The first time I saw the trailer for Pose, super-producer Ryan Murphy's TV show about New York's underground ballroom scene, I figured it would be a guilty pleasure to get me through the winter months.

Flaunting big costumes and big attitudes, it looked like a fabulous, visual feast. But upon closer inspection, Pose, with its history-making transgender cast and crew, is more than that. So much more.

Set in New York in 1987, the show is ultimately a love letter to the city's ballroom community, where LGBTQ youth were vogueing long before Madonna appropriated it.

These balls were a safe space for society's misfits to be themselves, with performers competing against each other through dance, costumes - and attitude - to bring glory to their respective "Houses", which were the family units people chose when they were shunned by their birth families.


In the first episode of Pose, we meet the ruling House of Abundance, led by the impossibly glamorous – and terrifying – Elektra (played by a scenery-chewing Dominique Jackson), whose main character traits appear to be cheekbones you could cut glass with and a scowl that would make grown men whimper.

We also get to meet one of Elektra's "children", Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), a fellow trans woman who decides to pursue her dreams and form her own House following a life-changing health diagnosis.

This new House of Evangelista proves to be the kinder, gentler foil to the House of Abundance, as Blanca works to accrue family members, including 17-year-old Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), a sweet, naïve dancer who's living on the streets after being violently kicked out of home for being gay, and Angel (Indya Moore), a streetwalker who's also escaped Elektra's clutches.

These two Houses battling for supremacy in the ballroom acts as a central thread holding several storylines together.

We have Blanca fighting for acceptance as a trans woman in the face of prejudice from both the gay and straight communities, while Damon strives to become a professional dancer.

Hailie Sahar as Lulu in Pose. Photo / Pari Dukovic/FX
Hailie Sahar as Lulu in Pose. Photo / Pari Dukovic/FX

Then there's Angel, whom Moore masterfully imbues with equal parts sass and vulnerability as she embarks on a romance with one of her clients, Stan (Evan Peters), a married man who works at the Trump Organisation.

With Stan comes another minor story arc, which sees James Van Der Beek playing his boss Matt, in a laughably bad impersonation of a coke-snorting, high-flying executive. (Think Wolf of Wall Street-lite.)

While struggle is a common denominator in all of these tales, Pose's writing team, which includes the leading trans voices of Janet Mock and Our Lady J, still manages to weave heart-warming moments amongst that heartbreak.


But with so many sprawling storylines, Pose is far from perfect. Peppered with clichés and overly-dramatic dialogue, it sometimes has the feel of an expensive soap opera.

Then there's that story arc unfolding over at Trump Tower, which only serves as a distraction from the main event and is yet to justify its inclusion, especially in a show where each episode runs for more than 60 minutes.

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Still, there's much to love about Pose.

The balls, complete with scene-stealing emcee Pray Tell (played by Tony Award winner Billy Porter), are a sight to behold. The season opener is a particular highlight, complete with royal finery that's (rather ridiculously) stolen from a nearby museum.

It's also hard not to fall for the ragtag House of Evangelista crew, especially Blanca, who is the determined, beating heart of the whole series.

And we can't ignore what this show means in an age where America's President has rescinded its trans students' rights to use their bathroom of choice at school and banned transgender people from serving in the military.

"Having policymakers in Washington attack our right to exist by law is frightening on a level that is difficult to describe," Moore told People magazine last week. "Pose will hopefully help them see our humanity if they truly want to see it."

I doubt any show would change President Trump's mind about anything, but I still applaud Pose's decision to have the white, cisgender males of the Trump Organisation playing second fiddle to a group of defiant trans women for a change.

That Pose manages to do all this important, groundbreaking work while remaining something delicious to devour each week is also a cause for celebration. It's still a treat for those colder evenings ahead – just with a healthy side of substance, too.

Pose streams on NEON express weekly every Monday.