A recent episode of ABC's Happy Endings ended with Max, the resident gay character played by Adam Pally, stretched out on a couch, shirtless, with a look of ecstasy on his face. Because he was stuffing it with a huge sandwich, its contents spilling out all over his large, exposed hairy stomach.
In terms of positive portrayals of gays on mainstream television, that one scene did more for me than three seasons of Kurt on Glee. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy that a massive hit has a main character like Kurt, who's adamant about believing in and being yourself. But it also bugs me that Kurt reinforces the same cartoon stereotypes we've been fed for years -- he's what I imagine Dr. Smith from Lost in Space must have been like as a teen, before growing old and bitter.
But Max! He's lazy, unshaven, wears dirty flannel shirts, watches loads of TV and probably smells like hot sauce and cheap deodorant that's failing fast. He's best friends with a couple of straight dudes -- even lives with one -- and neither of them could care less that he's gay. And Max doesn't care much either. So far, the only time Max's sexuality has come up as an issue was in an episode a couple of weeks back. Max insisted that Dave (Zachary Knighton) was breaking a bro code by dating Max's ex-girlfriend from high school. Dave claimed the code didn't apply because Max is gay. Turns out Max's angst had nothing to do with some lame code -- the lady broke Max's heart when he was a teenager and he still remembers how much that hurt, so Dave backed down out of respect for his friend's feelings. Weird, that of all programs, it took a 30-minute prime time network sitcom to nail the normal bond many gay men have with their straight buds. I can't think of any other television show that's depicted it so effortlessly.
Before anyone gripes that the reason Max is so well liked by his male friends on the show and considered a safe bet for mainstream audiences is because he's displaying hetero-normative characteristics -- like watching football on Sundays and loving big plastic toy guns -- remember that most other shows that have offered us gay characters that acted "straight" also neutered the poor guy to the point of asexuality. Whenever straight dude friends were around, the gay guy would act like there was nothing between his legs except the gently sloping mound of a Ken doll crotch. (I'm looking at you, Matt Fielding and Eric van der Woodsen). Max, on the other hand, has no problem bragging about his sex life with all his straight male pals. And they have no problem with it because they talk right back about theirs. My one concern is that the show might use Max's detached attitude towards love and relationships to avoid ever having to show him actually kiss a guy. But if it means more shots of Pally mouthing off while proudly sprawled out with his beer belly exposed, it's worth the trade.