Pity the poor gay American television viewer. Subjected to
barely there gay characters, characters who don’t kiss for months at a time,
not to mention entire broadcast networks without a single regularly occurring gay character
to be found, it is no wonder gay viewers get frustrated.
In fact, if it weren’t for ABC’s Brothers & Sisters and CBS’ As the World Turns, it’s not an
exaggeration to say that scripted television produced for American audiences
would be a barren wasteland of rarely seen minor secondary characters (Oscar on
The Office), don’t blink or you’ll
miss them gay relationships (Calvin and Michael on Greek, Marc and Cliff on Ugly
Betty) and witty assistants who get a few lines per episode and the very occasional secondary storyline (Lloyd on Entourage).
Where is a gay viewer who wants to see decent scripted gay
characters to go? They might start by checking out what European television has
to offer. Turns out the landscape is shockingly different when one crosses the Atlantic.
What is so unusual when it comes to gay programming from England, Germany,
Spain, France and
elsewhere? Pretty much everything. Curse words aren’t bleeped out. Nudity is
relatively commonplace. And gay characters abound. Real gay characters who have relationships that involve both
romance and sex, and storylines that aren’t just about coming out and getting
For those viewers who haven’t yet discovered these European
shows, we offer this handy guide to each show – plus we rate them on a scale
from 1 to 10 for romance, originality, and, of course, hotness.
Forbidden Love (Verbotene Liebe)
What’s it about?
Airing since 1995, this early evening German soap opera focuses on the lives
and loves of a variety of characters living in Düsseldorf and Cologne.
Who is gay in it?
Currently, the gay characters include Oliver Sabel (Jo Weil) who is actually
bisexual. Olli (as he is more commonly known) originally joined the show in 1999,
but his character was written out when Weil joined the cast of Medicopter 117.
He then rejoined the show in 2007.
Christian Mann (Thore Schölermann) made his debut in 2006 as
the son of Wolfgang Mann, whom Christian went to prison to protect. Christian
was involved with Coco when Olli first reappeared and initially it seemed as if
Olli was interested in Coco. However, it’s Christian to whom Olli is actually
Thore Schölermann (left) and Jo Weil
What is the
storyline? After first fighting his attraction to Olli, the previously
heterosexual Christian finally admits he is in love with Olli and the two
became a couple. Since then, they have had to keep their relationship a secret
due to Christian’s boxing career. However, after Christian won his first big
fight, he publicly declared his love for Olli.
What works? The
best thing about Forbidden Love are
the performances by Weil and Schölermann who bring a believable sweetness to
their storyline. The actors frequently add little touches to their performances
– nuzzles, love nips, etc – that do not go unnoticed nor unappreciated by fans.
What is the
outlook? Forbidden Love is known
for breaking up their couples so viewers shouldn’t expect a happy ever after for Ollian (as fans frequently refer to the couple). Of course, we can always hope!
What’s it about? Aimed at a younger audience, this UK soap is centered on
Hollyoaks Community College. While the characters are usually in their late
teens and early twenties, the cast currently includes fifty characters covering
a wide range of ages.
Who is gay in it? The most important
gay character is John Paul McQueen (James Sutton) who first joined the show in
2006. He subsequently fell in love with best mate Craig Dean (Guy Burnet). That
relationship ended in 2007 when Burnet exited the show and John Paul is
currently engaged to a former Catholic priest, Kieron Hobbs (Jake Hendriks). However, Craig is slated to return shortly.
James Sutton with Guy Burnett (left), Sutton with Jake Hendriks
What is the storyline? John Paul is
a sweet if brash young man who is slowly growing into himself. Despite deeply
caring for his mother, he repeatedly hurts her, the latest example being his
clandestine relationship with Father Kieron. However, John Paul seems to
finally be on the verge of happiness with his recent engagement to Kieron.
What works? Both the writing and
acting make Hollyoaks a standout
show when it comes to gay representation on television. Despite the show’s
large cast, John Paul gets a goodly amount of screen time and his character is
neither stereotypical nor are his storylines cliché. Well, at least not for a
soap opera. But it is the acting of Sutton that truly makes this one of
the best gay characters on TV.
What is the outlook? With both
Sutton and Hendriks slated to leave the show, fans are unsure of how John
Paul’s storyline will wrap up.
The Blue Ones (Les Bleus)
What’s it about? A
group of rookie French police officers, one of whom happens to be gay, try to
prove themselves to their more seasoned superiors.
Who is gay in it? Nicolas Gob plays rookie cop Kévin, who falls in love
with fellow cop Yann, played by Mathieu Delarive.
Nicolas Gob (left) and Mathieu Delarive
What is the storyline? During his rookie year as a cop in Paris, Kévin falls for Yann, a sexy but aloof
fellow detective. The show follows their relationship, as well as Kévin’s
relationship with his mother, co-workers, and boss.
