Chronicle of gay life returns Television: Season premiere of 'In the Life' looks at housing, books, religion and marriage.

November 19, 1998|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

"In the Life," public television's bi-monthly gay and lesbian newsmagazine, begins its seventh season tonight with a bit of Baltimore in the person of John Waters.

The Waters segment is a short one -- a quick visit to the set of the film "Pecker" -- but even sound-bite Waters runs deep. In discussing gays and comedy, Waters says, "If we can laugh at the worst thing that ever happened to us because we're gay, we'll be the strongest minority of all."

"In the Life" has become one of the strongest and most valuable newsmagazines on television -- an aggressive and thoughtful chronicle of gay and lesbian life and history. Tonight's season premiere is a typically engaging mix of public affairs and popular culture.

From the national desk come four strong pieces: on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Hawaii, Southern Baptists who are welcoming gays and lesbians into their congregations, assisted housing for gay and lesbian seniors, and a battle in Texas over children's books that deal with gay issues.

The children's book story -- featuring "Heather Has Two Mommies" and "Daddy's Roommate" -- is "In the Life" at its best. Yes, it gives us conflict and confrontation with the Baptist minister who took the books from the Wichita Falls library and then went on TV to announce that he was not going to return them, vs. the librarian responsible for bringing the books to Wichita Falls in the first place.

But it also gives us context, explaining how the minister positions his refusal to return the books as an act of civil disobedience aimed at what he sees as the higher good of keeping the books away from young readers. The librarian, meanwhile, sees her actions as resistance against censorship, and she is given time by "In the Life" to explain the many and subtle ways that a community can censor at the library level.

My favorite piece tonight features the Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company, which has been staging all-female Shakespeare since 1993. Like Shakespeare himself, it makes you think in new ways about gender.

In the end, that's the best thing about this newsmagazine: Unlike many of its commercial cousins, it is television that makes you think.

'In the Life'

When: 10: 30 to 11: 30 tonight

Where: Maryland Public Television (Channels 22 and 67)

Pub Date: 11/19/98

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