2010 Year In Review: Television

Lesbian Superhero Ellen DeGeneres also judged her one and only season on American Idol. She gave up the gig, saying that she wasn’t up to the task of destroying the hopes and dreams of young musicians. But she held her own on top-rated show in the universe. Ellen also starred in a TBS comedy show in 2010, Ellen’s Somewhat Special Special. It was universally adored by critics.

Unlike years past — when lesbians on reality TV were nothing more than attention seekers, playing up their “wild” sides for the camera — the queer women on reality TV in 2010 were strong, successful, talented women — who also happened to be gay. It was a welcome respite from the fauxmosexuality.

NEWS! NEWS! NEWS! (AND TALKSHOWS!)

Rachel Maddow continued to woo and wow every liberal in America on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show in 2010. Maddow worked tirelessly on behalf of the gay and lesbian community, taking the Obama Administration to task repeatedly over The Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She rebuffed and rebuked proponents of gay “conversion” therapy and voiced perpetual outrage over Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill. She also took a trip Afghanistan where she interviewed soldiers and civilians, hoping to shed light on the war-torn Middle East.

Suze Orman advanced her position as America’s Financial Guru this year. The Suze Orman Show show drew in more viewers than ever, perhaps because everyone needs to be DENIED! during a rescission. Likewise openly gay news anchor Jane Valez-Mitchell‘s Issues continued to rake in viewers for CNN in primetime.

And, of course, Ellen. Ellen DeGeneres’ talkshow was more popular than ever this season, with nearly everyone pronouncing Ellen as the heir to the Daytime Throne when Oprah‘s farewell season is over. In the past, many LGBT activists have accused Ellen of not taking a strong stand for gay rights, but no one could possibly question her commitment to spreading a message of equality this year. In addition to addressing Prop. 8 and making an “It Gets Better” video on set, she had her wife, Portia DeGeneres, on her show twice this season. And the pair appeared in a touching interview on Oprah.

TELLY ACROSS THE POND

Lesbian and bisexual visibility may have been stifled in America, but across the pond queer characters enjoyed a resurgence in 2010.

The year kicked off with the return of the E4 hit Skins. Naomi (Lily Loveless) and Emily (Kathryn Prescott) finally found their way to each other at the end of Skins series three. And in series four, they fell apart. Over the course of eight episodes, they ripped themselves up before they finally found sanctuary in each other’s arms in the generation two finale. Emily’s series four episode was one of the finest “lesbian” episodes of television we’ve ever seen. The writing, the acting, the directing, the soundtrack: All of it added up to an hour of heart-wrenching perfection. They cried. We cried. And we all hung on for dear life.

The UK also delighted us when they revealed Sophie Webster (Brooke Vincent) as a lesbian on Coronation Street. Sophie’s sexual awakening and slow-burn relationship with now-girlfriend Sian (Sacha Parkinson) has been a pleasure to watch. Corrie gave us one of the most nuanced portrayals of coming out (and reconciling faith with sexuality) that we’ve ever seen.

BBC3′s Lip Service promised to be The L Word set in Scotland, and depending on who you ask, the drama surpassed that expectation. Unrelenting in its portrayal of lesbian women, lesbian relationships, lesbian processing, lesbian drama and lesbian sex, Lip Service made us cry and laugh and nod our heads in understanding. Frankie, Tess, Cat and Sam captured our hearts; we’re on pins and needles waiting for word about a follow-up season.

BBC also gave us The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister this year, and it was by all accounts a Very Lesbian Pride and Prejudice. The period drama was adapted from the actual diaries of Anne Lister (whom many scholars call “the first modern lesbian”). It followed Anne from first love to first heartbreak to settling down. BBC did not shy away from the sex Anne explicitly wrote about in her journals; nor did they gloss over the complicated relationship she had with a world that didn’t understand or accept lesbianism.

THE YEAR AHEAD

2010 wasn’t what we’d call a banner year for lesbian and bisexual characters on TV. While we were excited about the positive portrayals of real-life lesbians on reality TV, we were  forced to eat the scraps tossed to us by showrunners and writers when it came to scripted TV. And we can’t say that 2011 looks much better.

MTV is adapting Skins for an American audience, so we’ll be getting a new lesbian character come January. And Pretty Little Liars returns at the beginning of the year, too, with Emily confronting her sexuality with her parents. Our sources also indicate that Callie and Arizona will be on the mend on Grey’s in 2011.

Other than that, we’re locked — once again — in a holding pattern. If all else fails, there are always ways to watch British TV online.

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