What works? American television has featured a few gay cops and detectives
on police dramas including Kyle Secor on Homicide:
Life on the Street as the bisexual Tim Bayliss, and Julien Lowe (Michael Jace)
on The Shield, but only Keith Charles
(Mathew St. Patrick) on Six Feet Under
comes close to being as original and provocative as is Kévin on Les Bleus. As played by Gob, Kévin is
very much a cop’s cop – smart, tough, physical – but he’s also sensitive and,
best of all, his sexuality isn’t much of an issue with himself or his co-workers. His
storyline is more than just his being gay, encompassing his relationship with
his mother and boss, as well as commitment-shy Yann. And this being French
television, gay kisses and intimacy aren’t a big deal.
What is the outlook? Life as a cop (or at least a cop on television) is a
risky business and Kévin doesn’t escape his rookie year unscathed physically or
The show’s first season did well and a second is reportedly in the
What’s it about? First airing in 1960, this UK drama tells the stories of
the residents of the street for which the show is named.
Who is gay in it? Coronation Street
didn’t add its first gay character until Todd Grimshaw (Bruno Langley) joined
the show in 2000. However, his character didn’t come out until a number of
years later and then subsequently left in 2007.
Bruno Langley w/ Adam Rickitt (left) & Langley (right)
Current gay characters include Sean Tully (Antony Cotton), his
partner Marcus Dent (Charlie Condou) and Ted Page (Michael Byrne).
Clockwise from top left: Antony Cotton, Micahel Byne, Charlie Condou,
What is the storyline? Sean recently found himself in a conflict with the
woman to whom he donated sperm, as he wanted to act as the child’s father.
However, the child’s mother and current boyfriend secretly moved away with the
infant. Sean’s relationship with Marcus also appears to be in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, Ted Page (Michael Byrne) joined the show in April of this year as
the long lost father of Gail Platt. Ted’s partner of twenty years recently died
and Ted is now getting to know the daughter, grandchildren and great
grandchildren he didn’t know he had.
What works? While the show has been gay-inclusive over the past several
years, the gay characters haven’t been exactly likable. Some find Sean to be
rather stereotypical, but older gay men such as Todd aren’t frequently seen on
television and his addition is definitely refreshing.
What is the outlook? So far Ted is
mostly a minor character and the outlook for Sean and Marcus’ relationship is
All that Matters
(Alles Was Zählt)
What’s it about? Originally
developed as a telenovela style show, Alles
was Zählt premiered as a
long-running traditional soap in 2006. Originally focusing on the dream of
Diana Sommer to become a successful figure skater striving to be with the love
of her life, the show quickly began adding additional storylines. AWZ is noted for its self-conscious
humor and fast editing.
Who is gay in it? Roman Wild
(Dennis Grabosch) started as a relatively minor character in episode 2.
He had a one-night stand with a trainer early in the series, but then hid his
homosexuality to protect his career. He was publicly outed in a newspaper
article after he kissed his friend Deniz Öztürk (Igor Dolgatschew). Deniz
clearly states he is gay during his relationship with Roman, but after
he starts seeing Vanessa, he does a Steve Carrington and makes contradicting
statements making his character’s sexuality rather confused (in his defense, he is supposed to be
Igor Dolgatschew (left) and Dennis Grabosch
What is the storyline? After a newspaper publishes a picture of an
intoxicated Roman kissing Deniz, both their worlds are turned upside down.
Thugs from Deniz’ ice hockey team gay-bash Roman, who has developed feelings
for Deniz. Deniz, meanwhile, is unsure of his sexuality. After much struggling,
he comes out and the two become a couple. All goes well until Deniz hangs out
more with his best friend Vanessa.
What works? By soap standards, the homophobic attack on Roman, and Deniz’
subsequent coming out, were handled extremely well. Most viewers agree that this is the pairing with the best chemistry on the show thus far. The actor
portraying Roman, Dennis Grabosch, is openly gay and seems to have had a
certain amount of influence on the early parts of the storyline. Currently what
works best is the portrayal of Roman’s friendship with his straight best
friend, Ingo Zadek, who refers to Roman as his ’Hase’ (Honey Bunny) and is not
shy about exchanging PDAs with him.
What is the outlook? There’s always something new around the corner, but
right now AWZ seems to have put Deniz and Roman on the backburner.
What’s it about? Set
in the East End London neighborhood of Albert Square, this is another UK drama following
the lives of a diverse group of characters.
Who is gay in it? Despite
having a long history of gay characters – including the first ever gay kiss on
UK television – it had been since 2005 that EastEnders, one of the most popular
British shows, had featured a gay storyline. Currently the only gay character
is Christian Clarke (John Partridge), although teenager Steven Beale (Aaron
Sidwell) was revealed as bisexual shortly before his character exited the show
Aaron Sidwell (left) and John Partridge
What is the storyline? Confused about his sexuality, Steven kissed the
considerably older Christian, leading to much drama. Christian tried to force
the conflicted teen to come to terms with his sexuality by repeatedly flirting
with him and trying to get him to discuss it. Partridge, himself gay, had
expressed some concerns that his much older character might be seen as predatory, but
feels the producers didn’t play it that way. He’s also pleased that his
character “weaves in and out of lots of characters’ stories” giving him plenty
What works? If EastEnders hadn’t had a variety of gay characters over the years,
having a violent, mentally ill, bisexual teenager involved with an older man
might be problematic. However, the show has presented a variety of gay
characters and the introduction of Christian has been praised as “a realistic
portrayal of a slightly older gay man” by PinkNews, and Gareth McLean of The Guardian stated Christian “brings EastEnders
a step closer to more accurately representing London. ”
What is the outlook? Steven left the
show, but the currently single Christian appears regularly.
