The Best, Worst, and Meh-est of Queer Television
I originally planned to write a roundup of current queer TV characters, because I’m queer and I love television. I thought, hey, I’d like to know how many of my people are gaying it up on TV these days.
Then I learned that TV is a lot queerer than it used to be. Google provided me with several comprehensive lists of current LGBT characters, and since you also have access to Google, there’s no point in regurgitating those lists. So in lieu of a comprehensive roundup, I am recommending shows I think are great, shows that look like they might be great, and shows that were a waste of time.
I am completely qualified to make these recommendations. Why? Well, I have a B.F.A. in Theatre, I’m queer, and I like TV. With the popularity of streaming services and cable, there are more options than ever. You can narrow down those options with these seven shows to check out (and four to avoid).
Yes: Watch these shows
1. One Mississippi
It’s a show from Tig Notaro! You love Tig Notaro, because everyone does! Based on her real-life experiences of losing her mother and fighting breast cancer, this show is hilarious, touching and poignant. You can easily binge all six episodes in a day. I especially enjoyed the nuanced and unshowy depictions of queer relationships. Season two premieres sometime in 2017, so you have plenty of time to watch the first season. Diablo Cody of Juno and Louis C.K. of “being very funny and successful” fame serve as executive producers.
How to watch: Amazon Prime
2. Orange Is the New Black
This returns June 9. In 2013, I kept seeing advertisements telling me it was from the creator of Weeds. I hated Weeds, so I didn’t even consider watching this show until someone casually mentioned it was a lesbian prison show and I was like, oh-my-god-lesbians-in-prison-they-probably-bone, and then I watched every episode of the first season in three days … twice.
Last season was “meh” in my opinion, especially with *SPOILER ALERT* Poussey dying. Ugh, I’m so mad right now, I blocked that out for nine months and now I’m reminded that she’s dead and TV has one less lesbian POC character. One less lesbian POC character who was funny and kind and complicated and sexy. Sigh. I don’t remember much else about last season, but the first couple seasons were good. So I’ll definitely be watching on June 9, and then we can talk about it and how much we love to hate/hate to love it.
How to watch: Netflix
3.The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
This is one of my favorite shows. It’s from Tina Fey and follows Kimmy Schmidt, played by Ellie Kemper, an early-30s woman navigating adulthood in New York City after 15 years held captive underground. The show thoughtfully and, somehow hilariously, addresses Kimmy’s trauma as she adjusts to modern, independent life. Kimmy lives with Titus Andromedon, a Southern gay actor (played by Southern gay actor Titus Burgess). Titus is one of the funniest parts of a very funny show. The show features a supporting cast of talented comedic actors like Carol Kane as the landlord, Jane Krakowski as Kimmy’s sometime boss, and Lisa Kudrow as Kimmy’s mother.
How to watch: Netflix; season 3 premieres in its entirety on May 19
4. Billy on the Street
On this delightful show, out gay comedian Billy Eichner quizzes random New Yorkers about pop culture. That’s it. It’s amazing. His interview style is mostly yelling and running. He likes to bring along celebrities for segments like, “It’s Debra Messing, You Gays!”and “Do Gay People Care About John Oliver?” It’s in its fifth season on truTV, and there are tons of clips to watch on YouTube if you don’t have cable. I sometimes watch clips of this show for hours, it’s really that funny.
How to watch: Airs Mondays at 10/9C on truTV; check out clips here.
Maybe: I haven’t watched these yet, but they look promising.
This show from Sex and the City creator Darren Star is full of queer sensibility and Broadway stars, from lead Sutton Foster to Miriam Shor, who you probably know from her drag role as Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Foster’s roommate and best friend is a lesbian who’s good at getting laid, played by Debi Mazar. I’ve been a fan of Mazar since she played the villain in the Beethoven movies, and I’d love to see her as a slutty lesbian. Hillary Duff is also in it, and I’ve always enjoyed her post-Hannah Montana grownup roles. Younger deals with feminist themes like the consequences of motherhood and aging on women’s careers.
How to watch: TV Land; stay tuned for the season 4 premiere date
I really want to watch this! Maybe by writing about it here I will remember to watch it soon and then be able to recommend you watch or avoid it next time. This show begins with two gay teenage boys witnessing a murder. My research tells me that in addition to gay kissing, gay sex and lesbian subtext, it also contains strong, nuanced female characters. Why haven’t I watched it yet? I dunno, maybe because I’m so busy watching Law and Order: SVU for the 15th time. After you watch it, let me know if it’s as good as the internet told me it is.
