It may not be news when two men kiss romantically on ABC primetime any more, but it’s hardly commonplace — the only thing “Modern Family” odd couple Mitchell and Cameron can stand less than each other is PDA. We’ve already shared our thoughts about television’s most influential LGBT characters in honor of Pride Month, but it also seemed worth taking a closer look at this past season on the small screen. Here are ten of the richest, funniest, most passionate scenes of gay and lesbian characters from the past year of TV.
10. Neal Coming Out to Lily: “Whitney,” “G-Word”
For a show whose comedy is awfully fixated on traditional gender roles, “Whitney” actually manages a warm, classical coming-out episode when Whitney (Whitney Cummings) discovers Neal (Maulik Pancholy) on a date with another man. There’s nothing new here except maybe for Neal being bisexual rather than homosexual, but despite a savior mentality that has Whitney guide him through the coming- out process, it’s still a moderately special episode. The anxiety is palpable thanks to Maulik Pancholy’s dazed expression as he finally comes out to his ex-fiancee Lily (Zoe Lister Jones), but, true to the episode’s counselor-pamphlet narrative, she’s supportive. Lily’s the first one to accept that he doesn’t need to label anything. Where narcissistic TV girlfriend tradition asks, “Did I make him gay?” Lily says instead, “Your sexuality’s fluid.” The story may be a complete hand-me-down, but it’s still a useful one.
9. Pierce’s Gay Bash: “Community,” “Advanced Gay”
Kneejerk homophobia charges tarred the episode where Pierce (Chevy Chase) throws a party to court gay customers — which he calls a gay bash — because Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) gets away with a few passive-aggressive homophobic comments. But look closer and “Community” presents gay people as funny, secure, and most importantly, gay. These aren’t tokens for a very special episode, although Jeff does speechify about gays being “a long-suffering community who have the right to wipe whomever and whatever they want.” They’re a room full of guys who actually want to dance with one another. The bash itself even illustrates that basic fact of acceptance through Pierce, that spending time with GLBT people counteracts other-ization. Shirley may not see that, but “Community” certainly does.
8. Gus’ Origin Story: “Breaking Bad,” “Hermanos”
The origin story for the breakout supervillain of “Breaking Bad” Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) implicitly reveals the star of season four to be gay, or at least the butt of homophobic ribbing and deeply connected a boy he rescued from the Santiago slums to become the world’s best manufacturer of methamphetamine. Gus’ sexuality is almost irrelevant but for the fact that the murder of his probable lover by cartel enforcer Hector (Mark Margolis) spurs his multi-year revenge scheme that courses through much of the season. From the flashback to the present, the formidable Esposito goes from quivering dilettante to ruthless calculator, looming over the season the way he looms over the now wheelchair-bound Hector, all to avenge his lost love.
7. Kalinda and Lana: “The Good Wife,” “The Penalty Box”
For years Archie Panjabi’s Emmy-winning performance as a mysterious, bisexual investigator has been one-sided. Kalinda could kiss all the men she wants, but when she goes to kiss FBI agent Lana Delaney (Jill Flint) in a storage locker, we tastefully cut to outside because nothing says romance like dirty steel. All that changed this season, which even makes time for a mini-make-out between Alicia’s gay brother and a paramour, and a standout sequence reunites Kalinda with the recurring object of her teasing. Kalinda’s in the crosshairs of a drug kingpin thanks to Lana, so she tries to call her off in a steamy, high-stakes soap opera hook-up that shows a little and suggests even more. It took three years, but finally “The Good Wife” embraces bisexuality without the faintest whiff of shame.
6. Cooper Saves a Jumper: “Southland,” “Legacy”
Leave it to “Southland” to address gay bullying and suicide with steely resolve. It’s hard to see a boy standing on a ledge, splattered in bruises, his hair forced into ribbons, a pink dress flapping in the wind against a lifeless, desaturated city. But “Southland” takes after its cops, particularly Officer Cooper (Michael Cudlitz), who’s almost stoically determined to do the job and go home. He stands there like a statue telling the kid to be strong, but hearing Cooper finally admit out loud that he’s gay — a well- earned confession — is about as tender as “Southland” gets. The whole sequence is one raw nerve, and the anxious editing only heightens the drama. With a battered teen next to something like a model adult citizen, the subplot plays like an “It Gets Better” video, but most importantly, it sees a national tragedy for what it is.
