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Lelia Nebeker Headshot

Happy Endings and Gay PDA in Prime Time

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I was flipping channels last night while I was waiting for Top Chef to come on when I stumbled on the last five minutes of ABC's comedy Happy Endings. I'd seen the show before and thought it was funny, but it had never really gripped me. It appeared to be a Valentine's Day themed episode, and I knew enough to know that Max (Adam Pally) was gay, and apparently he was trying to win over his romantic interest, played by none other than James Wolk, the charismatic star of Lone Star (which you may remember as the critically acclaimed drama that was canceled after two episodes in 2010). Okay, now I was officially hooked. Lone Star's premature cancellation left me with a James Wolk-shaped void, which I am perpetually trying to fill. But what struck me even more than James Wolk's charming smile, was the fact that he was kissing another man. On network TV. In prime time. Don't get me wrong -- I was elated, it's just that this is not as common an occurrence as I would like it to be.

Any show that has the chutzpah to show two men making out in prime time has my respect and support. In case you hadn't noticed, America is still a little homophobic, and its homophobia is much more pronounced when it comes to PDA between gay men on TV than when it's between women. Pretty much any Fox show has thrown in a bisexual female character at some point, probably just so they can air lady-on-lady kisses in their promos (which appears to be a very successful marketing technique). Just look at Bones and House: Angela (played by the beautiful Michaela Conlin) had a brief lesbian relationship on Bones (which involved plenty of kissing), while Olivia Wilde's character on House was a bisexual who had a steamy sex scene with another woman in the opening of one episode. Frankly, I'm surprised they haven't found an excuse for the two Olivias on Fringe to make out with each other. (Maybe that would help Fringe's ratings.)

You could argue that any portrayal of lesbian or bisexual characters on TV is better than none at all, but in these two cases, I can't help but feel like they were more for the sake of sensationalism than for good, multidimensional storytelling. (This could also be because I'm predisposed to criticize everything Fox does, due to my history of heartbreak with the network.) Despite their occasional misuse of lesbian relationships, I can't rag on Fox too much, since they also air Glee, a show that, while it has struggled creatively over the past two seasons, has also made tremendous progress for gay characters on network TV. This season's episode "First Time" included parallel storylines of a gay couple and straight couple each having sex for the first time. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Ryan Murphy said, "Everybody has seen a straight couple losing their virginity, but has anyone dovetailed the gay and straight stories together and given them equal weight? That seemed like an exciting choice and a new thing."

America has made great strides in portraying gay characters on TV, but they're still too often relegated to the gay best friend or gay younger brother stereotypes. The number of shows with central characters who are gay or bisexual is still not proportional to the number of gay or bisexual people represented in the country. (Of course, the same can be said for racial diversity on TV.) I know what you're thinking -- what about Modern Family? Yes, that's one other show with a pair of gay central characters (who even share a kiss on occasion). Throw in Glee and Happy Endings, and network TV is starting to look like Bravo! (If only.) I'm not saying that tremendous progress hasn't been made, or that Fox should stop adding bisexual female characters to their procedural dramas, or that every show should be more like Glee (God forbid). I'm just saying that it wouldn't kill anyone to occasionally throw in a multidimensional gay or bisexual male character for a change (preferably one played by James Wolk). And Happy Endings has earned my viewership by doing just that.