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Series / It's a Sin

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It's a Sin is a 2021 period drama from Channel 4, written by Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk) about the lives of young gay men in The '80s and The '90s as the AIDS epidemic begins and ravages the gay community.
Richie Tozer (Olly Alexander) is a university student who moves to London from the Isle of Wight. Away from his family, he is given the opportunity to explore his sexuality openly in the London gay scene alongside his close group of friends. These include: the glamorous British-Nigerian Roscoe Babatunde (Omari Douglas), who experiments with drag after fleeing his religious family; the adorable Saville Row apprentice Colin Morris-Jones (Callum Scott Howells), his kind-hearted best friend and confidante Jill (Lydia West) and on-off lover Ash Mukherjee (Nathaniel Curtis).
Also stars Stephen Fry as Arthur Garrison, a fictional Tory MP and Neil Patrick Harris as Henry Coltrane, a tailor from Savile Row who opens Colin’s eyes. It was released on February 18, 2021 on HBO Max in the United States.

Not to be confused with the Pet Shop Boys song of the same title, which the series is named for and is featured in its trailers.

The series includes the following tropes:

  • The '80s: The first episode begins in 1981 and sees Ritchie setting off for university, which puts it around autumn.
  • Advertised Extra: The HBO Max trailer for the show heavily advertise Neil Patrick Harris even though he's not a main character and the fact his character dies later in the first episode.
  • All Gays Love Theatre: To be expected, considering that Ritchie is an actor (primarily in theatre but also TV).
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Lucy is this to Ritchie — she's a dour, jealous young woman who seems constantly annoyed by Ritchie's very presence. Nevertheless, she’s the one family member that attempts to keep his friends in the loop when he’s dying even delivering the news of his death to Roscoe, being just as devastated.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: The blokeish son of Colin's landlord in the first episode who calls him a "little bender" whilst they sleep together and is revealed to have given him HIV.
  • Ascended Fridge Horror: There is a lot of heavily implied Fridge Horror with how much casual sex Ritchie, Roscoe, and Ash have as people around them start to succumb to a mysterious illness. It gets ascended firmly when Ritchie skips out on his HIV test and, going into fierce denial, continues to have sex (not all of it protected). It culminates in him emotionally telling Jill that he doesn't know how many boys he "killed".
  • Aspect Ratio Switch: Footage meant to be a part of the fictitious Doctor Who story "Regression of the Daleks" is shot in 4:3, compared to the 16:9 footage for the rest of the miniseries.
  • Body Horror: No punches were pulled on showing the effects of AIDS in an age when it's untreatable. The lucky ones died of catching something that killed them quickly. The less lucky ones were beset by a litany of infections, of which visible Karposi sarcomas were the least of their problems, with more deadly cancers and lung infections common. And the really unlucky ones, like Colin, suffered brain damage and really went out bad.
  • Boomerang Bigot: The MP played by Stephen Fry, who sleeps with Roscoe but still denies that he is gay and mocks Roscoe for his sexuality.
    • Downplayed - Ritchie is openly and happily gay, but voted for the Tories at least once while they were pushing Clause 28, which he approves of, considering children's books about having two dads or mums as a step too far.
  • Cast Full of Gay: With the exception of Jill as the token straight.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Chekhov's lack of gun — one of the first scenes is Ritchie being given condoms by his father, and when his father isn't looking, chucking them over the side of the boat. Lack of condoms will loom very large in what is to come
  • Contrast Montage: Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin being asked where do they see themselves in five years time and talking about their hopes and dreams for the future during interviews, is contrasted with nurses entering the ward Henry was isolated in and moving his now-dead body into a coffin and sanitizing the bed.
  • Coolest Club Ever: Heaven in Charing Cross — still going (and awesome) to this day.
  • Cure Your Gays: Roscoe's family try to do this to him through praying, resulting in his sister telling him to get out before it becomes deadly.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Going home". It's also pretty literal, as both Colin and Ritchie go home to die.
  • Dirty Old Man: Colin's (married) boss Mr. Hart, who lecherously makes Colin take a strip-wash in the staff-room, and also tries to ply him with drink after barging into his hotel room on a business trip to New York. He fires Colin afterward but is later seen arrested for public sex with a very young man who is implied to be a prostitute.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: Colin's general manager tells him that "the job has come to an end". when Colin asks if he's been sacked, she shoots back that he isn't, but that he’s, “not employed anymore.”
