Before we jump into a breakdown of this year’s gay television (starting with a hotly debatable topic, because why not), I want to point out that the task of simply assembling a list of the shows that featured gay characters, gay people, or coverage of gay issues in the past year was a massive one – and that’s a good thing. Gay visibility is no longer a few lone dots on the horizon: we’re living in a time where openly, awesomely gay people are popping up in everything from kids’ programs to sports shows to ads for graham crackers. The excellence of this should not be understated.
However, gaining a place at the table does present its share of complications, and one of them is our trend of the year…
Gay TV Trend of the Year: Queerbaiting
Queerbaiting – the act of “queering up” an otherwise straight show in an attempt to attract a gay audience – was everywhere this year. And while it could be seen as progress that shows are becoming comfortable enough to use gay content as a carrot to dangle in front of curious viewers, it can also have the whiff of desperation. Yes, Franklin and/or Bash (we never figured out which was which), we’re talking to you.
In the case of The Walking Dead’s crossbow-wielding and perpetually single Daryl Dixon, a fanfic-primed, off-the-cuff comment from the show’s creator regarding Dixon’s ambiguous sexuality was allowed to spin a bit out of control (the show has since confirmed that Dixon is not, in fact, a gay homosexual). In the case of Supernatural, the fan-created romance between Dean Winchester and angel Castiel has not just been embraced by the show – the show is actually perpetuating a nonexistent gay relationship (and commenting on it in the show’s longstanding self-aware way), which many viewers found irritating. The hugely popular Sherlock could be accused of doing the same thing, though in a slightly classier fashion. Because the characters have accents.
A bright spot is Kingdom, the DirectTV family drama starring Nick Jonas as an aspiring mixed martial arts fighter. Early on in the show’s promotion, Jonas starting actively courting a gay audience, to the confusion of many. Then came the vague promises by the folks behind the show that his character would be “exploring his sexuality,” though his sexual antics on screen were strictly of the straight variety. But in the season’s final few episodes the show made good on its promise, and it was made undoubtedly obvious that Jonas’s character is gay and struggling with it. The people behind the show clearly wanted to get across early on that their story was inclusive without spoiling a major character arc, which is a tricky place to be in, admittedly – but after past debacles like Da Vinci’s Demons in our rearview, many of us are on high alert for empty promises that end in disappointment. Let’s hope that if the queerbaiting trend continues, it is done by shows who aren’t afraid to put their money where their mouths are.
Runner-Up Trend: Gay-Inclusive Commercials
Major retailers have gradually become more willing to feature gay people in their advertising. Kindle, GAP, Orbitz, and more were at the forefront, and this year saw a boom in same-sex couples appearing in mainstream ads. The Honey Maid ad above featuring a same-sex couple ignited a firestorm of conservative backlash that the company handled with grace and wit. An Android ad featuring a gay marriage proposal, a Chevy ad with a gay wedding that ran during the Sochi Olympic opening ceremonies (a bold statement against Russia’s anti-LGBT laws) and a DirecTV ad with a football-loving gay couple were also standouts. Keep it coming, folks – hell, we may actually buy your products!
10 Gayest TV Moments of the Year
10. The Mass Wedding at The Grammys
Was it forced and a little tacky? Well, it was the Grammys. But when an LGBT-inclusive mass wedding was staged as a tie-in to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ award-sweeping “Same Love” (the unofficial marriage equality anthem, like it or not), a political statement the likes of which is all-too-seldom seen at this kind of industry kudo-fest was made loud and clear. Having noted heterosexual allies Madonna and… uh… Queen Latifah… on hand only served to make the moment all the more surreal.
