Mark Indelicato (left) with Ugly Betty Boyfriend Austin (Ryan McGinnis)
My first question is: what the hell took the Disney Channel so long in greenlighting a High School Musical-like TV series? With the break-out success of Glee, they’re surely kicking themselves that they didn’t get Madison High, the pilot of which is currently being produced, on the air much sooner.
My second question is: is Ugly Betty’s Mark Indelicato, who has joined the cast as drama club president Harvey Flynn, going to be the Disney Channel’s first fully out scripted gay character?
High School Musical famously included the character of Ryan, who had many stereotypically “gay” qualities, including good grooming and a constantly changing selection of fashionable chapeaus, and who many viewers interpreted to be gay. But his sexuality was never confirmed in any of the movies (although it definitely was in Disney’s touring stage production).
Based on Madison High’s casting “sides,” which are portions of scripts released for casting purposes (and are, of course, always subject to revision before actual production), we know that Madison High’s Harvey is a lot like Ryan in that he seems stereotypically gay: a total theater geek with an impressive vocabulary who is described as “a fastidious kid with an imperious manner. Harvey seems perpetually put upon, as if the world is conspiring … not destroy him [sic] but to annoy him.”
There’s no explicit indication in the script that Harvey is gay. But while Disney Channel president Gary Marsh has insisted in several interviews with AfterElton.com that “we don’t deal with sexuality on the Disney
Channel,” the fact is that the sexualities of most of the show’s main straight characters are quickly clearly identified, as much of the plot of the pilot revolves around their various opposite sex attractions to each other.
Harvey? Not so much. There is no indication in the pilot that he has romantic feelings for or attraction to anyone. Indeed, when one of the male characters mentions that he’s doing theater to meet a particular girl, Harvey merely sighs. Later, he refers to all the “ridiculous crushes” that the characters have on each other.
So why do I think that he’ll eventually end up an out gay character? It’s not just reading the tea-leaves of the script itself. It’s also the fact that the character is being played by Mark Indelicato, who famously played a gay teen on Ugly Betty.
But it’s mostly because the world is so rapidly changing. Since we wrote an article late last year examining the issue of the dearth of gay characters on “tween” and younger teen channels, a gay dad has popped up in an ongoing storyline on TeenNick’s Gigantic.
Maybe Harvey isn’t gay (and maybe the show won’t even end up on the air at all — it’s only in the “pilot” stage at this point, although it’s reportedly on the development “fast-track”).
And then there’s also the completely separate issue of the fact that Harvey is very much a gay stereotype: he’d be right at home with other gay TV teens like Kurt on Glee, Ryan in High School Musical, Justin on Ugly Betty, and another recent teen character Indelicato played on Hot in Cleveland.
But Disney isn’t stupid, nor are they unaware of rapidly shifting attitudes on gay issues (or the criticism they’ve received on this issue from media outlets like EW and, well, us). If they truly wanted this issue to go away, I doubt they’d be offering up yet another “coded” gay character, which is sure to raise the “gay characters on the Disney Channel” issue over and over again. At the height of High School Musical mania, the “Ryan is gay” meme was deafening — and that was back in 2007.
The fact that Harvey exists at all makes me think that the producers, and the Disney Channel, are at least giving themselves the option to finally go where the channel has never gone before.