Fall Season Looks Promising for Gay Roles on TV
After a dim season this past winter and spring, prospects are looking brighter for the status of gay characters on television in the fall.
A year ago, I thought we were finally at a point where gay roles were becoming as commonplace on the small screen as the ubiquitous presence of angry housewives, sex-starved heterosexuals, and straight roommates trying not to be perceived as gay. The 2010-11 season featured an impressive array of credible and mostly endearing queer characters. Among the shows creating a buzz were Glee, where Kurt finally gained a boyfriend and even was shown in bed with him, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, where a gay Manhattan couple set out to run a farm with I Love Lucy consequences, and Modern Family, which was setting the gold standard for gay comedy with charming chemistry between partners Cam and Mitchell.
Unfortunately, aside from the Family guys, Max on Happy Endings, and a few scenes of Smash featuring Tom (Christian Borle) and his boyfriends, the 2011-12 season was a letdown. Although it aired a solid episode on bullying, Glee jumped the proverbial shark and became a cartoonish self-parody. Several shows (Gossip Girl, 90210) dropped gay characters entirely. And The Beekmans were sent packing to an even more obscure cable network where (we are told) they will eventually reappear.
Meanwhile, Logo served up another unappetizing helping of the worst gay-themed series ever, The A-List, this time set in Dallas, where the bitch-and-moan fest was even more obnoxious than in its New York counterpart. Particularly galling was politically conservative flirt Taylor, who annoyed and insulted his equally slimy cast mates while lauding and cavorting with Ann Coulter. The series was so bad that Logo not only cancelled The A-List, but also decided to stop producing gay-specific programming altogether. Except for Ru Paul’s shows, which are said to appeal to a wider demographic. (Good for Ru.)
Also repugnant was Colton, the token gay player on the most recent season of Survivor. Like Taylor, Colton came across as a mean-spirited kid who repeatedly boasted his Republican beliefs as a reason for his self-centered sniveling. I’m not suggesting that every gay person depicted on television, whether in a fictional or reality-based show, need be an enlightened hero (we must expect programmers to show our warts and flaws, just as they do with heterosexuals). But in a season so short on role models, the prominence of those two dudes was distressing.
Meanwhile, GLAAD reported that the number of gay men and lesbians portrayed on network and cable entertainment series was down significantly from the previous year—totaling only 2.9 percent of recurring characters. The absence of female roles was even more noticeable than that of males. At least women can take some comfort that Ellen continues to rule the daytime airwaves, and Rachel Maddow is the brightest name in cable news commentary. All us guys have is Anderson Cooper (but he doesn’t really count) and Don Lemon (who does).
Still, fear not, dear couch potatoes. In a few short weeks a new entertainment season debuts and things are looking up—at least in terms of gay male characters. (We’ll have to wait and see how women fare.) First, the hilarious Happy Endings (ABC) has been renewed, and it is becoming a lot gayer now that Max, played by Adam Pally, finally has come into his own. When the series debuted, many viewers complained that Max was indistinguishable from the show’s straight guys—and I must admit that, even after watching several episodes, I had a hard time picking out which of the group was the homosexual one. I got it wrong more than once, which may have been the producers’ original intention. While I was pleased that the show did not engage in stereotyping, I found myself yelling at the screen: If you’re going to have a gay character, let him show it from time to time. This past winter the series finally did just that.
In a clever and charming story arc over several episodes, Max became involved with another man, Grant (played by cuddly James Wolk), and at first Max fretted whether his close friends would accept his new partner. Not to worry. The gang loved Grant so much they competed to become his best friend. Max decided that Grant was too perfect and planned to break it off—until Grant revealed that he wasn’t so suave after all, having struggled to impress Max’s friends. Once Max found out that Grant was a flawed soul, their relationship soared. The storyline was apt, filled with the kind of emotional groundbreaking many young relationships (straight and gay) experience but with a sensitivity that allowed the male couple’s sexuality to shine.
It looks like we can expect more such quality writing and acting this season from two new primetime entries created by experienced hands.
Partners (CBS, Mondays) comes from Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, the Emmy® Award-winning creators of Will & Grace. Based on the producers’ own friendship, the series will spin the story of Joe and Louis, lifelong friends and professional partners (architects in the show) whose relationship has lasted longer than any of their romantic attachments. Straight partner Joe, played by David Krumholtz of Numbers, plans to wed, and the old friends are concerned about how his marriage could change their dynamic. Louis (Michael Urie of Ugly Betty) has a steady boyfriend, Wyatt, played by hunky former Superman Brandon Routh. Wyatt is a former alcoholic model turned sober, vegan nurse, who becomes weary of Louis’ neurotic efforts to support his straight partner’s marital plans. The premise holds plenty of promise for broad yet sensitive comedy.
It should be noted that Routh has played gay characters before, on both Will & Grace and Cold Case. And on his website the actor states that he hopes such roles help to “pave the way towards the inevitable acceptance of the LGBT community.”
The New Normal (NBC, Tuesdays) is the brainchild of Glee and Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy, who will direct some episodes. The theme is that families now “come in all forms— single dads, double moms, sperm donors, egg donors, one-night-stand donors.” Bryan (boyish Andrew Rannells of Broadway’s The Book of Mormon) and David (handsome Justin Bartha of The Hangover films) play a Beverly Hills couple with successful careers and a loving relationship. The only thing they find lacking in their lives is a baby. But their hopes rise when they meet Goldie (Georgia King), a waitress and single mother from the Midwest who comes to California to escape her dead-end life and narrow-minded grandmother (portrayed by film veteran Ellen Barkin). Desperate and broke, Goldie quickly agrees to be the guys’ surrogate.
Also starring is Nene Leakes (who has been a hoot as the tough swim coach on Glee and who got her start on The Real Housewives of Atlanta). Leakes plays one of the men’s business assistant who won’t abide by the grandmother’s bigoted rants.
Trailers for both Normal and Partners are very funny—and with such talented casts and producers—we could be in for a good fall of saucily seasoned gay humor.