Roush Review: ‘Sin’ Celebrates Life & Love Amid Death During the AIDS Crisis

(Ben Blackall/HBO Max)

There’s not a moment to waste in It’s a Sin, Russell T Davies’ (Queer as Folk) tragicomic coming-of-age miniseries set amid an epidemic from another time: the 1980s AIDS crisis, which claimed so many young lives. In five brisk and often devastating episodes (all available at once on HBO Max) that encompass that fateful decade, Davies whips between outrageous scenes of hedonistic raunch and humor and stark moments of confusion, sorrow and terror.

Early defiance and ignorance of a mystery illness making headlines in the U.S. leave London’s gay community vulnerable to homophobic indifference and hostility. Patients find themselves isolated, shunned, treated like prisoners with contempt and neglect, with too few brave enough to fight for their right to live or die with dignity. The real sin in It’s a Sin is the shame and stigma they faced in their suffering.

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The center of Sin‘s universe is the Pink Palace, a bustling London flat occupied by aspiring actor Ritchie (a vibrant Olly Alexander), who’s closeted to his suburban family (including Keeley Hawes as his clueless mom) on the Isle of Wight while living it up in the big city. His roomies include the flamboyant Roscoe (Omari Douglas), whose clandestine entanglements put him close to the corridors of U.K. power, and shy and naive Colin (Callum Scott Howells) from South Wales, who gets a glimpse of what a “normal” gay relationship looks like when invited into the domestic home of his Savile Row co-worker (Neil Patrick Harris in a sublime and moving cameo).

It's a Sin HBO Max

Completing the circle of friends is everyone’s BFF Jill (Lydia West), who’s among the first to realize, “We’ve got this great big killer disease and it’s happening in silence.” She becomes their rock and advocate in bad times, which when they arrive are heartbreaking in the extinguishing of these vivid characters’ hopes and dreams.

Not that they’re all unblemished heroes. Ritchie in particular frustrates Jill, and by extension the viewer, by his hypocritical refusal to get tested and face his fears until it’s almost too late. And yet he speaks for his peers as he reflects on life before the killer virus: “What people will forget [was] that it was so much fun.”

It’s aSin, Limited Series Premiere, Thursday, February 18, HBO Max