Television is queerer than ever. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) reported a record-high number of LGBTQ+ characters for the 2018-2019 season, with cable networks and streaming platforms, especially, continuing to introduce new queer characters and push demand further into the mainstream. But because tokenism remains an obstacle for showrunners looking to center their shows on LGBTQ+ leads—and because, as GLAAD notes, white, male roles still dominate—some of queer TV’s freshest perspectives air on smaller networks or very quietly on larger platforms. Under-distributed or under-marketed, these shows can easily get lost in the churn of peak TV, particularly in the year of our Lord Of Light 2019.
If you’re already caught up on your Tales Of The City and looking for great recs beyond your Instincts and your Poses, we’re highlighting nine shows below that you might want to cue up next. These are series that premiered this year or ran their latest seasons in the last six months or so, and that we feel get LGBTQ+ representation right. Many, like Special, are sharing wholly new perspectives, while still others, like Vida, are overturning industry standards with every new season. All of them, however, are contributing to a more complex understanding of queerness and sexuality on television, and deserve a closer look.
One of the best things about the way that Freeform’s good-hearted The Bold Type has handled Kat Edison’s (Aisha Dee) arc is that the show has allowed her to stumble, fumble, and be confused. That’s been true since the very beginning, when she first began to understand that she’d been suppressing who she is and what she wants for years. Kat’s confidence has grown, even in heartache, throughout the show’s run. In its assured third season, that confusion asserts itself in new and complicated ways. What does it mean to date someone who isn’t out? What does it mean to fight for your rights, and what happens if the fight overshadows the goal? If you identify as a lesbian and find yourself kissing a man, what does that mean for you? Does it have to mean something? The Bold Type lets Kat ask these questions, and it doesn’t demand that she always finds answers. It simply, like the bar she tries so hard to save, gives her a safe place to ask them. [Allison Shoemaker]
All three seasons of The Bold Type are currently streaming on Hulu.
On the surface, Brockmire is about as straight, white, and cis-male as a TV show can be in 2019, casting Hank Azaria as a disgraced baseball announcer who’s slowly crawling his way toward redemption and sobriety. But surfaces, as the IFC comedy has frequently illustrated, are bullshit, and the mellifluously voiced Jim Brockmire’s post-meltdown sojourn through the drug dens, brothels, and Hart To Hart bootlegs of Southeast Asia have made him a more open-minded, enlightened kind of guy than any demographic information (or the whole “sojourn through the drug dens, brothels, and Hart To Hart bootlegs of Southeast Asia” part) would imply. Retired softball legend Gabby Taylor (Tawny Newsome) is justified in raising an eyebrow when her new broadcast-booth partner declares, “I’m one of those straight men who’s always preferred the company of lesbians” at the top of season three, but he puts his money where his big mouth is—particularly when it comes to playing host to his sister, Jean (Becky Ann Baker), who’s recently come out and now part of a throuple with her asexual husband, Norm (Charles Green), and butch bookstore clerk, Sam (Mary Kraft). Gabby’s third-season journey goes well beyond learning to trust Jim: In short succession, she learns she’s pregnant and her wife is cheating on her, leading her to the verge of spilling her guts into the microphone in a near-catastrophic repeat of the event that killed Brockmire’s career. Describing the character’s genesis in the context of the aging, seemingly homogenous fan base for America’s pastime, showrunner Joel Church-Cooper told The A.V. Club, “I wanted to show that there could be a queer woman of color at the center of baseball.” And she can be at the center of Brockmire, too. [Erik Adams]
The first two seasons of Brockmire are currently streaming on Hulu. Season three can be viewed at IFC.com.
Channel 4’s Derry Girls is a treasure trove of unforgettable coming-of-age moments centered around four teenage girls from Northern Ireland. As the regional conflict of the late 20th century rages in the background, the everyday woes of Erin, Orla, Michelle, and Clare fuel one of the funniest shows currently on air. The sixth episode of season one capped an already stellar arc with a courageous moment from Clare, the group’s studious, most high-strung member. After anonymously writing an essay about her experience as a closeted lesbian for her Catholic school’s newspaper, Clare claims ownership of the story (and her sexuality) to her best friend, Erin. Though Erin’s initial response is to urge Clare to remain in the closet, Clare stands firmly by her decision to be openly gay and forces Erin to reevaluate her own ignorance. It’s an incredibly vulnerable moment that reintroduces Clare as a leader. It also emphasizes just how much of a roller coaster coming to terms with your own sexuality can be. [Shannon Miller]
Derry Girls season one is currently streaming on Netflix.
Gentleman Jack’s temple curls and petticoats were always going to be an easier sell back home across the pond, where the HBO-BBC co-production was given a primetime premiere before an enthusiastic 5.1 million viewers. But weeks after Anne Lister’s poorly timed Stateside debut (mid-Battle Of Winterfell, for crying out loud), American viewers are still catching up to her brutish charms. The 19th-century landowner and industrialist is a complicated figure, as uncompromising in the values that made her a Tory as those that made her a queer/feminist trailblazer, but Lister’s extensive journals, from which the show is adapted, are an essential document of lesbian history. And Gentleman Jack is essential viewing: Writer-director Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley) brings Lister’s midlife business ventures and last major relationship to life across eight episodes that are equal parts riotous romp and poignant drama, and that ultimately deliver one of the grandest queer romances TV has ever seen. Audiences in 2019 rightly want more queer actors and writers behind their queer media, but Gentleman Jack is a model for how ally-led productions, with proper research and input from LGBTQ+ colleagues, can deliver exceptionally authentic, empowering representation. And Suranne Jones’ extraordinary performance—a reminder of how rarely we see, and so celebrate, butch female leads—goes down in history. [Kelsey J. Waite]
Gentleman Jack is currently streaming on HBO.
