2018 was a banner year for queer television based not only on representation, but the sheer quality of that representation. Queer audiences had any number of choices in genre (comedy, drama, animation, sci-fi, horror, etc.) and in platforms (Netlix is coming for all the wigs and the awards) that explored the entire rainbow of of identities without feeling forced or contrived. While the world may have felt like it was falling apart, television was keeping it together, making us laugh, cry, think, yell, sing, dance, and pose-pose-pose! [Warning: there are spoilers ahead—so many spoilers—so proceed at your own risk.]
Sense8 – “Amor Vincit Omnia” (S02E12)
Lana Wachowski’s big, messy, beautiful, sprawling sci-fi series did its best to wrap up its spider’s web of plotlines in the two-hour series finale, which only happened because fans called for Netflix to give the canceled show one last chance at elaborate fight sequences and even more elaborate pansexual orgies. The final image—of a cum-stained rainbow strap-on dildo—proved both whimsical and poignant, and a fitting end to this ambitious show that wore its proudly queer heart on its sleeve.
The Simpsons – “Werking Mom” (S30E07)
The bloom fell off The Simpsons rose about 20 seasons ago, but the animated institution can still tickle and titillate. Putting the tit back in titillate this season, RuPaul and Drag Race alum Raja helped Marge get her groove back for the umpteenth time in the drag queen-dominated world of tupperware sales. Homer even gets in on the action, proving he’s come a long way from wanting his beer cold, his TV loud, and his homosexuals flaaaaaaming.
GLOW – “Rosalie” (S02E09)
After sharing a dance sequence during the previous episode—a brilliant recreation of a 1980s GLOW broadcast—romance blossoms between the newest gorgeous lady of wrestling Yolanda (Shakira Barrera), an out and outspoken stripper, and her roommate, the more reserved Arthie (Sunita Mani), who’s just beginning to come into her sexuality. Just as the two decide to continue living together, Bash learns that his best friend (and maybe more) Florian has died from AIDS complications, which sends Bash spiraling.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – “Witch Academy” (S01E04)
Melissa Joan Hart’s Sabrina Spellman was a wholesome teen, who had more in common with Bewitched’s Samantha Stephens than, say, Satan. Netflix’s adaptation, however, is darker, sexier, and a whole lot gayer—Caroline Rhea’s Aunt Hilda notwithstanding—featuring a host of queer characters and storylines, from Sabrina’s (Kiernan Shipka) gender nonconforming friend Susie (Lachlan Watson) being bullied to her pansexual cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) finding some supernatural love. Ambrose, who’s forbidden from leaving the Spellman home, must astral project in order to meet his future beau and fellow warlock, Luke (Darren Mann). But the longer he stays out of his body, the greater the chance he won’t be able to return to it, adding further pressure to the already stressful enterprise of a first date.
Schitt’s Creek – “Open Mic” (S04E06)
While Catherine O’Hara continues to deliver perhaps the best comedic performance on television as erstwhile daytime TV actress Moira Rose, this season saw her son David (Daniel Levy) taking his first trepidatious steps towards love with his business partner Patrick (Noah Reid). Though the storyline got a bit too twee at times, seeing Patrick serenade David, guitar and all, to “You’re Simply the Best” in front of the titular town during an open mic night struck just the right chord.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – “I’m So Happy for You” (S04E05)
One of the best and queerest shows on TV, Crazy Ex-GF is going out with a bang in its final season, doing what it does best: subverting rom-com tropes with catchy, incredibly witty musical numbers. Literally everyone’s favorite couple, Darryl (Pete Gardner) and White Josh (David Hull), are broken up and now comfortably friends—perhaps too comfortably, as Darryl realizes that their friendship may be keeping Josh from properly moving on. Meanwhile, the entire cast pines away for those two cuckoo kids to get back together, which any other show would gladly make happen, but love is never easy, neat, or simple and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend relishes in its difficulty, its messiness, and its complexities.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – “Kimmy and the Beest!” (S04E05)
If you feel like having a laugh as old as time, just watch Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) yelling at a bunch of kids he’s directing in the off-brand and off-off-off-Broadway school production of Beaudy an’ the Beest. Inevitably, Titus gets carried away trying to live out his own failed school musical dreams since “theater was considered gay…by the Mississippi Board of Education.” But when he ends up sabotaging Hudson (Juwan Crawley), basically a younger version of himself, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) tries to get him to see the errors of his ways before the curtain rises.