5. Hannah Has Drinks With Her Ex: “Girls,” “All Adventurous Women Do”
Based on their reunion drinks with each other, Hannah (Lena Dunham) and her gay ex Elijah (Andrew Rannells) seem made for each other. All of Hannah’s petty, narcissistic hang-ups are mirrored in Elijah, from her liberal arts ambitions stunted by laziness to her passive-aggressive lashing out to feel superior. Neither are the cultural ambassador so many non-viewers demand. Rather they’re flawed, floundering kids. Elijah identifies a “handsomeness” as the reason he was able to sleep with Hannah, a remark suggestive of both characters’ myopia but one that beautifully escalates the very mature play-acting of these two would-be adults into the verbal slapfest that ensues. She says she was lied to, he parries with Maya Angelou, she targets his vocal affectation, he puts on his indignant face. And it builds to probably the season’s greatest exit line, just as Hannah demands the last word. Elijah’s face fills the screen, his head bobbing toward the camera in tune with the dialogue, and he snaps, “It was nice to see you. Your dad is gay.” Just as a later scene deliciously rejects the gay-best-friend trope, Elijah refuses to be a symbol. He leaves Hannah speechless, which is victory enough.
4. Unique’s Debut: “Glee,” “Saturday Night Glee-ver”
In a season with an episode all about a teenage gay couple deciding to have sex — which is pretty sudden for the squeaky clean, nothing-below-the-belt pair — the most GLBT-empowering sequence is the surprise debut performance of Unique, the drag persona of a talented boy named Wade (Alex Newell). As Wade, he lacks the confidence to pull off the flamboyant “Boogie Shoes,” but as Unique he has the audience from note one, commanding the stage like the best of the series’ soloists. After years of closeted TV teens struggling to accept their sexuality, “Glee” makes coming out the joyous celebration it should be, with a foot-tapping number to boot. Fantasy, maybe, but one worth losing yourself to.
3. Ian’s First Gay Club: “Shameless,” “Hurricane Monica”
The anti-Kurt-and-Blaine, Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) has been quietly portraying gay adolescence for two years now, quickly coming to terms with his sexuality and expressing it not through elephant brooches and red skinny jeans but rather through sex. When Ian’s strictly sexual relationship with a neighborhood boy causes a bit of heartache after all, his recently returned mother tells him never to feel ashamed and takes him to a gay club for the first time. At first Ian feels a little uncomfortable, and eventually he confesses to feeling guilty. Suddenly the mundane scene becomes a powerful heart- to-heart, Cobra Starship filling the silence as Ian’s mom puts her arms around him. “I’m sorry you’re hurting, baby. Wanna dance?” He slowly starts to smile as the pace picks up, and the strobe editing takes them away, Ian momentarily finding escape and belonging in a LGBT space.
2. Renly and Loras’ Sexposition: “Game of Thrones,” “What Is Dead May Never Die”
Renly (Gethin Anthony) and Loras (Finn Jones) in bed is among the clearest depictions of gay sex on relatively mainstream television, and they don’t even get past kissing. That’s the name of the game, not just prurience but normalization. The gay romance is as visceral as anything else on the soapy drama, and for a moment, it’s practically fairy tale, a knight in bed with a king! Renly’s in that empowered mood of demanding his desires be sated, but Loras stops him to set up the next scene by telling Renly to knock up his new wife Margaery (Natalie Dormer) before the rumors of the king’s sexuality get too far out of hand. Renly’s court is already the most progressive with respect to gender, as a female knight earns her way into secret service, but that’s nothing next to Margaery gently suggesting Loras help a nervous Renly get started. It’s the “Game of Thrones” version of sweet, a compassionate embrace of alternative sexuality tangled up in incest and politics. Like almost everything else on “Game of Thrones,” the scene is really about the king and queen maintaining power, but that hardly undercuts the understanding.
1. Max’s Fairy Tale Ending: “Happy Endings,” “The St. Valentine’s Day Max-ssacre”
At the end of another disappointing Valentine’s Day, the “Happy Endings” gang are preparing to pack it in when suddenly Max (Adam Pally) gets a flirtatious text from a very newly single ex named Grant (James Wolk). With that, the show puts all its romantic eggs in one basket, as everyone pitches in so at least Max can have some kind of happy ending. The Disney-prince-looking Grant opens his door to find candles all over the stoop, “More Than Words” blaring, a wrapped gift that was intended for Penny’s date, and a chariot to a nice restaurant with a dinner reservation. They kiss — an on-screen first for the usually un-romantic Max — and ride off into the night, as close to a fairy tale as a serialized rom-com can get. For once it’s the boy who gets the boy.