Gay TV (Part I): Queerbaiting

This is Part I of II. Part II will list the most genuinely LGBT-friendly TV shows that I know.

Have you guys heard the term “queerbaiting” before? I had not, until a few years ago, though I’ve seen it on television for most of my life.

Basically, at some point, people (writers and producers) behind various entertainment media, including television, realized that they could drive up sales and ratings in serial dramas (yeah, I’m basically talking about TV, here) by appealing to gay and bisexual viewers and other viewers who are straight but might like to see gay storylines.

Awesome, right? It’s always good when people whose job is to make money notice that your demographic exists.

Unfortunately, for a long time, gay storylines were extremely controversial. Willow and Tara, on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, did not have an on-screen kiss for a very long time after their relationship began. Will And Grace, a show in which two of the protagonists were gay men, did not have an on-screen gay kiss for a long time.

As in, I think that the Dan Schneider Nickelodeon comedy Drake And Josh had a male-on-male on-screen kiss with less of a kerfuffle than those shows.

I always thought that there was an L after the first F in “kerfuffle,” but apparently not. The more you know.

Now, Drake And Josh does not count as a cutting-edge LGBT show because, well, that was not an actual romantic or sexual kiss and was, like everything else on that show, a joke. And it was, well, on a kids show (though one that I watched pretty reliably in high school for reasons totally unrelated to Drake Bell’s appearance).

Anyway, as I mentioned, gay storylines have been pretty controversial on television for a long time. In the past, it could lead to a show being heavily censored and boycotted (in a meaningful way), and that’s if the network allowed it. Now, if you have a gay storyline for the sake of having a gay storyline, you come across as preachy (like on Glee, in which being preachy about every possible social ill seems to supersede plot). It can also cost ratings—on certain shows.

We’ve all probably heard that there will be same-sex parents on the Disney Channel show, Good Luck Charlie. Because it’s a kids show on Disney, this has ruffled more feathers than it would have in a different context.

I, for one, was really surprised to hear that Good Luck Charlie was still on the air. Good for them, I guess?

So, to get around the potential controversy or a simple lack of desire to tell a gay storyline, some television shows will play up sexual tension between two characters of the same sex, even if they both seem to be heterosexual. Sometimes, this is in response to fans of a show overwhelmingly shipping (supporting the relationSHIP between) certain character pairings. Fan enthusiasm can be increased by, well, making the show appealing to people who want to see ambiguous interpersonal escalation on screen.

And it works really well. People will analyze every look and word exchanged between two characters. They’ll do fanart and write endless fanfiction.

The added bonus being that you can have the fans hooked, in a “will-they-or-won’t-they” sort of way, without actually portraying the characters in question as being gay or bisexual.

A well-known example is Xena: Warrior Princess. And that was in the 1990s. The showrunners realized that the show was really popular among lesbians, and they catered to that without actually catering to that. An advantage of queerbaiting with female characters? Straight men love it, too.

More recently, an advantage of queerbaiting with male characters has clearly been that straight women love it, too.

Supernatural and Once Upon A Time are both shows that I watch that have a lot of queerbaiting. Supernatural is much more overt about it, but they both do it. The casts and writers are well-aware that the fans are more or less overwhelming in terms of shipping same-sex pairings (specifically, Dean and Castiel as Destiel on SPN and Emma Swan and Queen Regina as Swan Queen on OUAT).

Now, a lot of people watch these shows with a will-they-or-won’t-they perspective. Others are absolutely convinced that these characters will run off into the sunset.

Guys, they won’t. Supernatural will begin it’s ninth season this fall. Ninth. I watched the pilot when I was a freshman in college (I’m so ancient). Do people who seem to be completely gay or straight sometimes, in real life, suddenly hook up with a member of the same sex? Absolutely. That does not mean that this is going to happen on the show. Though Once Upon A Time is only about to enter its third season, the same is probably pretty true for Swan Queen. They’ll be friends, they’ll look at each other dramatically, and they’ll do magic together.

The thing is that fans who watch the show primarily for the queerbaiting will be satisfied by that. It’s why Supernatural has been on for nearly a decade.

I don’t think that queerbaiting hurts anyone, but I do think that it is a bit wasteful and outdated. Most of the time.

However, queerbaiting does have its place: television for younger viewers.

At the moment, some TV that targets (if not exclusively) younger audiences contains gay characters. But they are never stated as such, or shown to be gay—but they are also never shown to be not gay. This basically comes down to networks or studios saying: “No, you may not identify anyone as gay.”

Probably the best example of this is Blue Beetle and Impulse on Young Justice. While the show’s writer, Greg Weisman (a major writing idol of mine), has stated that he believes that there are LGBT characters on the show, he asked and was told that he would not be allowed to identify them on-screen.

