In an era of social distancing, television has never been more important. It provides us with entertainment as well as a means to connect to others and the issues of the day. Moreover, LGBTQ+ visibility is essential during an election year, when queer lives must be seen, valued, and counted.
Below, see Advocate editors' favorite picks from the fall lineup.
In First Day, young star Evie Macdonald made history in Australia by becoming the first transgender actor to play a lead role in a scripted TV series. Now the groundbreaking show is available to American audiences on Hulu. Macdonald portrays Hannah Bradford, a 12-year-old transgender girl beginning her first year of middle school. Written and directed by Julie Kalceff, the four-part miniseries shows the courage it takes to live authentically and gives representation to a group of young people rarely seen on TV. In addition to Macdonald, First Day also features Jake Childs and Sarah Rose Huckman as young trans people navigating growing up.
There was no telling quite how relevant the themes of Away would be when the mission-to-Mars series began production. The Netflix series that stars Hilary Swank as Emma Green, the commander of a years-long global mission to the Red Planet offers plenty of nail-biting spacewalks, but it's also grounded in themes of isolation and hope that are particularly resonant since life effectively changed last March.
The series revolves around an international effort to land a crew on the moon that is then rocketed to Mars in a tightrope of timing and launches. Swank's team is made up of Vivian Wu’s Lu, a chemist from China who’s keeping an important secret; Mark Ivanir as a Russian cosmonaut; Ray Panthaki as a navigator representing Iran; and Ato Essandoh as a British botanist on his first space mission.
Meanwhile, Emma's husband, Matt (Josh Charles), is not only keeping the home fires burning, but he's also one of the heads at mission control. Talitha Bateman plays their daughter, Alexis, a teen who grapples with accepting the perils of her mother’s dangerous mission with the more relatable story of going through high school without her mom there.
As in any great space story, as the Atlas 1 crew members set off on the mission (spurred in part by environmental factors and the waning sustainability of life on earth), they face daunting challenges as things fail to function while alternately coping with the boredom and paranoia that accompany isolation. On top of that, there's an LGBTQ+ storyline that is revealed a few episodes into the series.
The latest from legendary choreographer and High School Musical creator Kenny Ortega is a sweet musical story about Julie (Madison Reyes), a teenage girl who has lost and subsequently finds her voice following her mother’s death. She finds her way back to music with the help of her best friend, Flynn (Jadah Marie), and three ghosts (or phantoms) from a ’90s rock band who died suddenly from eating bad hot dogs before fulfilling their dream of playing Los Angeles’s famed Orpheum Theatre. Charlie Gillespie, Jeremy Shada, and Owen Joyner play The Phantoms, who are tempted by Cheyenne Jackson’s devilish Caleb into a form of immortality. Meanwhile, Joyner’s Alex finds love with another ghost, Willie (Booboo Stewart). The series is uplifting and hopeful with fabulous musical numbers while also highlighting Latinx, Black, and queer characters.
Originally intended as a live theater production from playwright and screenwriter Paul Rudnick, Coastal Elites now exists as a Zoom-style film featuring anti-Trump rants from characters played by Bette Midler, Schitt's Creek's Dan Levy, Insecure's Issa Rae, American Horror Story’s Sarah Paulson, and Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever. While the impact may have been greater with a small audience, there’s still something cathartic about these LGBTQ+ icons and allies delivering impassioned sermons right in your living room. Best paired with a bottle of wine, a box of tissues, and a mail-in ballot.
Dancing With the Stars, ABC’s long-running dance competition, has always presented a hodgepodge of characters from the zeitgeists of today and yesteryear. This season is no different, with a cast of competitors that includes gay Olympian figure skater Johnny Weir, bisexual actress Anne Heche, Tiger King star Carole Baskin, rapper Nelly, Netflix’s Cheer star Monica Aldama, Disney Channel star Skai Jackson, and One Day at a Time’s Justina Machado. At least Sean Spicer hasn’t come back for round 2! Watch Baskin do the paso to “Eye of the Tiger” below.
Luca Guadagnino, director of Call Me by Your Name, returns to Italy in We Are Who We Are, an HBO miniseries he cocreated about American teens living abroad at a U.S. Army base. The series will undoubtedly explore queer themes; one of the teens, Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer), bears more than a passing resemblance to Timothée Chalamet. He is also obsessed with the work of gay poet Ocean Vuong and has Chloë Sevigny as a lesbian mother and military commander.
Ryan Murphy’s latest creation, Ratched, is an origin story for the sadistic Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The eight-episode series, a mix of Hitchcock, horror, melodrama, and camp qualities, stars Sarah Paulson as the young Mildred Ratched, who grapples with her lesbian tendencies while, for mysteries reasons, she infiltrates an institution and attempts to save a serial killer (played by Finn Wittrock) from execution. Cynthia Nixon costars as Gwendolyn Briggs, the press secretary for Vincent D’Onofrio’s egomaniacal California governor. She woos Mildred with oysters at a bar in California's Central Coast. The series also stars Judy Davis as Mildred’s at-work nemesis Nurse Betsy Bucket; Sharon Stone as a wealthy socialite bent on revenge; Jon Jon Briones as a mad scientist of sorts; Sophie Okonedo as a woman with multiple personalities; Amanda Plummer as an alcoholic roadside motel owner; and Charlie Carver as a sweet orderly.