  • Doesn't Know Their Own Child: Valerie Tozer, Ritchie's mum, is a prim, lower-middle class Stepford Smiler, whose refusal to confront anything she finds unpleasant renders her (supposedly) oblivious to her son's sexuality. After she eventually finds out that Ritchie is gay, due to him being hospitalised, having contracted AIDS, she goes into paroxysms of furious, aggressive denial, lashing out at all of Richie's friends. Ultimately, her Mama Bear instincts kick in, and she turns into something of a dark My Beloved Smother, refusing to let Ritchie's friends see him and insisting that only she and her husband care for him, despite his clearly declining health.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Roscoe's father might not approve of his son's sexuality, and might have been conspiring to have him sent to Nigeria to be 'cured' — which would be an effective death sentence. But on going to Nigeria himself and seeing the sheer barbarism shown towards AIDS sufferers of both sexes, even he is horrified by it, asks for his son's forgiveness, and may be reconciling with him at the end of the series.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: All the gay men, anyway; only Jill is not shown having sex. Even Colin, who is extremely repressed and apparently has no sex that anyone is aware of, had a clandestine affair with his landlady's son.
  • Fag Hag: Jill is this Played for Drama, since considering the era she lives in and the fact that most of her friends are gay men, she ends up enduring a great deal of loss before the series is over.
  • Family of Choice: After Roscoe is disowned and Ritchie goes low-contact with his parents, both of them settle into a familial relationship with their roommates and other close friends in the gay community.
  • Good-Times Montage: Showing the lives of young English gay men and the club scene in the last days of the pre-AIDS 80s in the first episode. Doubles as a Sex Montage.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Roscoe doesn't intend to do this, as he's happy to just have hook-ups, but falls into a paying gig with Arthur Garrison, the closeted Tory MP, who pays him to be a dom.
  • Imagine Spot: Ash has one while falsely claiming to his friends that he chewed out his boss when asked to look for any gay content in the school library that they could censor. Ritchie immediately calls this out before making Ash tell what he actually did.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: The incoming AIDS pandemic is terrifyingly foreshadowed when Henry refers to Juan Pablo's mysterious new illness as being primarily a cough.
  • Killed Offscreen:
    • Henry, isolated in a hospital ward dies of AIDS-related illnesses.
    • Gregory, or "Gloria"; dies a year after he was brought home to Glasgow with his family.
    • Colin is the first of the gang to die and is last seen alive in hospital before a Flashback Montage of how he is implied to have been infected followed by his mother telephoning the news of his death to Jill.
    • Ritchie when the gang finally make it to the Isle of Wight to visit him.
  • Last Disrespects: Episode 4 opens on a funeral that goes instantly wrong due to the mother's refusal to acknowledge her son's boyfriend, Nick, banning him from the funeral. When confronted by their mutual friends, it causes a huge fight. It's subject to Alternate Character Interpretation in-universe when Ritchie believes that they should've left his mother in their grief, while the others see it as whitewashing her son's life.
  • Mama Bear: Colin and Jill's mothers join them on the AIDS die-in protest. Especially notable for the former as she lives in Wales and uses a wheelchair.
    • Colin's former landlord and Ritchie's mother are darker versions of this trope. After they find out separately that their sons have AIDS, they refuse to accept it. The latter takes this one step further by moving Ritchie back home, where she keeps him in his old bedroom and surrounds him with toys and memories from his childhood, refusing to acknowledge he has grown up much differently than intended.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Roscoe is asked to represent Jamaica despite his dad being Nigerian.
    • Juan Pablo is from Portugal, but his neighbour dismisses him as an "Argie".
  • Narrative Backpedaling: Ash proudly tells his friends how he, in his job as a teacher, defied the orders of his school to purge the library of "gay propaganda" under Section 28. He then admits that actually that was a lie and he'd quietly done as he was told.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: A major source of grief and trauma is that parents will take their sons away when the illness starts to become too obvious and/or debilitating and will cut them off from their friends and/or partners. Despite their thirty-year relationship, this happens to Henry with his beloved long-term partner Juan Pablo, Gregory/Gloria and all his friends except Jill, and Ritchie and all his friends.
  • Nothing but Hits: Exclusively 80s hits play on the soundtrack.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Ritchie, having just had sex with his new boyfriend unprotected, looks over at him as his back is turned and notes telltale Karposi's Sarcoma right at the waistband of his underwear.
