TV

“Gayest Episode Ever” Is Coming for Television’s Problematic Past

"It's been a long journey of explaining, 'Sure, you can make that joke, but you don’t have to.'"

As queer people, binge-watching shows like The Golden Girls is a veritable rite of passage. But this tradition, like any other that asks us to delve into our collective cultural past, can be a little daunting. Drew Mackie and Glen Lakin’s Gayest Episode Ever is here to help.

Three seasons into their podcasting adventure, the L.A.-based duo is just diving into the queer television canon. Pulling from shows like The Facts of Life or That ’70s Show, each episode of the podcast covers a different installment of classic (and sometimes contemporary) TV that deals with queer themes. Lakin, writer of the Sundance hit Being Frank, and Mackie, a journalist, researcher, and co-founder of the L.A.-based podcast network TableCakes, have been putting their sharp critical skills to fantastic use in the podcast’s current season, which tackles everything from TV’s first gay joke on I Love Lucy to the agonies and ecstasies of Hank Hill’s relationship to queerness.

Quarantine is the perfect time to get reacquainted with some of the most questionable queer arcs in TV history, and with Lakin and Mackie as your guides, you’ll have no trouble falling into a binge cycle.

Courtesy of Drew Mackie and Glen Lakin
Drew Mackie (L) and Glen Lakin.

When you first started the podcast, you said it might just be a limited series. What inspired you to keep the show going?

Drew Mackie: I was doing a different podcast (You Have to Watch This Movie), and Glen was the guest. We already had this rapport because we’re friends in life, and we talk about [pop culture and movies] anyway. It took some convincing for Glen to agree to do it in the first place.

Glen Lakin: The agreement was I would never have to listen to it—so like any tech issues, anything that’s dealing with the podcast actually living in the world. I was like, “I don’t want to hear my own voice. I talk to myself enough.” We did a second season, and then the third season just sort of happened, and then quarantine happened. There is no reason to not do it now, and it was sort of like the only scheduled activity that either of us had for a bit. I think it became important, just to mark time passing.

Mackie: I think we’re 30 episodes into the current season.

The recent episode on Superstore felt especially timely. What made you decide to start covering current shows?

Mackie: There’s no logic or order to our flow, but thank you for assuming that we planned it out. It’s all very scattershot.

Lakin: [The decision to do] more contemporary stuff actually came from like fan feedback. Every so often we’ll ask what they want covered, and patrons will tell us. The That ’70s Show episode was a suggestion from our patrons. We have no reason not to do modern shows, especially when modern sitcoms still borrow from the classic structure. It’s interesting to see how they can gloss over some of the things that the older sitcoms have done wrong, like avoiding the classic “gasp!” reaction when someone comes out.

You come from different but similar backgrounds within the entertainment industry. Is there anything you ended up disagreeing on or clashing over?

Mackie: It depends on the show. Glen has a close relationship with Murphy Brown, for example. I didn’t have CBS growing up, so I simply have no relationship to that show. Also, Glen often approaches the discussion from a screenwriter angle whereas I approach it from a journalist and researcher angle, which works pretty well. And since we are cis white gay men in our 30s living in Los Angeles, that brings a very specific perspective to it to begin with, so we have to bring in guests. For example, the episode going live on Patreon this week is our first [trans-focused] episode, and we had a trans guest come in to talk about Just Shoot Me!, which is something that both loved when we were younger, but there’s no way we could talk about this episode without bringing in a trans perspective.

Lakin: It’s also just like—life happens. Black Lives Matter happened, and we recognized that we can talk about these shows from the structural, clinical angle, but we’re aware that there are other viewpoints that are missing.

How do you feel queer representation on TV has changed in the last 10 years?

Mackie: Having just recorded the Just Shoot Me! episode, I think we were both surprised how, even in the year 2000, it got a lot of things wrong. There’s been 20 years of advancements in how we discussed transition, and it really showed, because there were a lot of moments like, “Oh, that kind of hurt a little bit, to hear a character I like make that joke.” The thing is, though, there is an episode of The Jeffersons. They do a very similar trans arc where it’s like, “Hey, my old friend’s in town, and she’s trans and that’s a surprise!” In some respects, they do a better job. But to do that episode properly, we had to bring in Black trans guests and be like, “Is my assumption correct?” Like, “How do you think they’re doing?” And then do a little reckoning on what we’re assuming and what we’re not seeing.

Lakin: I think what was interesting with the Just Shoot Me! episode is that you get hints that they knew the jokes they were making were wrong and that their point of view is incorrect. And there’s this sense of, “Fuck it, we’re gonna make the joke anyway.” With comedy, it’s been a long journey of explaining, “Sure, you can make that joke, but you don’t have to.”

Are there any shows or episodes that were too offensive or painful to tackle?

Mackie: During quarantine, I’ve really become taken with this old sitcom called It’s a Living. (Ed. note: It’s a Living airs regularly on Logo.) It’s about waitresses working at the revolving restaurant at the top of the Bonaventure hotel. There’s this episode called “Gender Gap” where the one male character on the show becomes attracted to a woman, and the waitresses find out that that woman is trans. And they laugh so meanly, as if it’s a ridiculous situation for a straight man to be attracted to a trans woman! It’s these characters that I’ve really come to like, and it’s so awful and mean that I want to talk about it someday, but I also don’t want to make a trans person sit through it.

Lakin: Comedy doesn’t kill its queer characters, which is nice. But finding endings to the storylines that aren’t tragic can be hard. We have discussed doing hour-long shows, and that would be more tragic storylines. We have to prepare ourselves for that.

Mackie: In the past, too, TV was seen as light, dismissive fare, kind of in the way that horror movies are looked over as well, even though they address a lot of societal issues that you can’t really cover in a drama.

Finally, to address the fan theories: You two are roommates, but you’re not falling in love during quarantine, correct?

Lakin: We’re not. But people are welcome to write whatever fan-fiction they want about us.

Challenge accepted.

Stream Gayest Episode Ever on your podcast platform of choice.

Henry Giardina is a writer living in Los Angeles.
@punkgroucho