watching the Olympics, the heartbreaking depictions of the killings of gay men and boys, and the usual Sturm und Drang in Washington, you know you really must stay tuned.

 






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