The representation of LGBT+ characters in TV shows has always been problematic. It’s been a struggle to get queer stories on screen and even more difficult to make those stories resonate with large audiences.
Before the popularity of shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and the recently rebooted Queer Eye series, it was hard to get storylines and narratives that highlighted and explored their LGBT+ subjects. In short, television was a stagnant land for its queer inhabitants.
In light of the recent upsurge in queer narratives being shown on TV, with hit shows like Pose, Transparent and of course Drag Race, it is useful to look back at old and new series that paved the way.
Below are five TV shows that broke down barriers for LGBT+ television.
Will & Grace (1998- present)
Perhaps one of the most prominent and impactful TV shows of a generation, Will & Grace was revolutionary for the visibility that it brought to the gay community.
It became a surprise hit for NBC, and from 2001 to 2005 would be the highest rated sitcom for viewers aged 18-49. Such was its popularity that it was rebooted in 2017 turning a new generation of viewers on to the show.
The power of Will & Grace lied in its normalising of its gay characters. It could be argued that it desensitized American culture to homosexuality, or at the very least, it made it more acceptable.
The main focus of the show is friendship, a universal topic and concern. It depicted its characters in everyday situations and explored relationships through its comedic structure.
Check out the trailer for the new season below:
Queer As Folk (UK, 1999-2000)
This trendsetting show created by Russell T. Davies was a game-changer when it hit Channel 4 in 1999.
Staring Irish actor Aidan Gillen, along with Craig Kelley and Charlie Hunnam, the show chronicles the lives of a group of young men as they navigate the tricky and sometimes treacherous terrain of gay life in Manchester.
The show was groundbreaking for its explicit depiction of gay sex, as well as challenging taboo subjects such as drugs, sexuality and homophobia.
The L Word (2004-2009)
A staple show for many lesbian and queer people alike, The L Word was the first major show to highlight the lives of lesbian women.
Starring Shane McCutcheon and Jennifer Beals, the series is set in Los Angeles and was innovative for its earnest depiction of its characters, whilst gaining notoriety for its daring sex scenes.
The show was impactful for lesbian and bisexual women, in particular, lamenting a cornerstone moment for visibility on mainstream television.
Arguably one of the queerest TV shows ever produced by Netflix, Sense8 is a sci-fi drama that explores human connection and what lies at the core of the human experience.
Its eight main characters or sensates are linked mentally and can feel each others experiences.
The queerness of this TV show, in part, comes from its representation of the other. These eight characters, who are radically different (gender, race, sexuality) must come together in order to survive.
The series garnered a huge cult following, with Netflix commissioning a second series, after much outcry from fans.
Orange Is the New Black (2013-present)
Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir ‘Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison’ this Netflix series focuses on women inmates in Litchfield penitentiary as they battle, hustle and fight to survive.
The show s creator Jenji Kohan also made an effort to highlight queer characters. Many of its female leads are in lesbian relationships, including Piper and Alex, whilst Sophia (played masterfully by Laverne Cox) shines a spotlight on trans women of colour.
Laverne Cox would subsequently go on to become a pioneering force for trans rights, and amongst many accolades, became the first transgender person on the cover of Time Magazine.
Check out the trailer below:
Hungry for more LGBT+ TV shows? Check out our ultimate guide of queer shows to watch on Netflix.
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