Ah, television. The best place to go to find mind-numbing, soul crushing shit. I don’t watch much TV, and what I do watch I watch online (I can’t stand commercials). But as much as I may try to deny it, Television is one of those pieces of media that works like a fun-house mirror. Those greedy cunning folks in the television business take what is out here in the real world, and reflect it back through the tube after adding drama, adventure and witty comebacks.
And of course, types and classes of people are subject to this regurgitation as well. Ever since All in The Family featured a homosexual character in 1971, gay men and women have been popping up like pretty rainbow colored daisies on all types of shows. Though there are more and more appropriate portrayals of gays and lesbians on TV every season, some of them seem to come up with some pretty hefty thorns that stick in the side of gay progression. So here’s my review of the best and worst portrayals of gays on TV. I know that I have left a lot of characters out, but like I said I don’t watch a lot of TV. I have heard about good characters on shows like Firefly, Veronica Mars and Dr. Who, so if you watch any shows and feel someone deserves a mention, leave a comment about them.
1. Ellen Degeneres, Ellen. Grade: B-
Since I’m only reviewing fictional characters, I’m talking old-school Ellen, not the talk show The Ellen Show. I loved the sitcom, and watched it pretty religiously when I was in middle school. The character Ellen wasn’t a far cry from the person actress Ellen Degeneres projects, bumbling, silly and hilarious. It wasn’t until close to the end of the series that Ellen’s character came out, and in my own (and most critics) opinions, it’s what killed the show. Ellen went from a show about a single, awkward woman and her anchoring friends to a show about a lesbian trying to come out of the closet. It lost its funny, even though at the time it was a pretty daring and admirable move. The best part came from the reactions of Ellen’s various friends, particularly Paige, Ellen’s best and surprisingly homophobic female friend. But I think the biggest asset a gay television character can have is to live a life in which their sexuality is a part of a whole. So Ellen lost a few points for drawing so much focus to her characters gayness. Her grade would be lower if she hadn’t spent so many years being one of the smartest, funniest and most together gay people in the media.
2. Oscar Martinez, The Office. Grade: A
God bless Oscar. He deserves better than what he gets. Oscar was outed in the worst way by his boss on the episode The Gay Witch Hunt, and since then would have had several giant lawsuits in his hand were any of the events on The Office real. But Oscar is a great gay character, intelligent, kind, generous, and most importantly extremely normal. He is not flamboyant like some of the other characters flunking characters on this list, but what I truly love about him is that he’s not overly butch either (this can be said for most of the passing characters on this report card). Too many television writers seem to think that if your gay character isn’t going to have limp wrist syndrome, then they must wear baseball caps and play sports. Sure there are plenty of (very sexy) gay men who are super macho, and a large portion of those aren’t even pretending to be macho. But I think the largest group of men, particularly those Oscar’s age, are like him, not lisping but also not burping and farting. Oscar has struck that balance I want in a long term partner. Though I don’t think I could tolerate an accountant.
3. Lieutenant Jim Dangle, Reno 911. Grade: B-
Jim Dangle might be considered the main character of the fiercely funny fake cop show. It’s always hard to grade characters from shows so offensive, because part of the gimmick of the show is making a mockery of the gay stereotype by portraying it to its fullest. So yes, there is a lot about Dangle that could be seen as negative if you don’t get the humor: his taste for musicals, his to reveal his nutsack through the leg of his shorts. But all being said, Dangle has somehow managed to become the leader of the group of fuck up Reno police. And though he is hopelessly stupid, he is perhaps the most intelligent member of the bunch (this is also true of the lesbian character Kimball). The way I see it, the writers on the show (one of which is Thomas Lennon, who plays Dangle), have walked an interesting line: they manage to make fun of the gay stereotype while also allowing the character to break the most detrimental and perhaps most prevelant stereotype: that gays are only able to be background characters, comedic or tragic supplements to the main story.
