2008 Year in Review: Television

Just in time for Sweeps week (early November, around the
same time Smith’s firing from Grey’s
was announced), “The Skull in the Sculpture” episode of Bones (which introduced Roxie) aired on Fox. In the episode, Roxie and Angela see each
other again for the first time since college.

Roxie is questioned as part of the investigation into the
murder of her boss. When questioned about the nature of her relationship with
her deceased employer, she proclaims, “I’m gay, I’m a lesbian, I’ve never been
with a man in my life and I never will!" Yes, Roxie is gay. Duly noted.

Angela considers rekindling with Roxie, and after getting
the advice of her mostly progressive and gay-friendly colleagues, the two women
kiss at the end of the episode, and proceed to have a (mostly
off-screen) relationship for the next few episodes, and even discuss moving in together (ultimately concluding it’s too soon).

The show is currently on hiatus through January, and the
Roxie character is rumored to recur in 2009. But EW.com is
already reporting that that Roxie-Angela relationship will end in a break-up in February, and that Angela’s
next love interest will be male.

When originally alerting AE readers to the airing of “The
Skull in the Sculpture
” episode, AfterEllen.com Editor-In-Chief Sarah Warn
reminded us, “…be forewarned: it’s no coincidence that we’re getting a lesbian-themed
episode of Bones in the middle of Sweeps. After this episode, Angela
will most likely go back to being bisexual in the same way that Callie on Grey’s
Anatomy
is (i.e. it will rarely be mentioned again).”

Let’s hope she’s wrong, and not just because of the
continual lack of lesbian/bisexual representation on television. It’s also a
matter of racial diversity, since Angela is the only one of all the bisexual
characters on primetime broadcast television who is Asian American (Conlin is
of Chinese and Irish descent, and her character is half-Chinese).

The one leading lesbian character to briefly rear her head
on primetime broadcast television this year was Caitlin (played by Bonnie
Somerville) on ABC’s Cashmere Mafia.

Before it ever premiered, the much-hyped show about four
female friends supporting one another through the ups and downs of both
business and personal life seemed to be the only really glimmer of hope for
lesbian representation on primetime broadcast television.

The evolution of the Caitlin character included her coming
out to herself, then her friends, then eventually becoming involved with the
woman who first turned her head (Alicia Lawson, played by Lourdes Benedicto).

Alicia (Lourdes Benedicto), left, and Caitlin (Bonnie Somerville)

While some of her storyline was handled with
dramatic/comedic aplomb, the lesbian storyline ran afoul of many viewers with
the quick introduction of a stereotypical pregnancy subplot in the relationship with Alicia.

Moving at a speed typically only seen in real-life lesbian relationships,
Alicia reports after only a handful of dates that she is pregnant (via
insemination) and Caitlin ponders whether or not she is ready for co-parenting.

In Cashmere’s
short seven-episode run, Caitlin’s tentative exploration of her lesbian
identity was interrupted by a sexual liaison with a man. The resulting confusion wreaks havoc on her
relationship with Alicia, who ultimately breaks up with Caitlin to reconcile
with the ex-girlfriend with whom she originally became pregnant.

While Caitlin’s journey may be a realistic portrayal of the
complicated coming out process for many women, it was hell on her relationship
with Alicia and because the show didn’t last beyond seven episodes, viewers
never got to find out how it ended.

Was Caitlin indeed a lesbian? Was she bisexual? In which
category should we score this particular addition to the body count of queer
women on television in 2008?

As may ultimately be the case with the Angela-Roxie relationship on Bones, the handling of the Caitlin-Alicia relationship marked a
lost opportunity for not only a (now) rare portrayal of a lesbian relationship
on television, but that of an ongoing bi-racial lesbian relationship. While no
explicit mention of her ethnic background was ever made on Cashmere
Mafia’s
short
run
, Benedicto is half-Latina and half-Filipina.

Along with the
passage of Cashmere Mafia and
Lawson’s storyline went the opportunity for a lesbian character of color on
primetime network television.

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