Queerbaiting is totally appropriate for shows where the writers are all but required to show male protagonists have a female love interest. There was a lot of queerbaiting on Generator Rex (a lot; this set of images barely begins to cover it), which was a surprisingly good show (not the strongest first few episodes).

And then there’s Transformers Prime, a recent (still on the air) show on Hub that is infinitely better than the Michael Bay Transformers films (as in, this show actually has a plot and I understand what is happening at all times). Among other things, the show has a Decepticon named Knockout who is very clearly gay. He conforms to a few too many stereotypes to win a GLAAD award, and, since Cybertronians do not officially have sexes, labels like “gay” or “straight” are meaningless, he does whistle at Optimus Prime and compliment his appearance (along with that of several other transformers) on the show.

There’s also queerbaiting in the pilot of Sam And Cat, a spin-off of both iCarly and Victorious. I haven’t seen past the pilot but I hope that they keep that up.

Queerbaiting in these instances is fine. Good, even. It’s something that will go over the heads of younger viewers but be appreciated by older ones (honestly, if you’re an adult and you automatically dismiss all cartoons because they happen to be cartoons, you need to look at your life and look at your choices). And it’s something that viewers can see or ignore as they choose. I look forward to living in a world where an action cartoon that targets a ten-year-old audience can have official, canon gay characters. A gay protagonist, even.

Sadly, we are not yet there.

 

PS: I did not mention that the BBC series Merlin had a lot of queerbaiting. That show somehow managed to do it really tastefully.

I also did not mention the queerbaiting on Avatar: The Last Airbender. Totally acceptable, as that may have been the greatest show to ever air on television, but it was allegedly a kids show.

I was going to put in another screencap that I took, but it may have been too inappropriate.



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Watch This: Once Upon A Time

photo of once upon a time pictures
You guys, my Super Best Friend has only recently started watching Once Upon A Time. He and I tend to watch a lot of different television shows and put off watching others or giving others a try. When we finally do, the result is usually similar to Squidward’s first time tasting a Krabby Patty on SpongeBog Squarepants: “All the wasted years!”

I mean, he’s the guy who first got me to watch Gossip Girl, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Dante’s Cove, Titan Maximum, and Gundam Wing. And, soon, Revenge, which I know is totally up my alley. “This is not a story about forgiveness.” That line could be the blurb under my biography.

Right, so, the show comes on ABC on Sunday nights and, honestly, I was not all that impressed when I watched the first few episodes. Well, the first episode. It’s one of those shows that has an awkward beginning but gets better and better until you can no longer remember a time when you were not in love with the show. Every week slows to a crawl as you anticipate the arrival of the next episode.

Yeah. This show also has a very rabid fandom.

I want to talk about the women on the show. Women have not, historically, had the best roles in fairy tales. They tend to be the villains or the helpless damsels. And while Disney “villains” are typically the most interesting parts of the films (and ABC is a part of Disney, so there are overt references on the show to Disney’s interpretations of a few fairytales. Jiminy Cricket is a character, the “Evil Fairy” from Sleeping Beauty is called “Maleficent,” etc), the princesses did not really possess a great deal of agency until more recent years.

Regina Mills is, as far as I am concerned, the main character. In season one, the writers try to make her out to be the primary antagonist, but …

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Not A Tale As Old As Time

photo of beauty and the beast pictures
I was born in the later 1980s and I grew up in the 1990s. Disney’s Aladdin was the first film that I ever saw in a theater. While my two favorite Disney films were Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid, I also watched and enjoyed Beauty and the Beast. Not as much, admittedly, because Disney films are all about the villains, and Beauty and the Beast is one of those Disney films that did not have a “Disney villain,” but rather an actually detestable, genuinely villainous antagonist—Gaston. As a preschooler, I wanted to be friends with Maleficent, Ursula, and Jafar. I genuinely hated Gaston.*

Speaking of Gaston, who else loved the fate that befell him on Once Upon A Time? (And who else is totally shipping Belle with Ruby? Oh, that’s right. Almost everyone who watches the show.)

Once Upon A Time is not the only recent show to borrow from fairy tales. I am speaking, of course, of The CW’s Beauty and the Beast, which premiered a few weeks ago and plays on Thursday nights after The Vampire Diaries (a show which I absolutely adore).

Now, I love The CW. Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, Arrow, Gossip Girl. For every unwatchable Heart of Dixie, they have something that I look forward to every week. The CW has been very good to me. The Secret Circle was also just wonderful, but was for some reason it was canceled. And this year, Beauty and the Beast has taken its time-slot.

Unfortunately, this show is . . . not the best.