There are numerous queer-inclusive nominees at this year’s Emmys, most notably Schitt’s Creek, which is poised to sweep the comedic categories during television’s biggest night. LGBTQ+ favorites Watchmen, RuPaul's Drag Race, We're Here, Euphoria, Killing Eve, Dead to Me, and What We Do in the Shadows are also among the nominated shows. Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel for the third time, the Primetime Emmys will air Sunday, September 20, on ABC or via streaming on Hulu+ and YouTube TV.
The de facto new queen of daytime, Kelly Clarkson, has charmed audiences with her homespun humor, her big heart, and her outspoken calls for equality all while being open and relatable. She has simultaneously driven home the fact that America was right when it chose her as the very first American Idol 18 years ago with her "Kellyoke" segment, in which Clarkson has appeared to be able to sing just about any song ever written with little notice. This summer, Clarkson was awarded the Daytime Emmy for Best Entertainment Talkshow Host.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show has been plagued with controversy since reports emerged this summer of a culture of sexual misconduct — as well as not-so-nice behavior from Ellen DeGeneres. However, the pioneering lesbian host has pledged to address these issues once the talk show returns to air this fall. For longtime LGBTQ+ fans, it’s worth hearing out.
Those who missed Star Trek: Discovery’s groundbreaking first season on CBS: All Access — it introduced gay characters played by Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz into the Star Trek universe — can now watch it on CBS when it airs on network TV in September. Shortly afterward, season 3, which will add the franchise’s first trans and nonbinary characters, will debut in October on the network’s subscription streaming platform.
There have been several prescient shows (the aforementioned Away) that have dropped since shelter-in-place orders began in March. But Utopia, adapted from the British series by Gone Girl and Sharp Objects writer Gillian Flynn, is perhaps the most pointed series for the current era. A group of geeks obsessed with the graphic series Utopia are determined to use clues hidden in it to save the world from a killer virus. Out star Sasha Lane plays a practically feral young woman who holds a few of the keys while John Cusack heads a pharmaceutical company in the business of manufacturing a questionable nonmeat, non-plant-based protein substitute, and Rainn Wilson stars an infectious disease doctor fighting to be heard.
Dan Byrd, Ashleigh LaThrop, Desmin Borges, Javon "Wanna" Walton, and Jessica Rothe also star.
The Weakest Link became a global phenomenon when it first premiered on BBC 2 in 2000. The game show, which presented trivia questions to a team of players, demanded the brutal elimination of a contestant by their teammates along with the host’s cold pronouncement, “You are the weakest link, goodbye.” NBC has revived the franchise and cast out star Jane Lynch as host. Comedy and tragedy will inevitably ensue.
The Boys in the Band are back in a new Netflix film based on Mart Crowley’s landmark 1968 play. Two years ago the Broadway production of the story about a group of gay and bisexual men, who despite the booze-induced sniping and nasty parlor games are each other’s found family, won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. Now the new film from Ryan Murphy and directed by the legendary Joe Mantello also uses the text's humor and heart to illuminate its characters’ resilience in an intolerant culture.
Boys stars Jim Parsons as Michael, the caustic host who throws a birthday party for Harold (Zachary Quinto), who needs to “smoke a little grass” before he’s ready to show his face. Matt Bomer plays Donald, Michael’s devoted and somewhat neurotic confidante; Robin de Jesús is Emory, who takes potshots for his tendency to camp it up; and Michael Benjamin Washington (soon to be seen in Ratched) portrays the sensitive Bernard. Real-life couple (they fell in love during the Broadway run) Andrew Rannells and Tuc Watkins appear, respectively, as the lothario Larry and Hank, who left his wife for Larry. Rounding out the cast are Brian Hutchison as Michael’s old college chum who turns up unannounced and Charlie Carver as the “Cowboy,” a hustler who is Emory’s birthday gift to Harold.
“A group of friends try to keep it together during lockdown with love and lots of laughs” is the summary for Connecting, a COVID-era comedy shot in the style of a Zoom conference. Executive produced by Martin Gero and Brendan Gall, the show also features LGBTQ+ talent Shakina Nayfack and Parvesh Cheena.
From Sex and the City and Younger creator Darren Star, Emily in Paris is a candy-colored jaunt into the world of marketing at a boutique Paris firm. Lily Collins stars as the titular Emily, who navigates the downside of taking a job in France when she doesn’t speak the language while also dazzling power players with her social media acumen. Fabulous fashion and beautiful men abound in the show that costars Kate Walsh, Ashley Park, Lucas Bravo, Samuel Arnold, and Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu.
The strange and resilient saga of One Day at a Time continues. The Norman Lear reboot about the Cuban-American Alvarez family has jumped from Netflix to Pop TV, and now it will find a whole new audience on CBS. The show has been lauded for its LGBTQ+ representation — not to mention the legendary Rita Moreno — so don’t miss its debut on network TV.
The next installment of The Crown — Netflix’s award-winning series about different decades of the modern British monarchy — heralds the era of Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson). The new season also brings the next generation of Prince Charles and his siblings into the foreground of the drama, which has historically focused on Queen Elizabeth II, first played by Claire Foy and now by Olivia Colman. See a teaser below.
The latest drama from David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, Ally McBeal) is Big Sky, a procedural that centers on the hunt for a serial killer of women in Montana. The series stars Kylie Bunbury, Katheryn Winnick, John Carroll Lynch, Dedee Pfeiffer, Ryan Phillippe, Brian Geraghty, Natalie Alyn Lind, and Jesse James Keitel in the transfeminine role of Jerrie.