Lesbian/bi visibility on primetime American television this summer is not much better than it is the rest of the year — which is to say, it’s pretty slim pickings.
Among the shows premiering or returning in the next few weeks, there are a few with supporting lesbian/bi characters (Mental, The Closer); one with an out actress in a supporting role (Hawthorne); and a reality show featuring two out female contestants (Top Chef Master).
Here’s a review of the pilot or first new episode(s) of all four series, and a short list of the premiere/air dates of other shows that may interest you.
Warning: some mild spoilers, but no major plot points revealed
Mental (Drama, Fox)
CAST: Chris Vance (Prison Break), Annabella Sciorra (Queens Supreme, The L Word), Derek Webster (Stargate), Jacqueline McKenzie (4400), Marisa Ramirez (General Hospital), Nicholas Gonzalez (CSI: Miami).
OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: Mental follows the story of Dr. Jack Gallagher (Vance), a dynamic, young psychiatrist who becomes Director of Mental Health Services at a Los Angeles hospital. There he must reconcile his effective, yet highly unorthodox treatment methods with his conservative boss, hospital administrator Nora Skoff (Sciorra), a woman with whom he shares a romantic past. As Gallagher takes on new cases, he is confronted with patients battling unknown, misunderstood and often misdiagnosed conditions. Gallagher delves inside their minds to gain a true understanding of who his patients are, allowing him to uncover what just might be the key to their long-term recovery.
WHAT THE DESCRIPTION DOESN’T TELL YOU: Sciorra barely appears in the first two episodes, despite being billed as a lead. One of the supporting characters, Dr. Chloe Artis (Ramirez), is a lesbian, which we find out in the second episode when she calls out her fellow resident, Dr. Suarez (Gonzalez), for continually hitting on her, even though he knows she’s gay. "One night, that’s all it will take," he says when she asks if he really thinks he’s the personal panacea to her lesbianism. (Chloe has a long-distance girlfriend, and in our interview with Ramirez, she reveals that we won’t meet her in the first season.)
REVIEW: It’s fun to see McKenzie in a post-4400 role, and Ramirez plays her role well, even if it’s a small one.
But there’s very little about this drama that feels fresh. "Boring" is one word for it, "patronizing" is another. It’s basically ER set in the psychiatric ward of a hospital, with most of the action focusing on Dr. Gallagher (Vance), a cocky psychiatrist from the UK who comes to shake things up with his unorthodox ways, and teach his residents important lessons like learning to treat the person, not just the disease.
Except for the focus on mental instead of physical problems, and the addition of a Latina lesbian psychiatrist, you’ve seen this show a million times before.
The Closer (Drama, TNT)
CAST: Kyra Sedwick, Jon Tenney (Tombstone), J.K. Simmons (Juno), Corey Reynolds (The Terminal), Robert Gossett (Arlington Road), G.W. Bailey (M.A.S.H.), Tony Denison (Prison Break), Raymond Cruz (Breaking Bad), Michael Paul Chan (Arrested Development) and Phillip P. Keene (The DA).
OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: It’s going to be a year of change for Deputy Police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Sedwick) and her Major Crimes unit as TNT’s The Closer returns for its fifth season. Just as Brenda starts adjusting to married life, she loses someone very dear to her. In addition, the intra-office conflict between Sgt. Gabriel (Reynolds) and Det. Daniels (Gina Ravera) is resolved for good and another squad member goes through a complete attitude change after falling in love. The economy forces one of Brenda’s detectives to take a second job, while the fatal shooting of a suspect leads to career complications for another.
WHAT THE DESCRIPTION DOESN’T TELL YOU: It’s fairly obvious from the cast photo (and the fact that she’s not seen or mentioned in the first episode of the new season) that Det. Daniels is the one who is gone, which leaves an all-male supporting cast. Maybe that’s why they’re adding Mary McDonnell (Battlestar Galactica) as a "special guest star" in the third episode of the season — she plays an Internal Affairs captain investigating a shooting by a member of Brenda’s squad — and Paola Turbay in a small recurring role beginning in the second episode ("Blood Money") as a lesbian police officer who clashes with Brenda.
REVIEW: The first episode of the new season ("Products of Discovery") is a strong one, as Brenda and team cross the Witness Protection program while investigating the murder of an entire family. The fourth season sidetracked a little too much into Brenda’s personal issues (her wedding, parental visits, or cat problems), so it’s a relief to see the show focusing more on her at work again. If this episode is any indication, the show seems to be very much back on track.