9. Neil Patrick Harris Tears Down The Tony Awards
NPH had a good year, yo. From Gone Girl to his Choose-Your-Own-Adventure autobiography to signing the deal for his own variety show (coming in 2015), he was firing on all cylinders. But the undisputed crown jewel for entertainment’s gay It Bro in 2014 was his Tony-winning Broadway run in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. His performance at the Tony ceremony, in which he mounted an amused Sting , licked Samuel L. Jackson’s trademark specs and kissed his real-life hubby David Burtka while flawlessly performing a number from the show, was his well-deserved victory lapdance. (Granted, the Tonys are as gay as NPH riding a unicorn already, but let us have this one.)
8. Absolutely Everything About Peter Pan Live!
What could have been a by-the-numbers live musical (Sound of Music Live!, anyone? No? K.) was instead one of the most legitimately subversive pieces of televised entertainment all year. Pirate kick-lines? Check. A central romance between two female actors? Check. A gym-jacked Smee in a vesty pantsuit? I think we’re done here.
7. Hit the Floor
Who knew that VH-1, the home of Flavor Of Love and Celebrity Rehab, would bring us one of the most intriguing gay story lines of the year, in the basketball soap Hit The Floor. Junior sports agent Jude fell under the spell of the enigmatic star player Zero, and they tried to work out the nuances of their relationship (i.e. did they even have one?) while betrayal, deceit, and murder happened all around them. Their scenes were hot and exciting, and left us wanting more.
6. Ethan Does Dorian on Penny Dreadful
It’s kind of amazing that the most shocking thing to happen on a gory, sex-drenched show about vampires, werewolves, and demonic possession was the moment when heretofore hetero sharpshooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) jumped the bones of fellow outcast Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney). In retrospect, Dorian’s seduction of Ethan was plain as day (a fact that the show’s star Eva Green amusingly tut-tutted on Twitter) – but we’re so unaccustomed to shows going there with otherwise straight (or potentially bi) male characters that the moment was one of the highlights of the year. A benchmark for fluid male sexuality or a step toward Ethan’s coming out as queer? Maybe we’ll find out next season.
Other highlights in fluid sexuality: Tristan and Miles on Degrassi, Joe MacMillan’s bisexuality on Halt and Catch Fire.
5. HBO’s The Normal Heart
Imperfect but undeniably moving, Ryan Murphy’s TV movie adaptation of Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking play The Normal Heart is essential viewing for all gay men and the people who love them. We are in the midst of a wave of films, television and plays that “bear witness” to the men and women who fought to win the rights and responsibilities we enjoy today, and it is our duty to honor them. (Matt Bomer was an excellent added incentive.)
4. HBO’s Looking
HBO did another solid by giving us Looking, a full-on gay show about the lives of a group of men living in San Francisco today. In each (too-short) episode we got a taste of the issues and passions that define modern gay life, and most of us fell a little bit in love with some of the characters – played by out actors like Jonathan Groff, Russell Tovey and Murray Bartlett – along the way. We can’t wait for Season 2.
3. Will and Sonny Wed on Days of Our Lives
TV history was made on April 3 when Sonny Kiriakis and William Horton became the first gay male couple to wed on daytime TV. It was a long road getting there, filled with many obstacles (dirty diapers, murderous kin, dirty diapers, meddling in-laws, dirty diapers, major cast changes …. dirty diapers), but the actual ceremony was memorable and beautifully done.
2. Connor Gets Some (and Some More) on How to Get Away With Murder
Whether Connor’s (Jack Falahee) many, many sex scenes on Shonda Rhimes’ runaway hit How to Get Away With Murder turned you on or horrified you, you can’t deny that they forced the issue of equal time for gay romance in mainstream entertainment. It’s a bold move, both because mainstream shows are historically terrified of tackling gay intimacy and because the potential to turn off a huge portion of the audience right out of the gate was a very real one. But Murder’s openly gay showrunner Pete Nowalk (and his network, ABC) did it anyway, and good for them.
