Every year the Paley Center for Media showcases television's biggest hits for PaleyFest L.A., creating a unique experience for fans to come together for a screening and Q&A with the cast and creators. While the lineup always includes TV's hottest current shows (and sometimes reunions from past shows), this year's lineup in particular demonstrates a growing trend in LGTBQ representation on television. And I'm talking about positive representation.
The indictment by a grand jury of out gay actor Jussie Smollett on 16 counts of disorderly conduct (after he allegedly planned and staged a hate crime on himself) has not been good for the community, obviously. While his character on Empire, Jamal Lyon, opened up important discussions for the LGBTQ community, especially for gay people of color, his alleged actions in real life did just the opposite. It's important to note that he still maintains his innocence and so far hasn't been convicted by a jury of his peers. He appeared in court Tuesday of this week for a hearing that he did not have to attend, and will appear again on Thursday.
But I digress. With cable and streaming services, the television landscape has more options than ever before and, in turn, has made content that more accurately represents the diversity of the American people. This year's PaleyFest features 14 shows over the course of 12 events, and of those 14 shows, 10 of them have included LGBTQ characters (an additional show being spotlighted, The Twilight Zone reboot, hasn't aired yet).
PaleyFest, which kicks off on Friday, March 15, benefits the Paley Center's preservation and archival digitization efforts, and the 2019 lineup shows the increasing representation of LGBTQ characters on TV today with a wide range of programs. We break them down for you here by event date.
On Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (March 15, 7:30 p.m.) the character of Susie, played by Alex Borstein, has sparked some controversy because her sexuality is more implicit and we haven't actually seen it onscreen, but she did say this in season one: “I know I'm right about this. Just like I know that unless I somehow get rich enough to hire some German broad to walk me around the park twice a day in my old age, I'm gonna spend my entire life alone.” It's subtle but quips like this, coupled with her boyish garb, suggest there is more to Susie than we know yet, and whether she is lesbian, gender-fluid or something else, she is definitely not a stereotype. Hopefully season three gives her some more explicitly gay storylines. The show also featured an episode in season two where Midge performs stand-up at a drag bar in Paris.
LGBTQ representation is worked into the very premise of Netflix's Grace and Frankie (March 16, 2 p.m.). The show is about two women in their 70s whose husbands, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, leave them for each other after a two-decade affair. There's been some criticism around the men's relationship always being secondary to Grace and Frankie's plots (the show is called Grace and Frankie, though), and about Sheen and Waterson not being believable as lovers. But still, how many shows feature a gay couple in their 70s? Any representation is great.
RuPaul's Drag Race (March 17, 2 p.m.) is pretty self-explanatory in terms of representation. No other show on television can say there are 15 LGBTQ people or characters onscreen at the same time. The show features all kinds of queer people, including a handful of trans contestants and many people of color.
It's no surprise that creator Ryan Murphy has infused Fox's 9-1-1 (March 17, 7 p.m.) with LGBTQ representation. Henrietta Wilson (Aisha Hinds) is a paramedic with a wife and child at home. The child belongs to Henrietta's ex, who was in prison and gets embroiled in a love triangle with Henrietta and her wife after she gets out.
Similarly, both shows in the CW's double panel of Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (March 20, 7:30 p.m.) have also featured LGBTQ characters. On Jane, Dr. Luisa Alver, Rafael's sister (played by Yara Martinez) is a lesbian whose relationships with women are central storylines to the show. And last season, Petra (Yael Grobglas) came out as bisexual when she started having feelings for and later dating Rosario Dawson's character, Jane Ramos. Also last season, Jane struggled with the fact that her boyfriend Adam (Tyler Posey) identified as bi. Similarly, last season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had its third character come out as bisexual when Valencia Perez (Gabrielle Ruiz) found a girlfriend. The show even went as far as to have a song called “Getting Bi” that was sung by Daryll (Pete Gardner) to his colleagues when he came out in season one. Shortly after that, Maya (Esther Povitsky) came out as bi as well.
While NBC's Parks and Recreation isn't still on TV, the show is celebrating its 10th anniversary at this year's PaleyFest (March 21, 7:30 p.m.) and did have a gay character in its later seasons, Craig, played by Billy Eichner. There was even an episode where Craig married his boyfriend, Typhoon (Rodney To), and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) was their best man!
AMC's The Walking Dead (March 22, 7:30 p.m.) has had many LGBTQ characters throughout the years. In its current season, it features lesbian character Tara (Allana Masterson) and gay character Aaron (Ross Marquand). There are also rumors that new characters Magna (Nadia Hilker) and Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) will soon come out as a lesbian couple. This season also saw the loss of (spoiler alert!) gay character Jesus, played by Tom Payne. Some have critiqued the show's many LGBTQ deaths, claiming it feeds into the “bury your gays” trope that has existed in entertainment for years, more prominently in the past than it does today. That said, many straight characters have died in this show also — it's kind of the nature of the show, and just because a character is LGBTQ doesn't mean they wouldn't also be killed by zombies.
Another show from Ryan Murphy, FX's Pose (March 23, 7 p.m.), which I called “the most groundbreaking LGBTQ TV show ever” last summer, not only features the largest number of openly trans actors in lead roles ever in a TV series but also authentically tackles LGBTQ storylines and subject matters that have never really been seen on TV before.
CBS All Access original series Star Trek: Discovery (March 24, 2 p.m. in a double panel previewing The Twilight Zone) features, for the first time in Star Trek history, two officers in a gay relationship: Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz). Culber was killed in the first season, causing many fans to once again cite the “bury your gays” trope. However, (spoiler alert!), it's revealed in the new season that Culber is not actually dead and will continue his onscreen romance with Stamets.
Finally, NBC's This Is Us (March 24, 7 p.m.) hasn't shied away from LGBTQ storylines throughout the course of the show, from Randall's father, William (Ron Cephas Jones), revealing to his family that he's dating a man to, most recently, Randall's teenage daughter Tess (Eris Baker) coming out. Showing a child struggling with their sexuality on broadcast television is still rare and was a huge step forward in LGBTQ representation.
It may be important to note that while the L, B and G have experienced a surge of onscreen representation, the T still needs some work. Of these 10 shows mentioned, only Pose and RuPaul's Drag Race feature transgender representation. Hopefully media makers will one day expand the depiction of trans people on television, just as they've been doing for the rest of the LGBTQ community. Over recent years, it's been great to see both the volume and quality of LGBTQ roles grow. Since PaleyFest's lineup represents the most popular or buzzed-about shows on TV, it's clear that LGBTQ representation right now is at an all-time high, which is definitely something to celebrate.
In addition to the screenings and panels, Paley Center just announced Thursday, an immersive exhibit titled, “Fun, Laughs, Good Times: An Inside Look into the Fashion of Fosse/Verdon” featuring never-before-seen wardrobe from the new FX show about the famed choreographer (played by Sam Rockwell) and dancer (played by Michelle Williams) plus archival video of performances by the artists. 465 N Beverly Dr, Beverly Hills. Open now through April 28.
2019 PaleyFest L.A., Dolby Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; March 15-24; tickets and info at paleycenter.org/2019-paleyfest-la-tickets.