TV’s Queer Renaissance
What’s on your box? Our Char Binns writes about her earliest experiences of lesbian TV characters and why she’s so excited for today’s queer TV shows.
Hindsight gives us a wonderful ability to revisit moments in our life and attribute more meaning to them than we had done at the time they happened. As someone who came out pretty late, I can’t say I recall any “Ah ha!” moment when I realised I was attracted to women. But I can recall with absolute clarity the first time I realised the depth of love that can exist between two women. And I have TV to thank for that.
Here’s the scene: It’s the late 1990s, a Saturday, early-evening somewhere in suburban West Yorkshire. The TV is tuned to Channel 5. These are the days when people still watched Channel 5 because until recently we’d only had four channels! An 12-year old Char is watching one of her favourite shows Xena Warrior Princess (hello hindsight!) and absolutely gripped by a rare moment of heightened emotion. Gabrielle (Xena’s loyal sidekick/soul mate) is laying on the ground, presumed dead. The beautiful Lucy Lawless, clad in her gaudy/sexy warrior clothing is kneeling next to the body, pounding her mighty fist on the chest of her gal pal, shouting ‘Don’t leave me.’
I watch, engrossed, tears streaming from my eyes. I didn’t fully understand my highly emotional response at that time but the love between Xena and Gabrielle somehow, deeply resonated. (Don’t worry folks, Gabrielle lived to fight another day!).
In recent years there has been talk of bringing Xena back to our screens, with the relationship between the two main characters made more explicit. Back in the late 90s, Xena and Gabrielle were just “special friends”, so the first mention of lesbians on my TV came from the 1990s phenomenon that was Friends. But these lesbians did not resonate. Ross’s wife Carol had left him when she fell in love with Susan and that was very, very funny. Ross’s wife is a lesbian; chuffing hilarious!
Roll forward to 2019 and I’m caught in something close to adolescent excitement about TV’s current queer offering, to the extent that I have been known to wander around my house singing a self penned dity, ‘So much queer TV, so much queer TV’.
So what’s on my box? Kicking off with the glorious Killing Eve (BBC 1, Saturday at 9.15pm). This Bafta award winning drama also brings laugh out loud funny moments. Oh how proud we are of Liverpool’s own Jodie Comer, pure perfection as assassin Villanelle. But it is Sandra Oh’s Eve who really does it for me. While acting out any number of hyper dramatic story lines, the characterisation never waivers; Eve is nothing but believable, consistent and authentic.
The Beeb offers us even more queer women in the shape of Gentleman Jack (BBC 1, Sunday, 9pm). Set in 1830s West Yorkshire (my old stomping group) and based on real life events, Suranne Jones is sublime as Anne Lister; charming, sexy and smart. The show also serves as an LGBTQ+ history lesson, recalling the boldness and braveness of those who paved the way to a day when queer TV has become prime-time viewing.
On BBC iPlayer catch the first series of Pose before the second series is released (date TBC but soon hopefully, since it is currently airing in the USA). Inspired by the drag balls of the 1980s Harlem, and with the largest cast of trans characters (played by trans actors) in TV history, Pose is style, class, drama and pure TV gold.
Over on Netflix I’m trying to savour new series Tales of the City. Based on Armistead Maupin’s books of the same name and featuring original characters, but 20 years later, set in the present day. With Ellen Page in the lead role and set against the backdrop of beautiful San Francisco early episodes suggest this is going to be essential viewing.
And then there’s my List! Next up is Netflix’s Special, while I work out who I can steal borrow Prime from in order to binge watch Vida. Plus, the countdown is on for The L Word reboot, the TV show that queer womxn love to hate and hate to love which returns to TV sets (in the USA at least) this autumn.