It hasn’t been too long since the days when the only gay characters portrayed on TV needed to possess Jack McFarland levels of swish. The idea of two men dating who weren’t also living double lives as Cher impersonators must have seemed farfetched in the minds of network execs. Luckily, the past decade or so has seen a diversification in gay TV characters. Here are five landmark roles that busted stereotypes and showed TV audiences that gay men can be more than just sassy sidekicks.
Max from Happy Endings
Max, played by Adam Pally, on Happy Endings is definitely not Jack McFarland. Max watches football and eats too much pizza and is generally a mess of a human being. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s good for America that they have an example of a gay man who isn’t as well-maintained and buffed as, say, Neil Patrick Harris. Max definitely isn’t a character “who just happens to be gay” either. Throughout Happy Endings’ three seasons, Max gets to date, flirt, and hook up as much as his straight co-stars. (And we’re jealous because his love interests included Max Greenfield and James Wolk.) Happy Endings even did an episode in which Max explored his place among the bear/cub/otter taxonomy — and eventually decided he was an ’Optimistic Red Velvet Walrus”. Our Max is messy, scruffy, ridiculously self-involved, and able to be seen on Logo starting August 30th!
Captain Ray Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Even in 2014, the idea that a major network would feature an openly gay African American man as a police captain in a workplace sitcom is a bit revolutionary. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Captain Ray Holt is a robotic, efficient, intimidating boss who’s only real gay tell is his husband — and his obsession with Candy Crush knock-off, Kwazy Kupcakes. Andre Braugher has received attention (and an Emmy nomination) for his deadpan, “straight” take on Holt, but go re-watch the past season on B99 and tell me there’s not the faintest hint of Andrew Leon Talley in Andre Braugher’s performance.
Omar from The Wire
Omar Little was The Wire’s black sheep — and President Obama’s favorite TV character of all time. As a gay man growing up on the streets of Maryland, Omar got a first-hand look at the homophobia rampant in the world of Baltimore drug dealers. But instead of hiding his sexuality (which would have been easier for him than most) and assimilating into a world of crime, Omar chose to flaunt his gayness.
We spoke with actor Michael K. Williams back in 2008, just after the character was offed on the show. We asked him how his groundbreaking character should be remembered and here’s what he had to say:
“At the end of the day, ten, twenty years from now, when you think back and look at The Wire and think of Omar, the last thing you’re going to remember him for is who he slept with. That’s the way it should be in real life. Your sexual orientation is such a small part of your personal life. It doesn’t make up who you are as a human being, as an individual, or what your legacy will be remembered for, or what they write on your tombstone.
’Here lies Omar Little, an openly gay homothug.’ That’s not gonna read on his tomb or anybody’s for that matter. ”
Danny from Teen Wolf
Danny is a bittesweet selection for this round-up — mostly because he appears to have fallen off the face of the Earth these days– or at least banished from Beacon Hills for the fifth season of Teen Wolf. That’s too bad, because when he was introduced in 2011 he was a true rarity– an athletic, well-adjusted gay kid, no questions asked, no coming out story. Seemingly unaware of the supernatural shenanigans going on around him, Danny spent the first two seasons of Teen Wolf kicking around as jock eye-candy until the introduction of Ethan (Charlie Carver), his alpha-wolf boyfriend. The shipping for “Dethan” last season was so loud on social media that it encouraged me to finally check out the show.
Okay, maybe Keahu Kahuanui’s abs also had something to do with it.
Zero from Hit the Floor
Hit the Floor is a VH1 show about cheerleaders and basketball with a hint of gay intrigue, but, to be honest, who cares about cheerleaders and basketball? The main reason to watch is for Adam Senn’s performance as manipulative, closeted basketball player Zero. (It helps that the guy bears a strong resemblance to David Beckham.) Toward the end of season one, Zero began hooking up with his agent, Jude (equally sexy Brent Antonello), and 10% of the population got a new reason to check out the show. Unlike the other characters on this list, Zero is still hiding his sexuality, but it’s clear where Hit the Floor is headed. Here’s hoping this show ditches the drama-plagued cheerleaders and just shows Zero and Jude going at it — or even just Zero taking his kit off in a loop.