TV Critic’s Corner

Billy Porter is the vibrant heart and dazzling soul of ‘Pose’

Billy Porter in “Pose.”
Billy Porter in “Pose.”

I’m sad that “Pose” is not taking off in the ratings, and that so many viewers are missing Billy Porter’s amazing performance.

The Sunday night FX drama is wonderful, I think, if flawed by some formulaic storylines. It’s a vibrant scripted series set in the same 1980s New York drag ballroom scene that was portrayed in the documentary “Paris Is Burning,” and it’s filled with original characters who see fashion, runway walking, and “passing” in the straight world as powerful tools. The acting is extraordinary, in particular by Porter, a Tony winner for “Kinky Boots,” who is giving one of my favorite performances of the year so far.

Porter plays Pray Tell, the guy who MCs the ballroom events with great panache and scathing and extreme wit. He’s like a sportscaster, but one who has been blessed with brilliance and attitude. When he delivers his barbs, you can practically see the blood, because he is so brutally honest; and when he praises, it has the power to change lives. The ballroom sequences are consistently the best part of the show, and that’s thanks to Porter’s delivery as much as it is due to the extravagant costuming.


Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals, the show is about creating families of choice when your family of birth doesn’t accept you, with “mothers” of different “houses” serving as surrogate parents. Pray Tell is like the father of the scene, which is thriving alongside the early years of the AIDS crisis, a man who leads as he bravely suffers his own trials.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.