2012: The Year in Lesbian/Bi TV

At this point in my annual TV review, I usually start listing off the lesbian and bisexual characters we lost during the year, but 2012 proved an exception to that rule, as America’s cable and broadcast networks picked up seven new shows that featured 10 new leading lesbian and bisexual characters, as well as an old family favorite that introduced a new lesbian couple.

Two new fan favorite queer-centric shows in 2012 were Canadian imports Lost Girl and Bomb Girls, which were picked up by American networks Syfy and Reelz, respectively. Some gay viewers were already familiar with the shows as they’d scrambled to find ways to watch online after the lesbian and bisexual characters made waves in internet communities in 2011. But 2012 was the first year American viewers could watch the shows legally.

Lost Girl was such a hit with American audiences that Syfy aired both completed seasons back-to-back and TiVo declared it the show most-watched by Americans before going to bed. The series featured bisexual succubus Bo who teamed up with a ragtag band of humans and Fae folk to create a supernatural detective agency. Bo also found herself caught in a love triangle with lupine shapeshifter Dyson and human doctor Lauren Lewis. Lost Girl‘s depiction of bisexuality was heralded by the queer community, as Bo broke down the walls of stereotype and cliche and proved herself as a complicated character who would fall in love with a person, not a gender. What’s more, the show’s creative team gave equal time to both pairings and did not shy away from showing as much physical intimacy between Lauren and Bo as they did with Dyson and Bo.

Meanwhile, Bomb Girls, which was originally slated as a six-part mini-series on Canadian TV, was given a full-series order when American and UK networks signed on to help produce the series. The show, which follows the lives of a group of World War II factory workers, gave us a plucky, irreverent lesbian character named Betty McRae, who, in typical gay lady fashion, made herself a champion for social justice and underdogs everywhere when participated in the suggestion box system at Victory Munitions and promptly fell in love with Kate Andrews, the daughter of an abusive street preacher. A heart of gold and swagger we could believe in. Oh, Canada.

NBC’s new medical/firefighter procedural Chicago Fire also proved to be a big hit with queer viewers this year. One of the main characters in the ensemble cast is Leslie Shay, a lesbian paramedic who revealed her sexuality when her firefighting pals tricked a new recruit into hitting on her. “Are you gay?” she asked him. “Because I am.” Leslie had a complicated relationship with former girlfriend Clarice, who left her and married/had a child with a man. Leslie was involved in a car crash during the midseason finale of the show; hopefully it’s just a ratings-grabber, and I won’t have to add Shay to my list of 2013 casualties.

MTV’s new scripted show Underemployed didn’t receive the kind of fan support as some of this season’s other new shows, but its lesbian character, Sophia Swanson, was easily one of the most likeable young adult lesbian characters in cable TV canon. Remarkably, Sophia was the main character of the show; all of the other characters’ lives revolved around her orbit, and as an aspiring author, she narrated their stories to the audience. In only one short season, she fell in love with another girl — her first — and come out to her friends. MTV has had mixed success with its scripted programming. The US incarnation of Skins was a ratings flop. And it took a full season for the now wildly popular Teen Wolf to find ratings traction. Here’s hoping MTV will make a second season investment into Underemployed so it can find its way into the hearts of lesbian and bisexual viewers.

Another surprisingly resonant comedic lesbian character appeared in NBC’s new comedy, Go On. The single camera sitcom explores the life of a grief support group that boasts a diverse and eclectic group of mourners. Among them is Anne, a lesbian mom and widow whose wife died while texting and driving. Anne was portrayed as the coolest, most “normal” member of the group, something she reminded Matthew Perry‘s character about regularly. As Anne struggled with the death of her partner, she also worked hard to open herself up to new life experiences, including dating a new women. Finding potential suitors wasn’t a struggle, however. Not only was Anne a catch on her own, the show played out a running gag that when he wears glasses, Matthew Perry looks an awful lot like Rachel Maddow.

For lesbian and bisexual TV viewers who like their stories with a side of blood-curdling gore and nightmares, American Horror Story: Asylum aimed to terrify. The season kicked off with lesbian couple Wendy and Lana in a happy, albeit closeted, relationship. Lana, a journalist, checked herself into a local asylum, hoping to uncover the truth about serial killer Bloodyface, but instead, she found herself a victim of rape and torture while Shelley found herself a victim of murder. Taken at face value, it’s not what I’d call positive lesbian visibility, but my horror buff colleagues assure me that it’s actually quite progressive for the most sympathetic character in slasher flick to be a lesbian.

For a few weeks this year, we also had another primetime lesbian doctor to root for on Emily Owens M.D. Unfortunately, we barely got to know Tyra before The CW pulled the plug on the show.

And finally, long-running daytime soap The Bold and the Beautiful offered up its first lesbian couple this year in the form of long-beloved fan favorite Karen Spencer and her new (to the audience) wife, Danielle. The couple’s debut mirrored actor Joanna Johnson‘s own coming out. She opened up about her own sexuality when the show announced its plan to make her character gay.

But that’s not all! In addition to all of those main characters, we also saw over 20 supporting, recurring, and guest starring lesbian and bisexual characters in 2012.

When ABC’s breakout comedy Happy Endings premiered last year, entertainment reporters kept asking creator David Caspe why he made Max gay, and his repeated answer was that when you have a group of six friends in an urban setting in real life, at least one of them is going to be gay. It would be intellectually dishonest, then, to set a six-person sitcom in Chicago and make all of the characters straight. Following that (completely valid) train of thought, every ensemble show should feature at least one gay character who gets main billing, a lesbian Rachel for every straight Monica, if you will. We’re not there yet, but TV creatives do finally seem to be cottoning onto the idea that straight main characters need, at the very least, supporting gay characters in their orbit if a show is going to stay grounded in reality.

Enter Jackie’s bisxual best friend Dr. Elanor O’Hara on Nurse Jackie, Peggy’s lesbian best friend Joyce Ramsey on Mad Men, Jess’ lesbian best friend Sadie on New Girl, David and Bryan’s lesbian best friends Victoria and Tiffany on The New Normal. Of course, lesbian and bisexual women also make great sidekicks, like Diana Barrigan on White Collar, and Angela Montenegro on Bones, and Emily on Being Human. We even enjoyed a couple of Very Special Episodes this year, as Army Wives tackled DADT with its lesbian couple Nicole and Charlie. The Secret Life of the American Teenager tackled coming out later in life when Anne revealed that she was in a lesbian relationship. Lesbian and bisexual characters were also counted this year in Archer, Shameless, Upstairs Downstairs, The Simpsons and even Two and Half Men.

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