I decide to watch ``Queer As Folk'' and to imagine the reaction from straight women viewers. And, suddenly, the obvious occurs to me: Duh, wait a minute! I am a straight woman viewer.

So understand where this critique is coming from, because, really, I cannot quite envision a mass audience tuning in to this graphic Showtime series about homosexuality. Only on cable, folks, only on cable. (``Queer As Folk,'' adapted from a hit British series, premieres Sunday at 10 p.m.)

How graphic? Hmmm. Let's just put it this way: A scene of anal sex - featuring two naked males huffing and puffing, panting and moaning - goes on for what seems like hours. Unlike HBO's ``Oz,'' the prison drama in which such activity is never joyous or consensual, this seemed like a more enthusiastic congress.

I sat there watching the scene and thinking: If I wasn't getting paid to look at this, I just might change the channel to HBO's ``Sex and the City'' - much more me.

And that's basically the story with ``Queer As Folk.'' A homosexual audience will obviously feel the thrill of vividly experiencing a TV series that unabashedly explores gay life and sexuality. A heterosexual crowd may tune in to see one episode and flee midway through, opting for endless loops of ``The Thorn Birds'' on Romance Classics, which yesterday was renamed Women's Entertainment.

The only straight characters in ``Queer As Folk'' are mothers who either abhor or applaud their sons' homosexuality, or misguided women who chase the straighter-appearing gay men. Then there are the prejudiced bashers who bait our heroes.

All great TV - whether about gays, straights or asexual wombats - pivots around two essentials: compelling characters and intriguing stories.

What I kept looking for in ``Queer As Folk'' was a transcendent story line or sex-neutral message to lift this drama higher than the sum of its body parts. I couldn't find that deep thread of meaning.

There are shreds of stories but, basically, it all comes back around to men bumping like bunnies - or wanting to bump like bunnies, or talking about bumping like bunnies.

Not that there's anything wrong with it, as ``Seinfeld'' once noted.

Still, each time I would see two men start to flirt and kiss in ``Queer As Folk,'' I'd prepare myself for the inevitable unveiling. Actually, one sex scene disintegrates quite nicely into comedy as a character - attracted to a potential partner's shapely body - discovers the guy is wearing plastic enhancements under his tight jeans.

``Queer As Folk'' features an ensemble of characters who are friends in an unnamed city (supposedly Pittsburgh), all cruising to meet the men of their dreams.

Brian (Gale Harold) is the superstud of the group. In the first episode, we see Brian make numerous conquests, notably deflowering a teenager, Justin (Randy Harrison), as well as a married man in the men's room after a business meeting. While the married guy does not return for an encore, Justin does, confusing sex with love and love with the profligate Brian.

Brian really does get around. He has fathered a son, providing the sperm so Lindsay and Melanie (Thea Gill and Michelle Clunie), a lesbian couple, can have a baby. After the child is born, Brian, overwhelmed with new daddyhood, teeters on a high rooftop and threatens to jump because he can't stand the responsibility.

Michael (Hal Sparks) is also in love with Brian. Yet Michael is content to submerge that erotic longing in friendship and hugs. Michael works at a department store where he must dodge the advances of a female co-worker while pretending to be straight. For any woman who's ever had a crush on a guy who turned out to be gay, there will be some wincing recognition.

My favorite character is Emmett (Peter Paige), flamboyant and funny. Perhaps Emmett is very entertaining because he's the least threatening and most stereotypical. Whatever. He is the comic relief, which during ``Queer As Folk'' is a welcome relief.

Showtime hopes to make a smashing name for itself with ``Queer As Folk.'' The channel has launched an unprecedented multimillion dollar promotional campaign, running splashy ads in all the trendier media outlets.

Showtime wants ``Queer As Folk'' to do for the pay cable channel what ``The Sopranos'' did for HBO - lots of publicity, lots of buzz, lots of new subscribers. In fact, Showtime has established an 800 number (800-COMINGOUT) to hook anyone who needs to get Showtime to watch ``Queer As Folk.''

Thars gold in them thar gay viewers.

As for the rest of us? I applaud the effort, the boldness, the daring. But ``Queer As Folk'' is strong stuff for straights.

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