13 Shows We Can't Believe Don't Have LGBT Characters
By Tracy E. Gilchrist
How Are These Shows So Straight?
There was so much buzz and excitement around Netflix’s GLOW, a fictionalized series about the real-life ‘80s phenomenon the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, and while the show is wildly entertaining, pristinely acted, and features women’s friendships at its core, the elephant in the wrestling ring was that out of more than a dozen women, none of the characters were queer (that we know of).
In its most recent report on the status of LGBT representation on television, including on broadcast, prime-time cable, and streaming, GLAAD noted that 25 queer female characters were killed off in 2016, a disturbing trend that speaks to the need for shows seemingly evolved shows like GLOW to take the wheel when it comes to queer representation.
But GLOW's not the only series that stands out in 2017 for its lack of queer characters. From network staples like Law and Order: SVU on NBC and The Big Bang Theory on CBS to high-concept series like Stranger Things and Homeland, there are noticeable voids in representation on shows that should know better.
Here are 13 shows we can’t believe don’t have LGBT lead or recurring characters.
Sure, The Crown is a bioseries about the early life of Queen Elizabeth II and thus should be fairly true to life, but out of the dozens and dozens of characters in the Golden Globe-winning, Emmy-nominated series from Netflix that stars the excellent Claire Foy as Elizabeth and Matt Smith as Prince Philip, there doesn’t appear to be one LGBT adviser, friend, foe, or relative. Even Downton Abbey, which took place decades before The Crown begins, had the gay footman Thomas stirring up trouble for six seasons.
Law & Order: SVU
In 18 seasons of Law & Order: SVU, with its revolving door of detectives and district attorneys, there hasn’t been a single queer character among them. Of course, some will argue that Finn (Ice-T) has a gay son, but he appears about once every three seasons, which barely qualifies as recurring. On a show that's held a long appeal to lesbians and bisexual women, thanks in large part to Mariska Hargitay’s take-no-prisoners Olivia Benson, who also happens to own a wardrobe loaded with suit jackets, handcuffs, and tight tops, it’s time for a queer female main character. The original Law & Order had a lesbian D.A. SVU is overdue.
The Big Bang Theory
One need look no further than Comic-Con to know that LGBT people are geeks too! So how is it that in 10 seasons of The Big Bang Theory, not a single lead or recurring character has been queer? One of the show’s stars, Jim Parsons, is gay, and it’s terrific that he landed a lead role on one of the most successful comedies in television history, but Big Bang could do better. Creator Chuck Lorre isn’t known for sensitive portrayals of various identities, but even his series Two and a Half Men featured a few queer female characters toward the end of its run.
To be fair, Issa Rae’s Insecure, which grew in part out of her successful web series Awkward Black Girl, covers a lot of much-needed ground in terms of representation of women of color. But the series, which stars Rae and Yvonne Orji as 30-something best friends navigating career, dating, and friendship in Los Angeles, seems ripe for a queer character. The character Issa works for a nonprofit, after all!
Last year’s quirky, hilarious, and heartfelt comedy about a woman (Kristen Bell) who mistakenly lands in a version of heaven called “The Good Place” where frozen yogurt abounds and hangovers don’t exist features a multicultural cast of characters, but despite Bell’s Eleanor having made at least a one-off comment that leads the audience to believe she’s open-minded about women, not one character is LGBT. Creator Michael Schur’s previous series Parks and Recreation featured queer characters early on, and Bell is such a devoted ally that it’s tough to envision even her characters not surrounded by a queer entourage, which is why it feels like such a gaffe that this version of heaven and/or hell is devoid of LGBT people.
Netflix’s half-hour dramedy GLOW features perhaps the largest cast of women since that other little Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, and yet not one of the women training for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling exhibits even the slightest sapphic tendency. What’s more surprising that none of the women are queer is that it was created by Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive, who’ve worked together and separately on shows with strong LGBT representation, including Weeds, Nurse Jackie, and OITNB. If that’s not damning enough, Jenji Kohan, who created OITNB, the series that currently features more lesbian and bisexual women than any other TV show, executive-produced GLOW. The show stars Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin as female wrestling frenemies and is bolstered by an outstanding supporting cast while examining women’s friendships in new and fascinating ways. But here’s hoping that one of the regulars gets a girlfriend come season 2.
Showtime is the network that gave the world the American Queer as Folk and The L Word. But its tentpole spy thriller Homeland, starring Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin as CIA officers, which has featured dozens of multicultural characters throughout its six seasons, is bizarrely devoid of LGBT intrigue.
Donald Glover’s Golden Globe–winning comedy Atlanta on FX tackles plenty of pertinent issues as it follows struggling rapper Earn (Glover) on his journey to make it big in the music industry while navigating relationships with his parents and his girlfriend and their daughter. But the series that is so squarely situated in Atlanta’s music scene is ripe for a surprising portrayal of a gay or trans character to extend its reach even further.
The thing about anthology series is that each season offers the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start over, and while a show like American Horror Story seemingly out-queers itself with each season, the quirky mystery series Fargo, from creator Noah Hawley, has yet to offer up an LGBT character in three seasons of the show so far. Fargo is currently on an extended hiatus as Hawley is in high demand for other projects, but the show is on break in part because he's out of fresh ideas for it, according to an interview with Deadline. Here's a clue for Hawley — find a story with queer characters!
CBS’s addictive, often gnarly series about the Behavior Analysis Unit, which tracks down serial killers, has had a 12-season run so far with no immediate signs of stopping. Despite a revolving door of supervisory special agents tracking down the worst of the worst criminals, the series has never had an LGBT regular or recurring character, which seems absurd. Since its ostensible lead, Thomas Gibson, left the show last year after some questionable behavior on set, the network introduced several new characters to spice things up, and none of them worked. It’s time for a queer FBI agent on the show for a change.
Stranger Things' season 2 may be the most anticipated return of a series in Netflix history, and while the '80s-era sci-fi horror show certainly captured the imagination of viewers, it’s failed to produce a single LGBT resident in the town of Hawkins, Ind. Sure, Stranger Things depicts the essence of a certain '80s experience made popular by films like Poltergeist, E.T., Stand by Me, Firestarter, and so on, but now it’s time for the show that stars the excellent Millie Bobby Brown as the psychokinetic young girl Eleven to delve into the androgynous, queer, new-wave '80s scene embraced by so many young people of the time.
FX’s Cold War spy drama The Americans has renewed relevance since news of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election is everywhere. But the series, set in the 1980s and starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as deep-cover sleeper agents, has failed in its five seasons to produce a single LGBT character. A show in which its lead characters move back and forth between the Soviet Union and the United States has plenty of room to set up commentary on the atmosphere that would produce Russia’s gay propaganda law. It’s not as though Cold War-era Soviet Union and Putin’s Russia have nothing in common.
Netflix’s Love is the brainchild of Judd Apatow, so it really should come as no surprise that it follows the relationship of a hapless straight white guy (Paul Rust) and the girl who’s out of his league (Gillian Jacobs) but falls for him despite his aimlessness and lousy personality. So while it’s not shocking that Apatow, purveyor of schlubby guy gets the hot girl comedies since 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin and 2007’s Knocked Up, has stayed in his lane with this half-hour comedy, it is jaw-dropping that he hasn’t learned enough from all of the criticism he’s received to perhaps give screen time to characters that don’t look like him.