Essentially acting as the hook, line, and sinker for the entire series, delivering a strong pilot regardless of the network it calls home – broadcast, cable, streaming – is difficult.
And yet like the flawless looks and fiery clapbacks of its cast, Pose Season 1 Episode 1 makes it seem almost effortless.
Originally from the mind of Steven Canals and brought to the screen with the help of Ryan Murphy, the groundbreaking series is a character-driven dive into the world of 1980s ball culture, the height of the AIDS epidemic, and to some degree a fight for an evolving American identity.
Described as a dance musical, Pose Season 1 Episode 1 relies more on the dramatics than the music or dance. There’s no actual singing from the main cast and most dancing, for the time being, is in theory by way of short sequences shot within the confines of a prestigious New York City dance school.
But at times the music and movement can be so interwoven with the narrative that it appears to be a character of its own – a constant reminder of Pose's place and time.
Instead, it watches more like a sparkly, historical drama that leans on the backdrop of Reagan's America to create a commentary on the country's past and present relationship to the LGBTQ (particularly trans) community.
It's funny, heartwarming, unapologetically honest, well soundtracked, perfectly wardrobed, and when it needs to be, both appropriately reflective and somber.
Blanca Rodriguez, who is played so endearingly by MJ Rodriguez, is viewers gateway into the underground world of the ball.
A black transgender woman who works at a nail salon by day and serves as a member of the House of Abundance by night, Blanca is eager to leave a meaningful mark on the world after learning she's HIV positive.
But the idea to start up her own house has Abundance's mother, Elektra, heated and as a result, Blanca is "shoved" from the nest of her dynamic, well-kept, and at times quite venomous former house mother and siblings.
It doesn't take long for her to begin accumulating her own "children" though, and the first is the gay, 17-year-old Damon.
Recently kicked out of his parents home after coming out, the teen had roamed the streets of New York for weeks before Blanca introduced him her thrilling, inspiring, and freeing world.
Through Blanca and Damon's blossoming relationship, viewers glimpse the well-understood notion and necessity of "found family" in LGBTQ culture.
She also offers a different take on the concept and dynamic of the "House Mother," as Blanca becomes the primary supporter of Damon's dreams – even and especially when he doesn't believe in his potential.
Season 1 Episode 1 makes clear that the distinctive nature of those chosen familial relationships will be a theme as common as the series' stunning ball walks, lending it a nice dose of heart.
Angel is the second member of what is later named the House of Evangelista, after a model who inspired Blanca. Angel is quickly realized as one of the viewers' main connections to the history of sex work within the transgender community.
She's also the show's centerpiece when it comes to the exploration of a most basic, but sometimes painful (or even deadly) desire: love.
Her burgeoning romance with Stan (played by Murphy favorite Evan Peters) also serves not just as a juxtaposition of dominant white, straight culture of the 1980s, but speaks to the social and economic optics of class, suburban America, and identity.
The famed Billy Porter lends his energy to Pray Tell, the drag ball emcee, lover of fashion design, and friend to Blanca. Porter is simultaneously comforting and electric, and Tell's verisimilitude is a welcomed punch to the history of TV's tragic queerness.
Through these characters, as well as several others, the series handles issues that are emotionally heavy with adeptness and ease rarely seen.
Several lines are undoubtedly worthy of pause, but not because of either the writing or acting fall prey to corniness or campiness. Instead, Pose delivers a refreshing spin on issues that, in our current (but nowhere near perfect) era of increasing representation, might seem pretty tired.
It can seemingly pedal in a lot of cliches, including the highly religious, homophobic parents and cattiness of queens. The flip side of this is that those cliches don't dominate characterization and more often than not feel entirely organic to the series’ place and time.
Despite the once indie-driven and now slow mainstreaming of LGBTQ identity on both the big and small screen, Pose's "preachiness" isn’t just about any time or people in LGBTQ history. It’s unearthing the forgotten (and buried) foundations of the modern queer and trans struggle.
And it does this not just by focusing on the outer tensions that helped shape the series characters, but also the inner ones. "Passing," sex work, fashion, and the politics of queer love are treated as seriously as religious homophobia, sexism, HIV/AIDs, and employment discrimination.
The cast is big, and the storylines have quite a lot of moving parts, but the pilot manages to weave them together rather cohesively, with much of the credit due to actor MJ Rodriguez's seamless talent.
The characters are colorful, distinctive and remain – despite historical small screen representations – authentic and humanized.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Pose is how easily the shoe fits.
Everything about it is brimming with intent and chemistry, whether you’re watching two on onscreen powerhouses like Elektra and Blanca go head-to-head in a dressed-up, exposed-brick apartment; or the gentle, uneasy explorations of Angel and Stan in a dimly lit hotel room; or the captivating energy of the famed Porter under the dazzling spotlight of the ball stage.
Ultimately, Pose is a kaleidoscope look at both the alluring, little-known history of an LGBTQ subculture that has shaped everything from modern fashion and music to dance and langauge, and the less than glamorous world of politics, prejudice, and a disease that devastated an entire American community.
If this is Ryan Murphy's last go on traditional TV before leaping to Netflix, Pose Season 1 Episode 1 effectively argues he may go out on top.
If you have thoughts about the Pose premiere comment below! And if you haven't caught it yet, you can watch Pose online.
Abbey White is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.