1. Michael Sam Kisses His Boyfriend During the NFL Draft Pick
People, I watch sports exactly zero times a year. But even I happily admit that the moment where out football player Michael Sam turned and kissed his boyfriend Vito when getting drafted for the NFL was positively MASSIVE. It was the sports TV equivalent of a supernova. No single moment of this year – sorry, scripted TV! – had the impact of what is in reality a small, commonplace gesture that millions of people do every day. There was of course all sorts of asshatted backlash and fumbled coverage (including an eye-rollingly childish report by ESPN, for which the network later apologized, and an offensive on-air comment from former comedian Aries Spears), but it was outweighed by a strong show of support from other players (my favorite tweet, from Rams defensive end Chris Long: “Dear ESPN, Everybody but you is over it”), coaches and old-boy media outlets.
Runners-up: Brendan Jordan takes over The Queen Latifah Show, Modern Family’s gay wedding, Nick Jonas’s character hooks up with a dude on Kingdom
Gay TV: Characters Welcome
As mentioned earlier, there were literally dozens of shows on the air this year that prominently featured gay characters. Here is a guide to the highlights in scripted television.
How to Get Away with Murder
As already mentioned: Connor, harder and more often. Murder showed that there is plenty of room in network primetime dramas (a procedural, even!) for some sizzling gay intrigue.
See also: Rusty’s coming-out on Major Crimes, The Good Wife, Revenge, Nashville
Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), harder and more often. He may not have lasted long, but this bisexual badass sure was easy on the eyes. No, I said EASY ON THE EYES!!!
This year both Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) and his on-again, off-again boyfriend Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher) got considerable screen time, and the season finale set up Ian for a huge arc this coming year. We can’t wait for this consistently underappreciated show to devastate us on a weekly basis for another season.
See also: The cringe-inducing (in a good way) Australian coming out comedy Please Like Me, Girls
Sure, the fanservice pairing of Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard) and Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) was extremely hot. But it was the fact that long-suffering Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) got his own Prince Charming and a happy ending (something he didn’t enjoy in the book series) was one of the few things that made the final season worth watching.
See also: Penny Dreadful, The Originals
On this season of MTV’s surprise hit about two fauxsbian best girlfriends, gay pal Shane (out actor Michael Willett) got himself a fit (but closeted) boyfriend (Skyler Maxon).
See also: Awkward., Glee, The Fosters, The Carrie Diaries, Degrassi
This Brit import brings some much-needed diversity to this list in terms of median character age. Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi – both openly gay in real life – play a backbiting but gently loving long-term couple in this hilarious, infinitely quotable sitcom. If you miss AbFab and want to see McKellen play something completely against type, you really need to check it out.
Ohhhhh boy. The good news is, there have been at least three gay characters on the Freak Show season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s wildly successful horror anthology series. The bad news is, one of them was brutally slaughtered, another wanted to hang himself rather than come out, and the third is a murderous con artist. So… progress?
Sadly, we had to say goodbye this year to one of our favorite TV gays, Steve Jinks. The least neurotic of all the Warehouse agents, he was the cool, calming glue that held this cuckoo clock together. Well, except that one time he wasn’t.
See also: Orphan Black
Yes, they are still making multi-camera sitcoms (I KNOW!). And this one even has a central gay character! While the single-camera format has had much more success in integrating gay storylines, it’s charming to see the creaky before-a-live-studio-audience format catching up with the times. (“The times” being 20 years after Will & Grace.)
See also: Modern Family, Sean Saves the World, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Marry Me, The Comeback, Archer
Gay TV: Reality, News, and Variety
Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce
This docuseries about the queer artist who helped launch booty-rific bounce music and its accompanying dance form into the mainstream (where it was promptly hijacked by pop artists) is truly groundbreaking. Gender, sexuality, race, and class are all tackled head-on as we watch one talented outsider slowly pull her way up the entertainment ladder. Haters? Y’all get back, now.
