A close read of Pedro Pascal playing gay in MTV’s ‘Undressed’

Pedro Pascal in The Last of Us
Pedro Pascal in The Last of Us Photo: Liane Hentscher/HBO

Pedro Pascal may be the official “hot dad” of the moment, but he wasn’t always the grizzled, taciturn guy fans of The Last of Us are currently thirsting after. Long, long ago at the turn of the last century, he was a fresh-faced young actor who went by the alias “Pedro Balmaceda” and briefly had a role playing a very opinionated and sassy gay dude in the first season of MTV’s sexy, soapy anthology series Undressed.

Despite featuring early performances by Adam Brody, Christina Hendricks, Max Greenfield, Michael Urie, and others who went on to greater fame, and the fact that it won a 2003 GLAAD Media Award, the series isn’t currently streaming anywhere. But the power of Pascal is such that it can resurrect even a television artifact as ephemeral and cheesy as Undressed.

Earlier this week, a YouTube channel devoted to “posting clips of dilfs I like” uploaded a two-minute video of Pascal’s scenes from the series. By Thursday, the clip had made its way to TikTok, where it currently has over 162,000 views, and from there to Twitter, where it’s been viewed over 454,000 times. And if you thought, as I did, that you were the only weirdo who remembered Undressed, think again: even though the clip doesn’t say that the scenes are from the show, gay Twitter clocked it almost immediately.

So, Undressed is remembered fondly, at least by certain Millennial gays. But how does Pascal’s performance hold up? Let’s dive in, shall we?

First, let’s address the “Pedro Balmaceda” issue. I initially suspected that this may have been a stage name Pascal used because he played gay in the late 90s. Not so! Pascal’s full name is José Pedro Balmaceda Pascal and it appears he used his two middle names for many of his early TV credits, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Touched by an Angel.

Now, the video evidence: my first thought watching this was, “Hang on, is that Kyle MacLachlan?” It’s not, of course, but now I’m very aware of how much young Pedro Pascal looked like young-ish Kyle MacLachlan! Anyone else seeing this?

Ok, so in the first couple scenes, Pascal’s character seems to be evaluating the images in a gay porn magazine. “Close-ups!” he cries at one point, thrusting the mag away with a disgusted look. This…strikes me as a not entirely authentic reaction to “close-ups” in X-rated gay material—if you know what I mean.

According to Twitter user @KeJiefu, Pascal’s story arc on Undressed has something to do with a pair of closeted gay brothers who both have boyfriends, but I guess they each don’t know the other brother is gay? But one comes to visit the other with his boyfriend and both brothers’ boyfriends get fed up with them because…maybe they won’t come out to each other? It all sounds a bit like French farce, but whatever. The point is that Pascal (no idea whether he’s playing one of the brothers or one of the boyfriends) seems to be debating one of the brothers’ sexuality. “Either you’re gay or you’re not. Period!” he asserts, which is such a 90s, “I graduated from college just before Gender Studies took off” way to look at sexuality.

The character—his name is Greg, I just looked it up—Greg also seems very invested in the fact that “Paul” is “definitely not bi.” All of which points to deeply regrettable 90s biphobia, which does feel authentic for this type of pithy 90s gay dude. (It’s also ironic, as the role that arguably made Pascal a star was the bisexual Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones.)

It’s hard to glean much else about the plot from these clips: someone—I assume one of the brothers, probably this “Paul” character—seems to be struggling with their sexual identity; there’s maybe a sexual/love triangle? Or, no, maybe someone’s relationship is in crisis due to cheating or just porn consumption? And Greg (Pascal/Balmaceda) is very eager to “help”/get significantly involved in the drama. Also, cookies—the baked kind, not the ones you get from porn sites, because all the porn in this story seems to be analog due to it being 1999—play a key role in all this?

What can I say about Pascal’s performance of homosexuality in this? I get the impression from these clips that his character is the designated “queeny” boyfriend, likely the gayest of the gay dudes in this story, the most spastic and unapologetic, and probably the source of much of the story’s comic relief.

And yet, he seems to have chosen to camp it up just a bit, but not to be too “flamboyant.” He’s loose with his body language in a way that clearly reads as queer, but he’s not coming close to the parodic swishiness of someone like Hank Azaria in The Birdcage. But it’s a performance that also doesn’t seem to want to pretend that queerness isn’t generally…legible in a person’s self-presentation.

Which is interesting to think about in the context of the late 90s. Like, what was the thinking behind this performance? What notes did the director give Pascal? Did someone decide that “Greg” shouldn’t be “too gay” so as not to alienate straight viewers? Or was the thinking that a fabulously fem character who minced about in hot pants might be considered too “stereotypical” by the show’s late 90s gay audience? The latter feels like an extrapolation, whether intentional or not, of an authentic dilemma for at least some actual young gay men negotiating their self-presentation at the time: out and proud, but in some ways still struggling with how a homophobic society viewed them; eager to counter “harmful” stereotypes, but maybe not being as authentically queer as they’d like as a result.

All of which is to say, I suppose, that I recognize the type of gay guy Pascal/Balmaceda is playing—at least in these clips. Whether intentionally or not, he seems to have managed to capture something in “Greg.” He’s an artifact of another time, sure, but one that makes sense given the context.

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