One Day at a Time – “Homecoming” (S02E11)
The second season of this little sitcom that could features queer teen Elena’s (Isabella Gomez) first relationship when she couples up with nonbinary homeschool student Syd (Sheridan Pierce). After Syd delivers a delightfully geeky promposal to the homecoming dance set to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” that name-checks everything from bell hooks to Drag Race, Elena tries to impress Syd with all the friends she doesn’t have. Luckily, they’re both very uncool and they bond over their shared awkwardness, in the grand tradition of so many queer kids before and after them.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Game Night” (S05E10)
Detective Rosa Diaz, just like her real-life counterpart Stephanie Beatriz, came out as bisexual this season, which threatened to be this fine sitcom’s final before NBC swooped in and saved it. Good thing, too, since Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez was introduced as Det. Diaz’s potential love interest in the season finale. But this episode makes the list because the usually intensely private Rosa not only comes out to the rest of the Nine-Nine, but to her parents (Danny Trejo and Olga Meridez) as well, corralling Jake (Andy Samberg) into the process—cut to some classic sitcom shenanigans and Jake pretending to be Rosa’s boyfriend. But even when the truth and Rosa come out, her parents have a hard time accepting her, unlike the Nine-Nine, who show up at her door to reinstate the weekly family game night her parents had previously canceled.
BoJack Horseman – “Planned Obsolescence” (S05E03)
The coming-out episode is a cornerstone for many a queer character, but BoJack turns the trope on its ear when the asexual Todd (Aaron Paul) meets his asexual girlfriend Yolanda’s (Natalie Morales) very sexually open family, who insist on the couple making love in their home. Cut to some classic sitcom shenanigans—remember those classic sitcoms that had grandma’s prized lube collection spilling all over the place?—before Yolanda is forced to come out as asexual. Yolanda’s family is cool with her admission and both she and Todd realize that their sneaking around was pointless, but, more importantly, Todd realizes that they shouldn’t be together just because they’re both asexual since that’s the only thing they have in common.
Will & Grace – “Who’s Sorry Now?” (S10E04)
In its seminal 2000 episode “Lows in the Mid-Eighties,” Will & Grace has a flashback to Thanksgiving 1985 when Will (Eric McCormack) was forced to come out to his then-girlfriend Grace (Debra Messing). This season touched on that history, with Will realizing that Grace never apologizes for anything because she still blames him for breaking her heart. Back in the gay, Will had sent her a long letter that Grace never bothered to open. When she does finally read it, she’s devastated that she wasn’t there for Will, prompting one of the most satisfying punchlines in the show’s rebooted format. A weepy Grace, finally ready to apologize to Will 30 years later, takes his hands in hers and says, as sincerely as possible: “You were right. It is why I never say I’m sorry. So I’m going to say it now. [pause] Doesn’t it feel good?” You know what does feel good? That 20 years after it first premiered, Will & Grace can still mine rich emotional territory, and comedic gold, out of its characters.
Vida – “Episode 3” (S01E03)
Emma Hernandez (Mishel Prada) may be one of my favorite new characters on TV: A tough-as-nails businesswoman with an enviable wardrobe who is not afraid to land in jail for throwing hands in the streets. She’s trying to work through the death of her mother, Vida, whom she’s just learned was married to a woman. This complicates things for Emma, who still resents her mother for sending her away as a child for her own burgeoning queer sexuality. Episode three opens with one of the more graphic sex scenes I’ve seen on cable television, as Emma hooks up with a nonbinary paramour she is quick to leave, lest anyone be in danger of catching feelings—Emma’s already in denial over her feelings for a love interest from her past. Emma confides in her estranged hipster sister Lyn (Melissa Barrera), who is, unsurprisingly, supportive of how Emma identifies, but what makes this episode truly remarkable is the way it deals with grief—particularly, the grief Eddy (Ser Anzoategui) experiences over Vida. So much of queer television is about youth and coming-out—it’s refreshing, if not heartbreaking, to see a storyline about coping with the death of a partner and learning to live without them.
Killing Eve – “God, I’m Tired” (S01E08)
Sandra Oh deserved the plaudits she received for the BBC America thriller developed by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Though billed as a drama, Killing Eve felt more like a dark comedy, with an off-kilter humor that defined Fleabag and belies some of Eve’s more violent moments. The show centers on the relationship between Oh’s Eve Polastri, an MI5 officer with a strange affinity for serial killers, and Jodie Comer’s Villanelle, a psychopathic assassin who becomes obsessed with Eve. Rather, Villanelle and Eve become obsessed with each other. Villanelle is clearly queer—she’s got a thing for brunettes with voluminous hair so Eve is very much her type (honestly, Sandra Oh’s hair alone deserves all the awards)—but the show resists using her queerness as a weapon against Eve to seduce and corrupt her. What develops is an interesting game of cat and mouse wherein Eve, who is ostensibly straight, is both predator and prey. In the season finale, Eve finally manages to outwit Villanelle, or at least so it seems, as the two women curl into each other’s bodies, admitting their mutual attraction…only for Eve to use the intimacy to stab Villanelle in the abdomen. Was it all a rouse, or does Eve truly have feelings for the assassin? Well, Villanelle escapes before Eve can answer those questions for herself, leaving us all breathlessly waiting for season two next year.