  • Perspective Flip: Ritchie's boorish and aggressive father Clive is not accepting of his decision to be an actor and often berates him about coming home and getting a "proper job". Ritchie's mother Valerie is more accepting and supportive. However, when they find out that Ritchie is gay and dying from AIDS, Clive goes completely to pieces and becomes softer and more supportive (at least in comparison to Valerie), while Valerie becomes much more aggressive and bans Ritchie's friends from seeing him.
  • Pretty Boy: Martin Pascoe, Ritchie's school-crush, is a beautiful young man, with hay-coloured hair, a tall, muscular frame and full, bee-stung lips. He's also very sweet, which only enhances Ritchie's feelings.
  • Real-Person Cameo: Jill's mother is played by the real-life inspiration behind the character of Jill.
  • Revenge Is a Dish Best Served: After Arthur Garrison insults him after bringing him to an event to impress Thatcher, Roscoe pisses in the coffee meant for Thatcher and tells Garrison this before he leaves.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Jill delivers one to Ritchie's mum Valerie after she takes him out of hospital back home where he dies without adequate medical care.
  • Refusal of the Call: Throughout the show, most of the Pink Palace residents are reluctant to get involved in activism, even shunning those who try to warn them about AIDS. While they all eventually join in, Ritchie is the last to do so, as he isn't out to his parents and worries that being seen as gay will affect his acting career. Ritchie finally jumps at the call during the die-in protest, tackling a police officer harassing Jill.
  • Retraux: The brief amounts of footage from the fictitious Doctor Who serial are shot in 4:3 and edited to look like it was shot on 1-inch Type C videotape, which the show used for most of the '80s. The Dalek props also combine a gray "Day of the Daleks" model with two silver ones from "Death to the Daleks".
  • Sacrificial Lamb: The first main member of the group to die is Colin, the very sweet Country Mouse who is also portrayed as the least sexually active of them all.
  • Sex Montage: Guess which moment from the first episode the British tabloids took notice of the most.
  • Shout-Out: Ritchie lands a role in Doctor Who, appearing in the fictitious serial "Regression of the Daleks", the show that series creator Russell T. Davies revived in 2005, and acted as showrunner until 2010, but returned to the position in 2023.
  • The Smurfette Principle: In a cast predominantly of young men, Jill is the only woman (aside from Ritchie and Colin's mothers, who are supporting characters).
  • Stepford Smiler: Ritchie's mother Valerie, who rates reputation above actual love. She actually berates her husband when he cries after finding out Ritchie has AIDS, and is on the end of two seperate The Reason You Suck speeches — one from a mother at the London hospital, saying that Valerie failed as a mother for not knowing her son was gay, and another harsher (but fair) one from Jill when Ritchie dies, saying that the loveless household she created was the reason he was so ashamed of himself, denied his AIDS until it was too late, slept with so many men, and passed it on to that many people.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The AIDS die-in only has a couple dozen involved at most, queer and straight, in a city full of roughly 600,000 gay people. During the protest, they're heckled and threatened by the public — though a few younger girls vocally support them — and are dragged away under arrest by the police.
    • As seen under Imagine Spot, Ash is a supply teacher on a temporary contract, so can't give the passionate speech against Clause 28 he wishes he could.
  • Tragic AIDS Story: A very passionate and charged one from Russell T Davies, who is credited as being one of the writers to have bought LGBT stories and characters to British TV in the 90s with Queer As Folk, so naturally the tragic aspect is interwoven with moments of joy and liveliness.
  • Tuckerization: Trooper Linden, the character Ritchie plays in his Doctor Who appearance, is a reference to Dursley McLinden, an actor and acquaintance of Davies who appeared as Sergeant Mike in the Who story "Remembrance of the Daleks" (and was also known for playing Tim Diamond in the various film and TV adaptations of the Diamond Brothers books); McLinden became well-known as an AIDS campaigner after testing HIV-positive, and died in 1995 at the age of 30.
  • The Twink: Ritchie is all over this when he first hits the London gay scene, strutting into Heaven and various gay-pubs and kissing every boy in the room.
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: The gang's two usual social haunts are a gay bar and Heaven, a (real) gay club night.
  • Women Are Wiser: Jill as the only female member of the group is also the first to take the AIDS pandemic seriously. Ritchie's agent also has her moments, knowing from other clients who have 'gone home' just how bad the problem is, and how quickly things can go south.