BEST OF 2016: 17 TV Moments That Celebrated and Embraced Queer People
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Pundits say we’re living in the era of “peak TV,” both in terms of quality and quantity. Oddly enough, studies have shown that despite all that TV, there’s not a whole lot of queer representation. Luckily, some shows are embracing their whole audience, and they should be celebrated. With that in mind, here are our picks for TV’s queerest moments from the past year.
1. Black Mirror Heads to San Junipero
Black Mirror surprised us this year—not by being awesome, because it always is. But who figured the best episode of Season 3 (and maybe the entire series) would have a happy ending? “San Junipero” focuses on a beautiful lesbian relationship involving a shy woman who has had no previous queer experiences. The fewer spoilers the better. We’ll just say that you’ll think you’ve figured out the twist relatively early … but you didn’t. Not really. —Matt Keeley
2. Bojack Horseman‘s Todd Comes Out
The otherwise brutally sad third season finale of Bojack Horseman did feature one silver lining: Todd Chavez, Bojack’s housemate, came out! “Oh, the old coming-out scene? That’s what passes for progressive television these days? That was old back in the ’90s,” you say? That might be true, but coming out as asexual is much rarer. Maybe in a Season 4 subplot Todd will join forces with Jughead Jones from Archie as the Ace Avengers, fighting crime and not having sex! (On second thought, that would be awful.) —M.K.
3. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Explores Bisexuality
We’ve written quite a bit about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which also appeared on last year’s “Best Of 2015” list. But, seriously, how could “Getting Bi”—the best song about being bisexual ever written and performed—not be on this list? Not only was this song not a one-off gag, but the relationship between Daryl and White Josh is easily the series’ most healthy. —M.K.
4. On Difficult People, Billy Goes Back Into the Closet
Of course a show from Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner is going to be pretty gay. And in a series full of queer moments—Matthew’s wedding; the hiring of Lola, the trans truther; Billy dating a cannibal who tries to fatten him up—our favorite is the episode “Italian Piñata,” in which Billy re-enters the closet for the express purpose of hooking up on National Coming Out Day. But when a hookup threatens to turn into a relationship, Billy has to continue the ruse as his new beau explains “LGBLT history” to him—like how Stonewall happened right after Princess Di died. And as if this episode didn’t have enough queer cred, John Waters mainstay Mink Stole cameos as a patient. —M.K.
5. Drunk History Gets It Right
Remember when Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall came out and it was a mess of a film that starred a pretty white boy as the hero of the riots? Wouldn’t it have been awesome if, instead, he based his film on the real heroes? Emmerich may have dropped the ball—what else would you expect from the guy who gave us the 1998 version of Godzilla?—but thankfully Derek Waters and Crissle West saved the day. Drunk History‘s segment on the Stonewall Riots somehow packed more accuracy and emotional resonance in a five-minute segment than Emmerich’s entire filmography—and the show cast trans actresses to portray true Stonewall heroes Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. It paid off. This episode of Drunk History was one of the most highly regarded of the series, while the less said about Stonewall, the better. —M.K.
6. Grace and Frankie Age (Dis)gracefully
Grace and Frankie‘s second season enticed viewers back with more shenanigans from its titular odd-couple. After entering a contract to mass-produce her homemade vaginal yam lube, Frankie fights to ensure that its production uses no palm oil, something that actually harms orangutan habitats. Gracie re-connects with an old flame, eventually setting her on a drinking binge that terrorizes a luncheon with sloppy emotional divulgences and one-liners that could kill even the saltiest of queens. Meanwhile, as Sol and Robert try to move on from the infidelity that no one saw coming in Season 1, they navigate what it means to be gay and married late in life in the most awkward and endearing manner. This includes figuring out how to react when Robert’s super-cute, openly gay, young nurse gets super-offended upon discovering that Sol and Robert live somewhat closeted lives. It’s all pretty remarkable, especially since we rarely see independent older adults (let alone gay ones) on-screen. —Adam Golden
7. Samantha Bee Has Become a Leader of Our Queer Fight
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee has one of the most diverse staffs of late night, and Bee and her staff have created a fascinating history of the Religious Right. While this report—split over two segments and helpfully put into a playlist above—isn’t explicitly queer, it always helps to know your enemy. —M.K.
8. High Maintenance Services Clients of All Sexualities
Starting out as a webseries on Vimeo, this year High Maintenance made the jump to HBO. The anthology series follows a pot dealer, known only as “The Guy” (Ben Sinclair), as he services clients around New York City. From its earliest episodes, the series has been incredibly queer-friendly; the show featured the first canon asexual character this author had ever seen on TV. There are so many great moments, but perhaps the best is when The Guy visits Patrick (Michael Cyril Creighton), a client who happens to be a gay agoraphobic. The Guy subtly encourages Patrick to go out, who, without spoiling too much, meets a psychic played by Mx Justin Vivian Bond. —M.K.