Freeform—for the most part—gets it pretty right when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation. The Fosters existed in a world where queer representation and acceptance mattered, on top of its natural diversity, as the titular Foster (well, the Adams Foster) family unit was helmed by lesbian couple Stef and Lena. So it makes sense that its spin-off, Good Trouble, exists in that same world. Only, now with Adams Foster sisters Callie and Mariana off on their own in adulthood, that representation and acceptance extend beyond being the parent storyline on a teen show. Good Trouble focuses on the twentysomething experience of really living on your own for the first time, and an integral part of that is also its discussion and depictions of sexuality—from its natural acceptance of the fluidity of sexuality to its depiction of how hard it can be to come out to your own family, even if you’re able to be open about it to the rest of the world. And the series’ main relationship features a bisexual Latino character who has to deal with issues of biphobia (even from open-minded characters) as well as what his sexuality means coming from family—that’s shut out his transgender sister—that culturally, refuses to talk about it. Good Trouble doesn’t pretend hatred and bigotry don’t exist, but it also doesn’t pretend that everyone in the world—or at least a city like Los Angeles—is straight and lily white. And it’s heavily invested in those different perspectives and identities. [LaToya Ferguson]
Good Trouble is currently streaming on Hulu.
In its continuous ramble through the intersecting lives of various New Yorkers, High Maintenance has frequently trained its lens on compelling, sensitively drawn queer characters. And more generally, one of the show’s greatest strengths is its ease in depicting unconventional sexual dynamics, regardless of orientation. That remained true in season three, which came and went quietly in early 2019 yet delivered several of the most honest, naturalistic representations of LGBTQ stories we’re likely to see on TV this year. In “Payday,” Hye Yun Park and Margaret Cho play a couple who wrestle with class and age differences after a new kink arises in their sex life, while the front half of finale “Cruise” follows a middle-aged gay man’s (Reed Birney) very New York night on the town. But seventh episode “Dongle” deserves special mention for its exquisitely understated performances and pacing as Oscar (Cedric Leiba Jr.), a newly emigrated construction worker, develops a crush on nearby bodega worker Angel (Juan Torres-Falcon). We’d gladly watch these two in a miniseries spin-off. [Kelsey J. Waite]
All three seasons of High Maintenance are currently streaming on HBO.
The first season of Noelle Stevenson’s She-Ra reboot, She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power, ended with the newly united princesses, led by She-Ra (Aimee Carrero), combining their abilities to vanquish a foe with a freakin’ rainbow, so yes, the show is queer at heart (sorry, National Catholic Register). But the first season was otherwise more subtle about its queer characters: the dynamic between two of the main characters, Adora (also Carrero) and Catra (A.J. Michalka), can be read as fraught with romantic tension, but there’s been no confirmation that they are in fact former flames. The princesses Netossa and Spinnerella are more clearly involved with each other, but given their late introduction in season one, we didn’t get much of a feel for their characters. Season two, which premiered April 26, featured an openly gay couple who were also more than just their relationship. In the season-two finale, “Reunion,” Bow’s parents, George and Lance, are shown to be very much in love, but they also get to nerd out over Etherian history and artifacts, including some First Ones tech that causes quite a stir. They’re a part of Bow’s life while also having their own, and we can only hope to see them team up with their rebel-warrior son in the already-ordered season three. [Danette Chavez]
She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power is currently streaming on Netflix.
The setup for Special would sound implausible if it was’t being pulled directly from creator and star Ryan O’Connell’s life: O’Connell rose to prominence in the 2010s a star blogger at Thought Catalog, writing with zippy frankness beneath headlines like “How To Fall In Love With A Boy For The First Time,” “5 Signs You Definitely Don’t Have Your Shit Together,” and “Coming Out Of The Disabled Closet.” The subject of that last post is the point around which Special’s first spins: Like the actual O’Connell, the TV Ryan covers up his cerebral palsy when he gets his first big break, hired as an intern for Eggwoke, a fictional website that’s pivoting from “brilliant, millennial, LOLz-y satire” to aggressive trolling. There’s more to Special than its on-point send-up of contemporary digital media; within the span of its 15-minute episodes, the first season finds enough room to tell the story of a late-bloomer experiencing true independence for the first time (and affording his mother, played by Jessica Hecht, some of the same), in the quippy, hyper-referential style of O’Connell’s prose. The candor remains, too, as evidenced by the scene in which Ryan loses his virginity, which mixes in some light slapstick before getting real about the mechanics of anal sex. [Erik Adams]
Special is currently streaming on Netflix.
Tanya Saracho’s dramedy is a distinctly Latinx and distinctly queer show both in front of and behind the camera. Saracho is herself a queer woman, and her series—which explores identity through several lenses, including class, ethnicity, and citizenship—aims to expand the way queer women in particular are portrayed on TV through a Latinx and queer-led writers’ room. The captivating first season introduced Emma (Mishel Prada) and her sister Lyn (Melissa Barrera), two Chicanas and “whitinas” who struggle to find their way home again. Emma’s return is complicated by the fact that she was essentially exiled by her late mother, Vida, for being queer, despite the fact that Vida herself would eventually come out of the closet. Vida’s wife, Eddy (played by nonbinary actor Ser Anzoategui), remains a standout, even as she’s faced with some uncomfortable revelations. Season two delves further into Emma’s lasting hurt, while also giving her room to identify on her own terms. These are uplifting moments that Vida elucidates and complicates with a little queer theory and commentary on gatekeeping, ideas that are introduced seamlessly thanks to the marvelous cast, including new addition Roberta Colindrez as Nico. Vida’s second season is currently airing, and a third season has already been ordered, so its “underseen” days are hopefully (rightly) numbered. [Danette Chavez]
Vida is currently streaming via Hulu with the Starz add-on.