See also: Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word, The Case Against 8, Million Dollar Listing, The Shahs of Sunset, Rich Kids of Beverly Hills
Yes, Drag Race airs on our parent channel, Logo – but I will lip-sync for my life against anyone who argues that this show isn’t the gayest, fiercest, and most consistently entertaining reality competition on television. This season’s gaggle of queens gave us the sharp-tongued but tenderhearted Bianca del Rio (a true class act), “Party!” girl Adore Delano, and triple-threat Courtney Act.
See also: Big Brother’s Zankie, America’s Next Top Model’s bromance, the Broadway babes of Survivor, Top Chef’s excellent Gregory, Under the Gunn’s Tim Gunn, Nick Verreos and Mondo Guerra, The Biggest Loser’s hunky gay trainer Bob Harper, Dream Builders’ Nate Berkus, The Chair’s Zachary Quinto, Dancing with the Stars’ Bruno Tonioli and Jonathan Bennett
The news got a gay twist with the premiere of Logo’s Daily Show-type show where two talking heads – one straight, one gay – tackle world events from different angles. It’s still finding its footing, but the good-natured, “all in the same boat” vibe could make it a major winner.
See also: CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon, MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, Good Morning America’s Sam Champion, and deft coverage of LGBT issues by The Colbert Report (you will be missed!), The Daily Show, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
This year the Style Network rebranded itself as FYI, and one of the first shows on its slate was the ridiculously fabulous makeover show B.O.R.N. to Style, which centers on a Harlem-based vintage shop run by a camera-ready clutch of gay men of color. Unabashedly, unapologetically gay (I haven’t seen this much vogueing since Paris is Burning), the show brought some much-needed diversity – and glamour – to the makeover genre. Tens across the board!
See also: The Secret Guide to Fabulous
Billy on the Street
Part game show, part variety show, and part televised nervous breakdown, gay sidewalk terrorist Billy Eichner’s gonzo man-on-the-street assault continued its pop-culture-obsessed sprint through the streets of NYC with the help of such celebs as Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, and Lindsay Lohan. Whatever the hell it is you’re doing, Billy, never stop.
See also: Watch What Happens Live, Chelsea Lately
This event celebrating LGBT notables in entertainment, media, politics, and more paid tribute to civil rights heroes Roberta Kaplan, Edie Windsor and John Wambere alongside athlete Jason Collins, trans advocate Laverne Cox, and a host of entertainers.
See also: The GLAAD Media Awards, the NewNowNext Awards, The Tony Awards
Gay TV: The Men Behind the Curtain
Aside from the shows mentioned above, there are dozens of great programs from the past year that have out gay men pulling the strings. The ghoulishly brilliant Bryan Fuller expertly masterminded yet another impossibly perfect season of Hannibal, wowing critics and shocking audiences on a weekly basis. Greg Berlanti (above) unleashed a legion of small-screen superheroes on Arrow and The Flash. Jeff Davis kept Teen Wolf a bloody breakout hit, while Paris Barclay helped make Sons of Anarchy one of the most obsessively-watched dramas of the year. Kevin Williamson kept the bodies piling up on his dark dramas The Following and Stalker, while his Vampire Diaries and The Originals delivered considerably lighter thrills. Ryan Murphy featured gay and trans characters on both Glee and American Horror Story and brought The Normal Heart to screen, and Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg continued to boldly break new ground in their inclusive ABC Family show The Fosters. For more on the gay men shaping today’s television landscape, check out TheBacklot 40, our list of influential out showrunners, producers, writers and directors.
Then there are the out actors – almost too many to mention. But here are a few: Matt Bomer (White Collar, American Horror Story, The Normal Heart), Chris Colfer (Glee, Hot in Cleveland), David Hyde Pierce (The Good Wife), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Michael Willett (Faking It), Jai Rodriguez (Kingdom), Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), Kristian Nairn (Game of Thrones), Sean Hayes (Sean Saves the World), Andrew Rannells (Girls), Josh Thomas (Please Like Me).
What were you watching in 2014? What underrated shows do you think deserve more attention in the year to come?