4. Felix Gaeta, Battlestar Galactica. Grade: D
Aside from the fact that the word Gay is built right into his name, Felix Gaeta is a terrible portrayal of a gay man. He is whiny, nerdy, traitorous, weak and easily intimidated, and not to mention extremely annoying. He spends much of his time singing sappy songs in a tenor voice as a way to show his longing for another life. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was another character who was admirable and gay, but Gaeta (and the murderous lesbian captain of Pegasus who is on a handful of episodes), seems to be the only surviving gay person from Caprica who likes other dudes. I don’t think that all gay characters need to be good people or likable, but if you’re only going to feature one I feel that there ought to be plenty of redeeming characteristics. Gaeta is at least smart, and able to organize apparently, but he’s doing it all for the wrong reasons. Check out this blogger’s in depth post on Gaeta’s sexuality.
5. Sharon Tyler, Wonderfalls. Grade: A-
Wonderfalls was a sadly shortly lived show that was about a young girl working at a Niagara Falls gift shop who receives creepy, confusing messages from inanimate animal figurines. It was created by the same person who made Dead Like Me, and I suggest you go rent it if you can. Sharon is the main character’s sister, and is outed in the first episode. Sharon is not the most likable woman, she is uptight and condescending. But unlike Gaeta, she is still a strong, realistic character. She is a lawyer of international law, and quite witty and loyal despite her bitchy tendencies. The only problem is the woman she ends up dating, a somewhat typical bullish woman who rides a motorcycle.
6. David Fisher, Six Feet Under. Grade: A
This may be my favorite show of all time, and features one of the most complex gay characters to ever be on television, David Fisher. No other show I know of has so delicately portrayed an effeminate gay man. David has a subtle gay-sounding voice (an incredible acting job on Michael C. Hall’s part), is obsessively neat and a sometimes sex addict. However, even with all of these traits, he does not come off as a caricature. Quite the opposite, David, like all of the characters, feels like someone you know. Even more, most of the first two seasons and much of the last four focus heavily on David’s sexuality. David comes out of the closet, and has a hell of a time of it, but it is not pathetic or comedic or tragic, it’s a delicious blend of all three. David is the character people who know nothing about gay people should study. He will show you the issues many gay men realistically go through as they are coming out, and trying to live a happy life in the messed up and beautiful world. My favorite David moments come in the few brief times he is without his partner Keith (who is an excellent example of a realistic gay person who can be extremely unlikeable), when he is dating around. The creators of the show have fun making complex, yet realistic gay characters with whom David mingles in extraordinary, unpredictable ways. David, I don’t love you, but I love what you stand for.
7. Jack McFarland, Will & Grace. Grade: F
“Jack is unashamedly vain and self-absorbed, with an adoration of all gay icons, particularly Cher, of whom he has a rare doll. (He met her once, although he mistook her for a drag queen and declared, ‘You’re not that great, Mr. Sister. I do a better Cher than you.’ It was only when she slapped him and exclaimed ‘Snap out of it!’ that he realized and promptly fainted.) He would also meet Cher in a dream where she appeared as God (complete with an entourage of ‘dancing fairies’). When Jack asked her if she was God, Cher replied, ‘That depends on what bathhouse you pray at.’ He is a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, particularly lesbian character Willow Rosenberg. He also collects clippings of celebrities’ hair, including a complete collection from the four main actresses on The Golden Girls, as well as Broadway icons Bernadette Peters, Betty Buckley, Idina Menzel, and — as of season seven — Patti LuPone.
Jack, see me after class.
Hope you enjoyed my list. Feel free to leave a comment with grades for characters I left out! Oh, and check out a story of mine that a wonderful British chick posted on her fascinating blog right here. She was kind enough to post a story of mine about disappearing donut store employees, and the other writing she has posted on there is prime.
Coming up: The sleep study part III, an update on my where-and-whatabouts, and some talk about a couple new, more organized blogs…