Doing the Research
Representation behind the scenes matters also, especially when telling such a personal story. Clearly in the case of “Danger & Eggs,” Petosky’s presence influences the storytelling. It’s similar for the “One Day at a Time” writers’ room. “We have two LGBTQ writers, and a lot of Elena’s story is their story,” said Gomez. “It’s so interesting to see how accurate Elena’s story is but also how lucky her story is and how she got off really well thinking about what else could have happened.”
The “Fresh Off the Boat” writers are also working from personal experience when it comes Nicole’s story. “We’ve all — you know I’m gay,” said Khan. “We have other gay writers in the room, so we were all kind of talking about our own stories. We talked to other people as well, friends of ours and relatives, who’ve come out. Especially in families where you’re not white. My family is Persian, and that immigrant mentality is a little bit different and it depends on where you’re from and who the specific people are.”
Added Khan, “Everyone’s coming out story is different but there is an extra layer of, ‘I don’t know if my parents even will understand what gay is. I remember thinking that about my parents. Do they even know what this is? Maybe they’ve seen it on TV but certainly nothing that ever was discussed in my family. We never talked about it.”
Research from groups like GLAAD and PFLAG can also help if the writers don’t have personal experiences to inform the storytelling.
“If the writer who is writing the stories does not have experience with this story, talk to people who do,” said Owen. “I think also to remember that every experience is entirely unique so you can’t write the story of an entire group of people through one story. All you can do is tell that particular story.
“And in the current climate, be responsible and watch how you’re messaging around it because of course entertainment isn’t just what we watch; it’s how we talk about it around it and, you know, be responsible of how you talk about it. I really appreciate when we get calls, and we get a lot of calls from screenwriters and networks and phone companies they ask really really good questions.”
In the case of “Andi Mack,” the show reached out to GLAAD and PFLAG to get their take on the story.
“We’ve had ongoing conversations to make sure that even the actors were comfortable talking about it,” said Owen. “They wanted to be really respectful of the process and what that looked like and they wanted to get it right. They didn’t want to do anything that could be potentially harmful so they reached out before the episode was done. Once I watched it I knew that I felt comfortable continuing to talk to them and helping where I could and also speaking out about it.”
The Ongoing Story
Michael Yarish / Netflix
Coming out isn’t the end of the story for these characters, who learn what it means to them to be gay. As with Nicole on “Fresh Off the Boat,” she’s had to hit reset on what it means for her to date. That she resorts to enlisting the help of her pal Eddie says a lot about how uncertain she is about what comes next.
“We like the idea of Nicole needing help and turning to Eddie, who’s younger than her, for that sort of support when it comes of matters of the heart,” said Matt Kuhn, who wrote the “Fresh Off the Boat” episode set in the coffee shop. “We felt he would sort of take a cocky attitude towards things, even though he’s a freshman in high school, he’s not a wizard when it comes to relationships himself. And then I think it’s just awkwardness for young teenagers. How do you make that first move? Do you need to make that first move? What is the first move? And that very real thing of being attracted to somebody and not knowing what to do for a while.”
Khan added, “We wanted to show her very nervous for the first time because this is different for her, and you can tell. It’s not like talking to some dude at a party, which she’s probably done a thousand times. She has no idea what she’s doing. We wanted to really get that, what we kinda call like the ‘sweaty palms’ feeling, where she just feels lost and she needs someone to help her.”
In the end, Eddie and two other friends are supportive, but their haiku never even gets into the barista’s hands. Instead, the girl named Jackie just gives Nicole her phone number.
“In Episode 12, which airs on Jan. 9, has the next step in the Nicole and Jackie relationship,” said Khan. “We’re gonna play out the Jackie of it all and then we want to keep it going with her. We are right now talking about our season finale episode, which is going to factor Nicole in and we’re gonna touch on it in between Episodes 12 and 19 as well. We want to keep that alive and we want to keep checking back in with her building to a nice season finale moment for her.”
Similarly, the Cyrus storyline on “Andi Mack” is still playing out this season, and he must figure out how he feels about still having a girlfriend but having his crush dating one of his best friends.
And “One Day at a Time” returns for its second season on Jan. 26, and will continue Elena’s story, including the fallout from coming out to her father. “We are certainly going to continue [Elena’s story],” said series co-creator Mike Royce. “She’s out now and living life as such, and so we’ll see the adventures of a young teen lesbian.”