With the approach of Cucumber, Russell T Davies’ new gay drama, we decided to take the time to appreciate other great LGBT-centric shows that have come and gone.
Cucumber, Banana and Tofu will air on Channel 4, E4 and 4od respectively from January 22 at 9pm, focusing on the lives of LGBT characters in modern day England.
Here are ten of the best LGBT-focused television shows we’ve ever seen.
1. Queer as Folk (UK/US)
The brainchild of the aforementioned Davies, the original UK version of Queer as Folk aired in 1999 to much controversy and even more triumphs. Focused on Stuart – played by Aiden Gillen of Game of Thrones fame – and Vince, best friends who spend their days as working professionals, and nights as drug-addled, sex-obsessed playboys – well, Stuart anyway. It also starred Charlie Hunnam, Sons of Anarchy favourite, as 15 year-old Nathan, Stuart’s conquest who falls in love with him.
Upon the British show’s success, Queer as Folk got a bright and shiny American version which ran for five years and became insanely popular on US network Showtime. The show follows on the same storyline as the UK version but, as happens with American versions, took on a life of its own and gained a score of fans.
2. Will & Grace
This sitcom about four friends – two gay men and two straight women – has been charged with bringing gay characters onto the screens of mainstream prime-time America. In fact, Will was the first openly gay male character on prime-time television when the show aired in 1998. Joe Biden famously mentioned it in his bid to support same-sex marriage: “I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has done so far.” Though some have criticised it for portraying a negative, de-sexualised stereotype of gay men, we can’t deny the importance and popularity of the show.
3. The L Word
Leading on from the popularity of Queer as Folk, The L Word was the first lesbian-centric show to grace our screens. First aired in 2004, The L Word focused on the lives of lesbian friends in Los Angeles. In its time, it managed to display storylines about L, G, B and T characters before it ended in 2009, in a bit of a messy finale (but that’s neither here nor there). It can be lauded for portraying non-stereotypical characters while covering cancer, death, pregnancy and sexual curiosity.
Set in a maximum security prison, Oz mainly tells the story of Tobias Beecher, a lawyer charged with vehicular manslaughter and of whom an example was made by the courts. Based in Oswald State Correctional Facility, Oz was the first hour-long dramatic television series to air on HBO. Some of the major cause of drama was the intense love/hate relationship between Beecher and fellow inmate Chris Keller. The show also managed to cover issues of racism, religion, graphic violence, male rape and drug use. It ran for six years, from 1997 to 2003, and featured acting heavyweights like J.K. Simmons and Christopher Meloni.
5. Angels in America
The HBO miniseries that ran in 2003 is based on the play of the same name by Tony Kushner and is set in 1985. Set in New York during the Reagan area, the series is compiled of six one-hour long episodes and revolves around friends and strangers alike who are affected by the Aids pandemic. The line-up is basically a who’s who of acting legends, including Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Patrick Wilson, Mary-Louise Parker and Emma Thompson. It was bombarded with Golden Globe and Emmy Awards in the year of its release and is still considered one of the best theatre adaptations in recent years.
Okay, so this is a new show but we can’t ignore its importance. Based on Jill Solloway’s own transgender parent, Transparent tells the story of Maura Pfefferman who opens up to her family about identifying as a woman and begins to live her life as such. It recently won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy TV Series and a Best Acting accolade for Jeffrey Tambor in the lead role. Giving light to transgender characters and, in turn, their community is not something that has been done in this way before so we believe it will be an important series for all LGBT.
7. Bad Girls
Before Orange is the New Black aired on Netflix, there was Bad Girls – a British television show set in a woman’s prison, Its main storyline revolved around Nikki, a life-long prisoner, and her relationships with the wing governor Helen. It ran from 1999 to 2006 and portrayed a number of lesbian relationships, along with graphic violence and harsh language, never shying away from some (admittedly) over-dramatic ‘prison realities’. A U.S. version has been in the works since 2002 so that is probably not going to happen…
Another Russell T Davies gem (is there anything he can’t do?), Torchwood is the spin-off series of Doctor Who. Starring John Barrowman, the show is based in Cardiff and revolves around a team who capture the alien species left behind by the Doctor. Captain Jack Harkness is the hero of the show – an immortal alien from the distant future who is a pansexual playboy. Ianto Jones reveals that he is bisexual – or perhaps just Jack-sexual – in season one when they enter into a relationship. Tosh Sako is also bisexual, after having relationships with men and women. Davies himself has described it as “a very bisexual series” so I think we can trust him on that.
Though not entirely gay-centric, Glee’s ensemble cast is made up of a number of LGBT characters. Though the show really went downhill in quality after the first season or two, it has to be admitted that they have a wide range of representation. Kurt’s coming out story resonated with an audience, as did his understanding dad Burt. Then there is bisexual Brittany and lesbian Santana, Kurt’s boyfriend Blaine, and newer transgender character Unique. This show came around at a good time to help younger people understand issues of sexuality and gender.
10. Orange is the New Black
The most current lesbian show to end all lesbian shows, Orange is the New Black is the tale of Piper Chapman and her stay in a women’s prison facility. The comedy drama has won a number of accolades and an almighty critical reception, whilst showing intricate and interesting female characters. It has also made a star of Laverne Cox, the first transgender women to be nominated for an Emmy for her role in the show.
© 2015 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.