The queering of television in 2018
The golden age of television is redefining the markers of a gay show. This current era of Peak TV, where more hours of television are produced than ever before in the history of the medium, has created opportunities for a higher calibre of gay storytelling to emerge. LGBTQ rights advancements in society are allowing fully-rounded gay characters to populate the television landscape, as well as a range of smart, nuanced, creative depictions of the queer experience.
The reality competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race on VH1 and Pose, FX’s drama about the queer ball scene of 1980’s New York, are at the forefront of this revolution. They’re showing the new ways in which our stories can be told - with specificity, diversity, inter-sectionality, and high production-values. Gay shows today air on major networks and deliver solid ratings. They earn critical acclaim, while also exhibiting the mass appeal that shoots them atop Twitter trending topics. They’re a new frontier of prestige show, which humanise our lived experiences, celebrate our beauty and talent, and spark important conversations.
Pose is miraculous on multiple fronts. It assembled the largest cast of trans performers ever to appear on television. It populates its stories with a majority of people of colour. Even its diversity extends behind the scenes, where Janet Mock became the first trans woman of colour to direct a television episode. But most remarkable, perhaps, is how the lives of its marginalised characters are treated - with a focus on triumph over adversity, with dignity, with attention to detail. So rapturously has Pose been received by audiences who had been starved of positive, authentic representation that it was renewed for a second season.
RuPaul’s Drag Race laid the groundwork for the success of Pose by leading the mainstreaming of gay culture in recent years. Initially, RuPaul’s Drag Race spent eight seasons on the niche Logo network where it established itself as a bona fide hit amongst the gay community. It then graduated to VH1 which widened the show’s reach and increased its audience. Today, the Drag Race phenomenon includes seasons of All Stars in addition to the regular show, a behind-the-scenes program called Untucked, spin-offs on the World of Wonder streaming platform, fervent media coverage, fan conventions, drag queen contestants who amass millions of social media followers and tour the globe with sold-out performances.
Television networks are recognising the value of including gay perspectives, sensibilities, and narratives. NBC revived Will & Grace, and Netflix rebooted Queer Eye - finding receptive audiences for these properties in 2018, a decade after their original runs ended. Viceland debuted My House, a documentary series about the contemporary ball scene that Pose fictionalises. CBS’s Instinct starring Alan Cumming launched this year, becoming the first US network drama with a gay lead character, and a second season has already been commissioned. HBO announced that it’s developing two queer comedies - the first, with Kid Fury and Lena Waithe, is about a 20-year-old gay man, and the second one with Travon Free and Issa Rae, is already being heralded as a TV first simply because it’s a show about a black bisexual man. Lastly, Freeform ordered Everything’s Gonna Be Okay from Josh Thomas, a comedy with the DNA of his earlier cult gay Australian show Please Like Me.
The great gains we’ve made on television are borne out in the 2018 Emmy Awards nominations where gays abound. Four of the six nominees for Outstanding Host For A Reality Or Reality-Competition Program are openly queer - Ellen DeGeneres, Tim Gunn, Jane Lynch and RuPaul. The most nominated limited series or movie is The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, from TV’s foremost purveyor of gay content Ryan Murphy, who’s also the creative force behind Pose. Versace was a deeply queer production that artfully explored such topics as homophobia in the 90s and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy.
2018 has had a lot to offer the discerning gay TV viewer - from Pose, RuPaul’s Drag Race, All Stars, and beyond. For us, by us, with intelligence, inclusivity, and heart. These shows are vital, they are current, they are the future.