I found the pilot episode reasonably enjoyable. I love the leading actress (she was Lana Lang on Smallville, which was a great show if you can ignore the terrible writing and just concentrate on Tom Welling), and this show’s biggest strength is the protagonist, who is a detective, and her partner, another female detective. I love their interactions and their dialogue. And it’s almost primarily a crime drama, and I love crime dramas. Plus, the protagonist kicks ass, and I love kickass female protagonists. As you may have noticed.

It’s shortcomings? Well, it’s a reboot of the kind of the weird Beauty and the Beast series from the 1980s, but with a lot of differences. It borrows from Dark Angel (remember Jessica Alba in post-apocalyptic Seattle?). The crime in the pilot episode is directly stolen from a season one episode of The Closer. The type of poison used, how the poison was delivered, and even the motive for the poisoning.

But, possibly more importantly, the “beast” himself is just not terribly interesting. I mean, he’s a handsome guy. But his entire story has to do with his deep-seated anger issues which arose from being the subject of horrible experiments. I . . . I am just not interested in watching a show in which one of the main character has explosive outbursts of anger. It makes me uncomfortable, and I spend any scene with him in it feeling anxious. Not everyone feels that way, but a lot of the comments on tumblr seem to be that his behavior is “triggery.” And that’s accurate.

The CW is a wonderful network. But Beauty and the Beast just did not appeal to me enough to keep up with it. Does anyone disagree?

 

*Plus, “every last inch of him’s covered with hair.” Gross. I know that they didn’t have Nair or laser hair-removal (which, thanks to ambiguities in the English language, sounds like a process that removes laser hairs) back then, but they had scissors, razors, and wax. Pick one, Gaston.



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Watch This: The Good Wife

photo of the good wife pictures
You guys, all of my shows are about to start back up. On September 29th, the new seasons of Clone Wars and Merlin begin, and season two of Young Justice continues. On September 30th, in addition to the pilot of 666 Park Avenue (which I may watch, despite the silly title), the second season premiere of Once Upon A Time and the fourth season premiere of The Good Wife airs.

It’s The Good Wife, everyone. It’s extremely well done.

And you know that it has to be well-done, because I almost never watch anything that does not have magic or superpowers or spaceships, because not having superpowers is what I do in real life—I don’t need a television show for that.

I do make occasional exceptions to that. I have a few comedy shows that I watch (Parks and Recreation is amazing, and also starting up this month). Usually, unless a show really appeals to all of my harmful stereotypical instincts (like the Australian teen dance drama, Dance Academy, oh my goodness do not laugh at me it is way better than it sounds; I caught it by accident one night and just couldn’t stop watching), the only thing that gets my television-viewing outside of the interesting realms of fantasy and science fiction is one or more nightmarishly (and I use that word as a compliment) strong female personalities. The Closer. Major Crimes. Commander In Chief. Political Animals. Each of these has a female protagonist. Each of these has a powerful female protagonist.

I like powerful female protagonists. With The Good Wife, my cup runneth over.

There’s a set of three powerful women who dominate the show: Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), the protagonist, who spent a couple of years as a lawyer after law school, but decided to be a stay-at-home mom while her husband entered politics and became the State’s Attorney of Cook County (which contains Chicago; “State’s Attorney” is Illinois gibberish for District Attorney, by the way). The very first scene of the series is her husband, Peter Florrick (Chris Noth)* resigning his office after numerous allegations of cheating and corruption surfaced.

Months later, as the story begins, Alicia has moved to earn money for herself and her two children. She is still married to, but in a strained relationship with, her husband. And she has gotten a job at a law firm—one of the partners being an old friend from law school.

The other two powerful female protagonists are law firm name-partner Diane Lockhart (played by the incomparable Christine Baranski) and that law firm’s enigmatic in-house investigator, Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi). There are a number of other wonderful main and recurring characters (personally, I really love the two teenage Florrick children—though I like the son a lot more than I like the daughter).

Unlike with some shows that I watch which are tragically canceled, I am not the only one who feels this way about The Good Wife. In its first three seasons, the series and cast have been nominated for 21 Emmy awards, and they have won a few of those as well as a number of other awards, which I could list here but I’ll let you look them up yourselves.

Watch The Good Wife, you guys. If I could only recommend one show . . . other than Legend of Korra, that is . . . it would be The Good Wife. It’s too good to miss. If you’re as crazy as I am, you might even have time to catch up before too many episodes of this new season have aired.

*Yes, that’s Chris Noth from Law & Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. There is a lot of crossover on this show from three sources: Law & Order, The Closer, and especially True Blood. You know how Arlene on True Blood is kind of dumb and Russell Edgington is fairly menacing? Well, those actors repeatedly guest star a secretly genius attorney and an extremely goofy judge on The Good Wife, respectively.



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