Big Mouth – “Guy Town” (S02E07)
Big Mouth’s resident mean gay Matthew (Andrew Rannells) meets his match in the catty and kimono’d older kween (noted legend Harvey Fierstein) living in Guy Town, a sad-sack bachelor community with a nevertheless catchy theme song. The two exchange some of the most withering burns to come out of television in 2018, including this gem from Matthew: “I’m sorry, but I don’t want a flyer for your cabaret show. I’m busy at noon on a Thursday.” But a meme was born with the retort: “Listen, Baby Billy Eichner, being young, gay, and mean is not a personality.” This “gay duel” leads Matthew, who heretofore was only used for color commentary, to do some introspection and he decides to try to be less mean, which in turn leads to him making out with budding bisexual Jay (Jason Matzoukas) later in the season.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Mac Finds His Pride” (S13E10)
The demented offspring of Seinfeld, It’s Always Sunny ended on an unprecedented dramatic note in this episode that finally gives Mac (Rob McElhenney) some closure with his father (Gregory Scott Cummins). Through an elaborate dance sequence, Mac relates his conflicting feelings about his faith and sexuality, providing some surprising character growth along with the pleasure of Mac’s newly ripped physique being used for more than just jokes and/or eye candy.
Dear White People – “Chapter III” (S02E03)
Lionel (DeRon Horton) tries to get in where he fits in during Pride Night at Winchester University, in an episode that adeptly depicts the hopelessness and awkwardness of trying to find community, and a date, as a young gay in college, while exploring the myriad ways in which queerness manifests itself in an academic setting. Throughout his evening, his crush Silvio (D.J. Blickenstaff) leads him through several circles of gay hell, replete with Real Housewives references Lionel doesn’t get: he meets the literati gays, where he gets rejected by a fellow black kween who, it turns out, is not “into other black guys,” then debates the shades of sexual racism; then he meets the trio of woke black kweens (Tre Hall, Todrick Hall, and Kid Fury) who hang out with HBIC Sam White (Logan Brown) and like her, are both fierce and intimidating AF; finally, among the musical kweens, he meets a kindred spirit in Wesley (Rudy Martinez), and they bond over being marginalized by the community they call their own. The night ends with Lionel finally getting over his crush on Silvio (which is for the best considering who he discovers Silvio really is) and finding that the door closing on Silvio led to a window opening on a romance with Wesley.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – “A Random Killing” (S01E03)
In truth, nearly any episode could’ve made it onto this list, but the third episode (besides being perhaps the best overall) was the first to fully and most artfully demonstrate what—and who—the limited series was truly about. Judith Light runs away with the episode as Marilyn Miglin whose husband, Lee (Mike Farrell) is brutally murdered by Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). Refusing to believe the truth about her husband, that he lived a double life as a homosexual, she insists his murder was random—though the true random killing takes place later when Cunanan murders an innocent caretaker to steal his pick-up truck. The whole thesis of this edition of ACS is predicated on Cunanan being able to get away with these murders because his victims were gay men—and therefore of little consequence—but by using Gianni Versace (Édgar Ramirez) as an entrypoint, Ryan Murphy and co. were able to paint a picture of the causes and consequences of homophobia and what it meant, and what it continues to mean, to be queer in America.
Pose – “Mother of the Year” (S01E08)
Everything about Pose felt triumphant. From a cast full of breakout performances, to its historic level of queer representation both in front of and behind the camera, to its near-perfect choice in music episode to episode—but its main triumph was the lack of tragedy. Too often when discussing the lives of trans and queer folks of color, the media focuses on the tragedy, as if living is nothing but a sad, empty prelude to an inevitably early and violent death. But Pose showed those lives with unflinching style, wit, and panache and, not for nothing, with a budget to match. I’m confident Elektra Abundance’s (Dominique Jackson) wardrobe must have been the downpayment on a house. A nice house. “Mother of the Year” probably isn’t even the best episode of Pose—episode two, “Access,” and episode three, “Giving and Receiving,” immediately come to mind, while Billy Porter and Mj Rodriguez belting “Home” at each other in episode six, “Love Is the Message,” was a highlight of my 2018, and indeed, life—but it best encapsulates the show’s humor, its pathos, its giddy sense of joy, and yes, its spirit of triumph more than any other.