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Why 2015 Was The Best Year For LGBT Television Ever

Why 2015 Was The Best Year For LGBT Television Ever

With a little over a week left of the year, /bent’s Peter Knegt and Matthew Hammett Knott decided to make a joint declaration about the year in LGBT television. Check out their conversation below…

Knegt: Let me just start by stating a fact: 2015 was the best year ever for
LGBT representation on television. Or whatever “television” means now.
Between the networks, cable and streaming, I can count a solid seven
shows with central LGBT characters that were at the very least great —
if not extraordinary. In no particular order: “Please Like Me,” “Broad
City,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Looking,” “Cucumber,” “Empire” and
“Transparent.” And that’s not even going into the countless fantastic
series’ with various LGBT storylines or supporting characters (“Mr.
Robot” in particular). Compare that to the year in film, in which the
stunning likes of “Tangerine” and “Carol” were exceptions to a rule
where most LGBT-themed films were offensively contrived and/or shallow, and it’s hard to argue which medium is winning this particular war.

Knott: I couldn’t agree more – and among other shows I’ve been watching,
we can add to that list “How to Get Away With Murder” and a great
subplot on “UnReal”, alongside countless other examples. What’s great is
that some of these shows have absolutely been foregrounding the LGBT
experience, while others have simply had characters engage with their
sexuality while plot lines as a whole cover vastly different narrative
territory. You can’t say there hasn’t been diversity – and it’s been
racially diverse as well as age and gender-wise. Honestly, the couple
with the best chemistry on TV this year was Viola Davis and Famke
Janssen, and when have we ever seen a show led by a black bisexual
middle-aged woman who doesn’t give a second thought to the fluidity of
her desires? The answer is never, and it’s incredibly refreshing to

But let’s talk about a show which is perhaps less revolutionary in
its setup, yet no less brilliant for it, and that’s Please Like Me. I
feel like this is a show that bent readers should all be watching, so I
want to try and capture what’s so fantastic about it. And I think it
probably comes down to authenticity and heart. Despite its heightened
comic tone, and the fact that the characters are younger than me by a
few years, there’s nothing else on television that so consistently
strikes me as honest and insightful to the experience of our generation,
and the particular types of relationships and friendships we form.

Knegt: Totally agree. I’ve been a fan of “Please Like Me” since it started
a few years back, and fear that is more and more getting lost in the
insanity that is how many quality series there are out there. Once
pegged as an “Australian ‘Girls’ if Lena Dunham was a gay man,” Josh
Thomas’ show has matured into something I think is wholly unique across a
very crowded landscape — and I second that it comes down to its
authenticity and heart. Something, frankly, Lena Dunham and company
could use a bit more of during the next season of “Girls.” So if you are
reading this and have not watched “Please Like Me,” cancel your plans
tonight (and tomorrow, and the next day) and binge watch all three
seasons. They’re short.

And speaking of that overused
phrase, I just came off of a train ride where I watched all 10 episodes
of the second season of “Transparent” with little more than a pee break.
And while “Please Like Me” and some other set a very high bar,
“Transparent” is hands down the best series on television right now,
LGBT or otherwise. Which is hard to explain without spoiling anything,
but the way Jill Soloway puts together a bigger picture this season is
truly remarkable. I’ve re-watched the last ten minutes of the season
finale a few times already…

Knott: I agree re: “Transparent.” This is what it looks like when a queer
woman is given total creative freedom to explore the themes that
interest her on a broad canvas. There were so many moments in Season 2
where I couldn’t quite believe that these themes were being discussed,
right there in an acclaimed, mainstream series. Again, there’s such
variety – it’s not spoiling anything to say that over the series we
experience three separate same-sex female relationships within the one
central family, and that is without a doubt not something that’s ever
been seen on TV before. Yet at no point – well, almost ever – does it
feel that Jill Soloway is on her soapbox. It’s all so natural and

Which I suppose brings us onto “Looking,” another half-hour drama
series that matured remarkably in its second season, although
“Transparent” is not meeting a Looking-style demise any time soon. But
since “Looking” is now over, at least in serial format, let’s talk about
that for a moment, and what made it so special. I think it came down to
trusting that it didn’t need to take any drastic actions with its
characters, but instead simply dig deep, and come up with enough good,
bad and ugly to keep us engaged.

Knegt: Unfortunately — as we know — what “Looking” did not have in common
with “Transparent” was an ability to break out to a broader audience.
While I’m obviously blown away by the fact that we live in a day and age
when something as, well, transgressive as “Transparent” is the toast of
the Golden Globes, I do wish more mainstream organizations had stepped
out in support of “Looking.” Because what “Looking” does share
with “Transparent” is that it is incredibly cinematic and also deals
with the contemporary human condition in a manner you rarely ever see on
any screen these days. Andrew Haigh and Michael Lannan and their team
gave us something really special, but few seemed to notice. And while I
am very, very grateful to HBO for giving them (and us) a movie to wrap
things up. It’s more or less my most anticipated television event of
2016, save perhaps the third season of “Transparent.”

And while their next seasons don’t quite rank as high for me personally,
I do want to talk about “Empire” and “Orange is the New Black,” which
collectively took LGBT content into a stratosphere we’ve probably never
witnessed before — at least in terms of exposure.  

Knott: Yes, the level of exposure those two shows receive is really what
makes their LGBT content so powerful. Jamal’s storyline in the first
series of “Empire” got a lot of attention (and rightly so), but I think
it’s almost more significant now that we’ve moved past his coming out
plot lines and the show is living with him as an openly gay artist.
Without giving away any spoilers, there have been some surprising
developments with regard to his sexuality this season, and it’s quite
clear Lee Daniels and Ileen Chaiken feel they can go anywhere with that
and not be worried about losing its huge viewership.

“Orange is the New Black” has basically now overtaken “House of Cards” as
the current crown jewel of Netflix’s serial output, and feels similarly
able to break new ground in terms of LGBT content (although I have heard
complaints that its lesbian sex scenes tend only to feature the younger
and prettier characters). The Big Boo episode was one example of what
felt like a significant moment in terms of representation. And I do
think that streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are really
significant in terms of exposure because, at least in my experience,
their audience demographics are far more broad. In the UK, different
terrestrial channels are much more likely to be watched by people of one
generation or another, whereas everyone I know between the ages of 7
and 70 seems to watch Netflix, and that means a wider variety of viewers
are likely to take a chance on something like “Orange is the New Black”
and find themselves pleasantly surprised and maybe even enlightened.

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