How to watch: The first season aired last fall on USA; no word yet on season two.
I’m not a comic-book fan and I don’t have cable, so I had no idea that Greg Berlanti has a whole universe of comic book shows on television, including Arrow and The Flash. Supergirl’s co-creator and showrunner is out lesbian Ali Adler, who used to write for Glee and wrote an advice book called How to Fuck a Woman. The current season added queer character Maggie Sawyer, a local lesbian cop played by Floriana Lima. As soon as I have a spare afternoon, I will be bingeing this show, in no small part because of my lesbian cop fantasy. And I’m always into female superheroes kicking ass.
How to watch: Airs Mondays at 8/7c on The CW
No: These shows looked promising but they are very bad.
1. This is Us
I made a note to watch this show months ago, after a columnist I like mentioned how good it was. I finally watched it this week, thinking I would recommend it to you, but I can not stress enough how terrible this show is.
The conceit of the show is that every main character has the same birthday. Obviously, that sounds stupid, but whatever, I heard there were queer characters! Instead, the pilot is chock full of offensive stereotypes, tired cliches and hokey music to cue you when you’re supposed to cry.
One of the characters in the pilot is a fat woman whose entire story revolves around losing weight, complete with the requisite Overeaters Anonymous and the one anorexic woman everyone resents. Another character delivers this gem about his parents to his wife: “Because she was a crack addict who died during childbirth and he left me at a fire station probably because he couldn’t think of anything more cliche.” And neither could the writers. Also, leaving a baby at a fire station is smart because of safe haven laws that allow you to legally do that. So this show makes no sense.
Please don’t get me started on the storyline about Mandy Moore and her husband losing one of their newborn triplets and then adopting a baby who was abandoned at a fire station. This show is so, so awful. It is not even worth hate-watching.
How to watch: Who cares?
2. Modern Family
This show was groundbreaking when it premiered in 2009, because it featured two gay men raising an adopted daughter. I didn’t care about this show then and I don’t care now. Part of it may be my preference for queer women on TV, but mostly it’s because this show is overrated. I binged half a season of it while visiting a sick friend in Vancouver a few years ago. It was OK, I laughed semi-frequently, but I never really thought about it again. Looks like it’s still on the air, and that’s all well and good if you like mediocre family sitcoms. But I don’t, so I’ll never get into this show.
How to watch: Who cares?
3. The Real O’Neals
This show is based on sex advice columnist Dan Savage’s early years growing up in Chicago. Dan Savage has frequently come under fire from certain parts of the LGBT community, and usually with good reason. But I am a Dan Savage apologist. I think he has done much more good than harm. Yes, he has been problematic in the past, but I admire that he has addressed his biphobia and transphobia and now handles bi/trans issues much more sensitively. I believe in giving people room to fuck up and improve. I’ve read his column since college and his perspectives have shaped many of my views on relationships, communication and monogamy.
But yeah, he’s also kind of an insufferable blowhard, in addition to growing overexposed. He’s got a nationally syndicated sex advice column, a weekly podcast, an annual homemade porn festival and numerous books. Do I need to watch a sitcom based on his life? Nah, thanks, I’m good.
How to watch: Who cares?
4. Grey’s Anatomy
This show has been on forever and I don’t care anymore. I loved it at first, then got bored after too many cast shake-ups and unrealistic, soapy drama. I’ve twice quit the show and later come back, but this time I’m done for good. I’ve returned in the past because they started featuring queer women characters. But there are plenty of queer women on TV to choose from now, so I don’t need Shonda Rhimes’s handouts. I never found her depictions of queer women all that thrilling or relatable, so I don’t care enough to look up whether there are currently any queers on that show. I’ve let go of this once-beloved show, even if ABC has not.
How to watch: Watch the first three or four seasons on Netflix and pretend there are no more episodes after that.
Ash Fisher is a comedian, actor and writer. She is not a comedienne, an actress, or a writeress. She runs the hit show “Man Haters” every fourth Thursday in Oakland, CA. Follow her at ashfisherhaha.com, @ashfisherhaha and manhaters.org.
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