Animated queer spy comedy Q-Force is a hilarious ode to community that's more than meets the eye
Matt Rogers knows what you thought about the teaser — but the show itself is actually an inclusive triumph
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries 2SLGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
The hottest new adult animated comedy has everything: queer spies; the voice work of Sean Hayes, Wanda Sykes, Matt Rogers and Patti Harrison (among many others); homages to the films Vox Lux, The Princess Diaries and Brokeback Mountain; lots of cartoon gay sex; a re-envisioning of the Eurovision Song Content as an undercover weapons arms race; a show-within-a-show where ghosts have sex with nuns; a solid explanation of "Adele Dazeem,"; some of the best one-liners of 2021; and a nice little reminder that us queers need to stick together if we want to achieve anything, no matter our gender identity, race, age or status as an international spy.
The series — which debuts its entire first season on Netflix on September 2nd — follows a group of undervalued LGBTQ spies who have been banished to a garage in West Hollywood for nearly a decade, never getting any substantial cases. They decide to go rogue to win the confidence of their (straight and largely homophobic) superiors, sending viewers on a hysterical 10-episode ride that's easy to end up watching in just one sitting.
One of the many impressive things about the series is the sheer magnitude of queer talent assembled to make it happen. In addition to Hayes (who also co-created the show with one of our favourite straight allies, Michael Schur), Sykes, Harrison and Rogers, there's Dan Levy, Niecy Nash, Fortune Femster, Jane Lynch, Ira Madison III, Trace Lysette, Drew Droege, Guy Branum and showrunner Gabe Liedman. Collectively, they make Q-Force feel like something that's never really happened before: a mainstream adult cartoon made for queers, by queers.
"It was truly a dream come true," says Rogers, who both wrote on the show and voices Twink, the youngest Q-Force member who uses his elevated drag looks as an espionage tactic (wait until you see his Erin Brokovich). "There's so many parts of the show that are a dream come true. So it's just really wild and I'm over the moon that it feels like most people that I'm talking to are really loving it."
As the general public gets a chance to watch Q-Force, the show does face something of an uphill battle stemming from the negative response the teaser trailer received when it was released this past June. Twitter was quick to call it out for an overuse of stereotypes, pandering humour and centering on cis white men. And while that was definitely true of that 40-second teaser, it is hardly the case for the series itself, which I found far more nuanced and expansive (not to mention just a general joy).
"I think, unfortunately, what that teaser trailer did was it centered whiteness and a sort of 'yas queen' lingo that I think triggers a lot of people who have felt explicitly excluded from something like pride or like gay representation on television," Rogers says. "So I actually understand watching that trailer and having the response that people had."
"That being said, once they give this show a chance, they will see that that trailer has absolutely nothing to do with what this show is. I mean, it's so diverse, it's so inclusive, it's so funny — and ultimately, that is what I want people to take away from it. This show represents so many different queer voices, and every voice on that cast gets unbelievable jokes. It's a great story and I'm ready for the response to the trailer to be just a distant memory, because people will finally understand the show and give it a shot and they will love it as much as I do."
Rogers — who is perhaps best known for co-hosting the popular queer-themed podcast Las Culturistas with Saturday Night Live's Bowen Yang and will soon be seen opposite Vanessa Bayer and Molly Shannon in a new Showtime series — wants viewers to go into the show forgetting the comparisons it's prematurely been receiving to a very different famous spy since the day it was announced.
"It is not gay James Bond," he says. "It is not a 'one man does it all' thing. It's every element and every member of this team that all have a different role and identity in the queer community coming together to make things happen. And it's not that I think people should take the show too, too seriously because it is a hard adult animated comedy and our number one is trying to make you laugh and have a blast. But I think it also says a really fun message about what we can get done when the community comes together and supports itself."
Q-Force is part of what has definitely been a welcome and unprecedented surge in queer storytelling as of late — but that doesn't mean getting the content off the ground is particularly easy.
"I've been one of the lucky ones in this first wave of a lot of queer things happening," Rogers says. "Right now I'm working on Fire Island, an all-gay adaptation of Pride and Prejudice set amongst gay friends on Fire Island Pines. I've been lucky enough to have my very gay podcast take off. I feel like I am so fortunate that the queer-as-hell things I'm doing with the queer-as-hell people I'm doing it with have all been succeeding. But that being said, you have to jump through so many more hoops when you are trying to do a queer spy show than you would a regular spy show. When you say you're a queer show, people have so many questions and you have to hit so many boxes. Meanwhile, you see a billboard for Dr. Death and there's three white guys on it and no one bats a fucking eye. You know what I mean?"
Rogers is rightfully quite proud about what Q-Force brings to the table, and is grateful to the powers that be for entrusting him and his fellow queer creators.
"I think it's a testament to Netflix and Mike Schur and everyone that's putting it on that they really trusted the queer creators to make this what it was," he says. "Mike Schur is such a genius. There were days when he was coming to the writers' room and we'd be saying our ideas or reading the script, and I would just look over to him and he would just be laughing and shaking his head like, 'I am so down for this. I might not get all of this, but I am fully behind it.' And I think that's rad."
At its core, Q-Force is really about queers coming together to make things happen — and this seems to oddly mirror what is happening to Rogers and so many of the queer comedians he came up with. I tell him how I've been following his career along with Harrison (who just had a major breakout role in the film Together Together), Yang (who got a historic Emmy nomination this year for SNL), Joel Kim Booster (who wrote and co-stars in the aforementioned Fire Island), Julio Torres (who just got a major deal with A24 to write and direct a film starring Tilda Swinton) and Cole Escola (who was extraordinary on the latest season of Search Party) for several years now and how it's been gratifying as a fan to watch them all get these deserved big professional moments.
"It really makes me happy and a little emotional to think of what you just said," he says. "Because everyone that you just listed is so deserving and is so unique and is so bold in what they do and have been through so much. It's just really cool to be able to say that my community of people that I believed in, that I had a feeling about, that that instinct was actually right."
"It's also so many more people than you just mentioned. But it feels like that's happening because we changed it for each other. That was us literally saying to venues, to bookers to the communities that we were involved in, 'We're going to do a show and these are the people that we're having on it.'"
Rogers says that collectively they all made a conscious decision to "not allow any negativity or bad attitude toward one another."
"I can say firsthand that a rising tide truly does lift all ships. And what I would say to people is just surround yourself with people that support you and that you believe in and that genuinely make you laugh and you'll be surprised what happens. Because I have seen negativity just stop people from moving forward. And I love every single one of those people that you mentioned so much. And I root for them and I know they root for me. And so to have everyone succeed — it's just so special and I'm just so proud of it."
You can root for Rogers as Twink (as well as all the rest of the Q-Force) when the series debuts on Netflix this Thursday, September 2nd.