Shows FOCUSING ON GAY CHARACTERS
What it means to be gay has been reflected by our television programs since before people were allowed to say the words out loud onscreen. Cultural shifts either echo societal shifts or push once-taboo topics forward. What began as whispers in shows from the 1970s like All In the Family, Three's Company and Hollywood Squares made way for later programs like Melrose Place and Will and Grace to introduce gay characters into the mainstream. To determine where we are now with homosexual and bisexual people in society, as with any group, it is useful to review how they are represented onscreen. The sorts of discussion happening on modern shows are very encouraging.
In addition to the return of Will Truman to NBC and the struggles of many characters in Riverdale, three new and returning shows are worthy of¬†focus.
QUEER EYE (Netflix)
In a reboot of the Bravo series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, this version filmed in Atlanta introduces us to a new Fab Five set of stylists and designers who make over the lifestyles of men who are hopeless and drab.
Jonathan is a master of hair and skin care. Bobby redesigns homes. Tan makes over a wardrobe like nobody's business. Karamo offers mood adjustment and confidence boosts, and the handsome Antoni - who maybe cannot cook - at least makes guys feel more comfortable in their¬†kitchens.
And each episode aims to be about more than silly straight people. There is a good deal of great advice and tough conversation in the new show. Among other topics addressed, there are moments about race relations and the police, gay people and the church and - most touching - an episode about coming out.
It's a solid show with a strong cast, good for some laughs and tears, and it leaves you feeling hopeful that maybe we can all improve.
HERE AND NOW (HBO)
This new Alan Ball family drama is a great deal messier in its approach to modern society's race relations and gay politics. In its first two outings, the series - starring Oscar winners Holly Hunter and Tim Robbins - plays like This Is Us without nuance. It is a strange mix of forced conflict, weird mysticism, obnoxious and entitled characters and a multiracial adoption premise - attacked more clumsily than on shows like The Fosters or, as mentioned, This Is Us.
Hunter and Robbins, still good though they play characters who at this point are little more than a collection of hippie quirks, are a pair of Portland, Ore., academics who work in empathy-based charities and philosophy. They have three adopted, fully grown children and a 17-year-old daughter born naturally.
Their youngest son Ramon - portrayed by Daniel Zovatto - is gay, and he spends the pilot episode picking up a hot dude at a cafe, having weird dreams, attending one of the strangest birthday parties ever and then having a psychic vision of the number '11:11' in flames.
Because Here and Now can barely relax into just being about one thing, the mystery of the psychic visions and the possibility of Ramon being a prophet seem to be its propelling narrative. But I think it would be better if this show were just about a family.
Ramon's gay romance and how his family handles meeting the new guy he's dating is easily the best part of the show. That is when it slows down, trusts us to watch the characters fumble and grow and seems more interested in humanity than science¬†fiction.
ONE DAY AT A TIME (Netflix)
The second season of this great sitcom, based upon the Norman Lear series, gives us more time with single mom Penelope Alvarez and her Cuban American family, and every moment we spend in this living room is a blessing. This show - headed by Justina Machado and the scene-stealing Oscar winner Rita Moreno - is a modern masterpiece.
Episodes tackle racism, the immigrant experience, mental illness, gun control and all sorts of current conflicts. But the show is loving and always very, very funny. How it handles a central gay storyline continues to be heart wrenching.
After struggling to come out last season, awkward lesbian activist daughter Elena Alvarez, played by the great Isabella Gomez, is still coping with her father's rejection of her lifestyle. Also, she is struggling with popularity, attractions and how to define herself. As she takes tentative steps toward reconciliation with her family and romance, the strength of this storytelling shines through. Viewers would be hard-pressed to find this kind of bold, challenging and emotional narrative anywhere else on TV. One Day at a Time remains television at its finest.