9. Orange Is the New Black‘s Diverse Women Rattled Some Cages
While Orange Is the New Black began as a show about Piper, the privileged white woman who didn’t expect to go to prison, it has since established itself as one of the most important queer shows on television by presenting fully fleshed-out female characters (many of them trans, queer and non-white) in all kinds of relationships: erotic, romantic and platonic. Its fourth and strongest season showed vulnerable but intensely powerful trans woman Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) enduring solitary confinement, a fate many genderqueer and trans people face; Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba) navigating personal relationships as one of the only nuanced representations of a black queer woman with mental illness; and a hard-earned romance blooming between inmates Poussey and Soso. But the privatization of Litchfield Prison sets off a series of events that, through interconnected storylines, reveal the many ways the prison industrial complex is complexly broken. Everyone—from the most disenfranchised queer inmates of color to Warden Caputo, Bailey the naïve guard and others in charge—find themselves imprisoned in a maze of systemic violence. —Kat Savino
10. RuPaul Served Up a Double Dose of Drag
Once every four years, Mama Ru rewards her devoted children by dropping not one but two new seasons of Drag Race for us to gag on—and gag we did. Though we incorrectly predicted the winner of Season 8, Acid Betty, Naomi Smalls, Thorgy Thor and Kim Chi revived the reality show by bringing loads of humor and style after an underwhelming previous season. Months after Season 8’s conclusion, Season 2 of Drag Race All Stars breathed new life into the show’s nearly decade-old format with its controversial new elimination rules that allowed competitors, rather than Ru, to send queens home. The rule switch allowed the less talented Rolaskatox trio to dominate by getting rid of Tatianna and Alyssa Edwards—two queens who were perhaps more talented—though the competition series continued to deliver tons of drama and animated GIFs for fans to eat up. —Daniel Villarreal
11. It Doesn’t Get More Queer Than Steven Universe
OK, we know, we’ve already written tons about Steven Universe. How much more queer could a kid’s show get? They’ve always been upfront about having queer characters in their world—hell, one of the characters is literally a lesbian relationship. We’re already at peak queer, right? Then they had to go and do a full episode about Pearl getting the phone number of a cute girl. And it is absolutely amazing. Best episode ever? You bet. —M.K.
12. Stranger Things Had Us Rooting for Outsider Heroes
After Will Byers gets abducted into a creepy netherworld by a trans-dimensional demon, his elementary school tormenters cruelly tell Will’s friends that he’s likely been killed by “some other queer,” adding, “What’s there to be sad about anyway? Will’s in fairyland now, right? Flying around with all the other little fairies, all happy and gay.” While this Netflix homage to 1980s thrillers features an androgynous psychic child walking around with a buzz haircut, the series had no visibly LGBTQ characters to speak of. Nevertheless, most of its earnest outsider-heroes got mocked as perverts or weirdos, adding a creepy sheen of Reagan-era queerphobia over the season’s dark mysteries. —D.V.
13. Transparent Broke Apart a World of Privilege
While Transparent remains wanting in the race, class and gender representation departments (trans identity isn’t always binary), Season 3 included a few more actors of color, and it’s in this dazzling constellation of side characters that the show really shined. Early on, we get a keyhole-sized glimpse into the life of Elizah, a suicidal black trans woman affected by the well-meaning obtuseness of Maura, the show’s titular trans parent. Later on, we witness a heart-wrenching confrontation as Shea, a trans HIV-positive sex worker, eviscerates Josh, Maura’s son, for his callousness. These smaller characters crack open the otherwise moneyed and hedonistic world of Transparent, to let the light of the real world in. And the Pfefferman family is all the better for it: no longer can they abandon others to selfishly navel-gaze about their lonely lot in the universe; there’s a whole wide world of people out there for them to realize their place amongst, to hurt and to love. —Tau Zaman
14. Titus Andromedon Is Our Favorite Gay Geisha
Titus Andromedon, Kimmy’s quirky housemate and sidekick played by Titus Burgess, is one of the reasons why this Netflix show remains a must-watch. In Season 2’s third episode, “Kimmy Goes to a Play,” Titus convinces the audience he was a geisha in a previous life. It’s a hard sell at first, but once he brilliantly sings a traditional Japanese folk song, he’s got the audience in the palm of his hand. This hilarious episode was a great reason to binge-watch the series from beginning to end. —Charles Thompson-Wang
15. Westworld Dropped Robot Trou .. Repeatedly
Despite one lesbian character working behind the scenes of robot attraction park Westworld (RIP, Elise) and a lab tech who in one episode attempts to get his rocks off while caressing the hunky Hector (things don’t end well for him, either), this standout HBO series really wasn’t all that gay. Sure, there was the orgy scene where Ben Barnes’ Logan is getting down with two girls and a guy, but things were mostly hetero every Sunday night on HBO. Still, this critically acclaimed and oft-confusing series makes our list, if for no other reason than the amount of glorious robot peen it treated us to. Black, white, cut, uncut—Westworld gave us a buffet of robotic penis, something shamefully lacking in modern-day TV. —Stephan Horbelt
16. Yuri!!! on Ice Presents a Mature, Healthy Love Story
Yuri, in terms of anime and manga, usually signals cute lesbians making out for the benefit of the men in the audience. One might give Yuri!!! on Ice a pass given the title, but don’t make that mistake! In this case, Yuri is the name of a (male) figure skater who’s insecure and never really knew love until Victor, his new coach (and former skating star) arrives. Combining absolutely gorgeous skating animation—that has already inspired real figure skaters—with a love story that’s mature, healthy and really, really gay, Yuri!!! on Ice is one of the best new shows of the fall TV season. —M.K.
17. @Midnight Makes Us Want to Read Again
The only queen ever to be disqualified from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Willam Belli, made an appearance on @midnight this year, and she was hilarious (and appeared next to fellow queer comic Justin Martindale, to boot). That episode also featured an extended look at the works of our favorite Hugo-nominated author Chuck Tingle. If that weren’t enough reason to make the ep one of our favorite queer moments of the year, shortly after it aired, this happened:
I WILL NOT STOP UNTIL @AnnCoulter RESPONDS TO ALLIGATIONS OF HAVING A SECOND BRAIN FOR POOPING. PLEASE SHARE UNTIL ANWSERS ARE RECIEVED
— Chuck Tingle (@ChuckTingle) November 22, 2016
No, wait, sorry, we mean this:
— Chuck Tingle (@ChuckTingle) November 18, 2016
Willam + Chuck Tingle — how could you not love this? —M.K.