2009 Year in Review: Television

 
 

Tasha (played by Rose Rollins) and Alice’s relationship fell apart when Tasha found herself falling in love with their “third wheel.” Helena and Dylan’s relationship imploded when Helena discovered that Dylan was a pawn in one of Jenny’s schemes.

Jodi Lerner (played by Marlee Matlin) became a one-dimensional adultery whistle-blower. And Shane was forced into a manipulatively romantic relationship with Jenny, while a love letter from her ex-girlfriend wasted away in Jenny’s attic.

Only Bette and Tina got a happy ending, and who knows how long that would have lasted if Jenny had lived to show a “compromising” video of Bette and her business partner.

For all its flaws, though, The L Word left a gaping hole in queer programming when it ended.

As AfterEllen.com writer Dara Nai recently noted, “Sometimes you have to choose quantity over quality.” Because visibility matters, and The L Word featured more lesbians and bisexuals than any other show in history.

The characters may have found themselves in ridiculous and implausible situations, but (for the most part) they were true to their sexual identities. All of them were proudly out of the closet, living their lives as openly queer women. They laughed, they cried, they cheated (oh, did they ever cheat), and they had plenty of gratuitous sex.

For that alone — for the fact that the lesbian characters were actually allowed to touch one anotherThe L Word will be missed.

The SyFy channel made history this year when they rebooted their Stargate franchise and hired Ming-Na to play lesbian IOA officer Camile Wray in Stargate Universe.

Her presence in SyFy’s programming is revolutionary for several reasons.

Most importantly, Camile is the first leading lesbian character to be played by an Asian American on primetime television.

Her role in the Stargate series shows a pointed willingness on SyFy’s part to create more diverse and inclusive programming. Science fiction shows, in general, are cautious when introducing romantic plots. Sexual tension always takes second place to action and gadgetry, and if romance is introduced — especially in prior incarnations of Stargate — the relationships move at a glacial pace.

In SGU‘s pilot episode, Camile found herself stranded with a crew aboard the ancient ship Destiny. She mentioned then that she was a lesbian, and was in a committed relationship with her partner Sharon (played by Reiko Aylesworth). Her relationship came into play in a big way in the seventh episode of the season, “Life.”

In it, Camile returned home to visit her partner. The two shared several onscreen kisses and implied lovemaking. They made dinner and small talk, and simply soaked up the rare opportunity to spend time together.

When Camile reluctantly prepared to leave, Sharon told her:

You are going to take a deep breath, OK? You are going to go back to that ship. You are going to work with those people, motivate them, do whatever you need to do to get yourself back home. I am going to be here. I’m not going anywhere.

As I wrote in the episode recap:

Stargate Universe chose to frame Camile’s entire story within the context of a loving, committed relationship with another woman. And because Sharon and Camile’s relationship is given the most gravity of any on the show, it is the story-telling device that is used to anchor the entire crew of Destiny to Earth. Which is to say that the audience is supposed to connect with every character’s humanity because two lesbians’ hearts are breaking as they are forced to live light years apart.

SGU writers showed great faith in their audience by choosing to portray Camile as a lesbian, and they’ve taken plenty of flak for it. Many straight male SyFy viewers complained that Camile’s story was entirely too sappy for SGU; while lesbian viewers voiced their concern because of rumors that Camile will sleep with a man in the episode “Sabotage” which will air in 2010.

In the episode, Camile will allow her body to be swapped with a quadriplegic character for one episode. While the other woman is in her body, she will have sex with a man. Both Ming-Na and SyFy feel confident that the story will be handled “responsibly and with sensitivity.”

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