What’s it about? Tagged the French Sex
and the City despite only superficial similarities, this dramedy is about
Clara Sheller, a young Parisian woman and Jean-Philippe, her closeted gay best
friend. Comparisons have also been made to Will
& Grace, but Clara Sheller is
definitely not just a French sitcom.
Who is gay in it? Thirty-something
Jean-Philippe (Frédéric Diefenthal), commonly referred to as JP, is out to
himself and to Clara (Mélanie Doutey), but not to his friends and family. A
closeted gay man living in Paris in 2005 could feel rather anachronistic in
2008, but Diefenthal imbues the character with a sweet believability as a man
using his gayness as a reason to keep the world at arm’s length.
Mélanie Doutey (left) and Frédéric Diefenthal
What is the storyline? At the start
of the series, JP is content to let everyone believe he is involved with Clara
who reluctantly acts as his beard. But when JP befriends his boss’ son (whom
everyone mistakenly believes is gay), JP finally starts down the road to coming
out and finding love.
What works? Since the show is called
Clara Sheller, it isn’t surprising
that it focuses more on Clara’s storyline than JP’s. But in the first season we
not only see JP start to explore life as a gay man, but also fall in love for
the first time. And even though he’s in his 30’s, his first time being in love
prompts him to behave more like a teenager than an adult, something to which
many gay men can relate.
Frédéric Diefenthal w/ Cyril Descours (left) & Diefenthal (right)
What is the outlook? The show only
aired one six-episode season back in 2005, but after a three-year break it
returns this September with two additional “seasons” in the works (European TV
operates differently than US television with much shorter seasons and extended
breaks). Alas, all of the parts have been recast and JP will now be played by
Patrick Mille. The show has reportedly been picked up for a U.S. remake that
would bring a welcome addition to the ranks of gay characters on American television.
What’s it about?
Set in the fictional village of Emmerdale located in West Yorkshire, England,
the soap opera is quite similar to EastEnders
and Coronation Street as it
follows the lives and loves of its local citizens.
Who is gay in it?
The show did have two gay characters, Paul Lambert (Matthew Bose) and Jonny Foster
(Richard Grieve), as well as the bisexual Grayson Sinclair (Christopher
Villiers). However, recent developments have apparently left Paul as the only
gay in the village.
Mathew Bose (left) & Richard Grieve
What is the
storyline? Paul and Jonny had a civil partnership only last March. However,
Jonny recently left Emmerdale after losing trust in Paul due to an earlier
affair with Grayson. Furious over Grayson’s role in ending his relationship,
Paul physically assaulted Grayson, but when no one in the village was willing
to testify to having seen Paul attack Grayson, the ostracized home wrecker
elected to leave Emmerdale.
Villiers (left) and Bose
What works? The out Bose reportedly
disapproved of his character’s sleeping with Grayson thereby wrecking his
relationship with Jonny. Bose, as well as many viewers, apparently believed
such behavior was atypical of the popular character. And while it is certainly true
that conflict is drama, it is unfortunate that yet another bisexual character was portrayed as a conniving, manipulative liar.
What is the outlook? Paul has
appeared only sporadically since his break up with Jonny, including only one
appearance in June and two in July. Unless the show’s writers give Paul
something to do, the character could disappear entirely.
El Cor de la Ciutat (The Heart of the City)
What’s it about? A Spanish version
of Coronation Street set in
Who is gay in it? High school students Max (Bernat Quintana) and Enric (Jordi
Parés) are teenage boyfriends in an on-again/off-again relationship. Edu (Albert
Riballo) is an older gay man with a partner and is friends with the teens.
Other gay characters also appear.
Bernat Quintana (left) and Jordi
What is the storyline? After coming
out to his initially homophobic stepfather, Max goes after Enric, the guy of
his dreams. The two eventually become boyfriends, though the relationship is
problematic especially when they decide to make it open.
What works? The show deals frankly
with teen sexuality as Max and Enric kiss frequently and are intimate. However,
their open relationship leads to a great deal of angst and mistrust as the boys
hook up with other people.
What is the outlook? Max and Enric
broke up last December. Max is still on the show.
If there’s one thing all of these shows have in common, it’s
a willingness to truly and fully explore all aspects of these characters, not
just how being gay relates to their sexuality. So often in American shows, gay
characters are treated like conversation pieces, to be brought out and
displayed when there’s a lull in the action, or in service to the straight
characters and their more well-rounded lives. The gay token or eunuch has been
a mainstay in American entertainment for decades, and it’s only recently that
U.S. network TV has taken small steps to present a more realistic vision of gay
life. Viewers who waited months for Luke and Noah to kiss on As the World Turns need only look across
the pond for an embarrassing reminder that the U.S. still has far to go before
it can join the grown-ups.
AfterElton.com writer’s Wolfi and Snicks contributed to this article.