British TV Series “Mistresses” Does Right

In many other ways, though, the show provided a refreshingly angst-free and matter-of-fact representation of a queer female character. There was the fact that Jessica’s essential drama didn’t really revolve around the question of her sexual orientation; it was actually about whether she was going to allow herself to fall in love and consider the possibility of a serious monogamous relationship with someone. That story arc could just as easily have belonged to a heterosexual character.

There was also the fact that Jessica’s three friends were so accepting of her immediately, with Siobhan even admitting that she had had a lesbian experience herself when she was younger. While Trudi, the most straitlaced of the four, was discomfited by the idea of kissing a girl, there was never any question of her ceasing to love Jessica as a friend.

Additionally, although Jessica was not identified on Mistresses as South Asian, she was played by Anglo-Indian actress Shelley Conn. The only other recent lesbian/bi character to be played by a South Asian actress on TV was Meera Syal’s detective, Miranda, on the BBC’s Jekyll.

While L Word actress Janina Gavankar is Indo-Dutch, her character, Papi, was Latina, which raised a host of other issues around race. Even though Jessica’s last name is Fraser, thereby indicating that the part probably wasn’t written specifically for a South Asian actress, casting Conn in the role certainly raises the profile of lesbian/bi women of color on television.

Perhaps most interesting of all was the arc of Jessica’s relationship with her married boss, Simon (Adam Astill). While presented as a bit of a twit (he refers to Alex and Lisa as "the rug-munchers," and at their civil partnership ceremony asks Jessica, "So when does the drunken girl-on-girl action start?"), he was essentially amiable and difficult to dislike. Once he realizes that Jessica is no longer interested in him, he backs off and then arranges for her to bump into Alex.

In the last episode, when Alex is busy with Lisa and unable to meet Jessica for her birthday as promised, Simon turns up to provide platonic comfort for Jessica, leading her to state a touch sarcastically: "All right, fine. You can be my fag hag." The affinity between gay men and straight women has become a staple of pop culture, but it is still unusual to see a similar friendship represented between a queer woman and a straight man.

The BBC has not yet announced whether Mistresses will be renewed for a second series, and part of the uncertainty reportedly centers on the fact that two of the actors (Sarah Parish and Sharon Small, who play Katie and Trudi) are due to give birth just when filming might resume. Also,

Anna Torv (who played Alex) has been cast as the female lead in J.J. Abrams’ new sci-fi show, Fringe, possibly limiting her potential involvement in a second series of Mistresses. If it does return, hopefully its positive and complex portrayal of Jessica will continue.

Watch more clips of Jessica and Alex here:

Mistresses is available on DVD in the U.K. Visit the show’s official site for further information.

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