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.
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.
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.