ABC has done a fair job of representing lesbians in the last few years. With Grey’s Anatomy and All My Children, they had major lesbian couples on both primetime and daytime shows (unfortunately, only one still exists). Private Practice has done an OK job with its minor lesbian plotlines, despite them being quite depressing in the end, and the short-lived Off the Map had a similarly sad-but-endearing lesbian-themed episode.
But now that Grey’s is ABC’s only lesbian representation, they’ve instead created some more “very special lesbian episodes” on two of its unlikeliest shows: Last Man Standing and Man Up!. Yep, that’s two shows primarily about men.
Last Man Standing is a show starring Tim Allen and is not unlike his 1990s sitcom Home Improvement. Tim is Mike Baxter and he has three daughters with his wife, Vanessa (Nancy Travis). And in this week’s episode, Mike and Vanessa meet their neighbors, a lesbian couple named Rebecca (Emily Rutherfurd) and Charlie (Andrea Bendewald). Mike instantly hits it off with Charlie, a motorcycle riding, football loving sarcastic woman. Vanessa, meanwhile, makes antiquing plans with Rebecca and ponders how nice it must be to be in a lesbian relationship.
“Mom, are you jealous of lesbians?” one of her daughters asks. “No,” Vanessa says. “I made my choices and I’m stuck with them.”
The hilarity ensues when Mike, a jokester at all costs, insults Charlie by calling her butt big. This is when he realizes Charlie, despite being a tough woman, is still a woman and she retreats home, found by Vanessa and Rebecca “crying on the front porch.” After Mike learns “his lesson” (women are all, by nature, sensitive), he prepares to apologize but is met by Charlie, who wants to apologize for being able to dish it out but not take it. All is well when they agree he will never talk about her ass again.
The entire premise of Last Man Standing, much like Home Improvement, is the battle of the sexes, so Mike always ends up messing something up with a woman, whether it be his wife, his daughters or a stranger, and having to fix it. So it’s not a surprise that he offends Charlie. But I was surprised to see that the lesbians were not the butt (pun not intended) of any jokes. Instead, their being lesbians were seen as a positive thing by everyone in the episode, including Mike’s co-worker who warned him that she is “still a woman.” And the women, as in any other plotline on Last Man Standing, are educators and the ones that make Mike’s actions so laughable.
The motorcycle riding butch/femme relationship was a little bit stereotypical, but not offensive. It was part of the plot that Mike hit it off with one of them based on commonality, as he was not looking forward to meeting any neighbor, assuming they’d be boring and not share any of his interests. Charlie, by contrast, was a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
On Man Up, Kenny prepares to meet his girlfriend, Jane (Emily Harrison)’s, parents at the coffee house they own. He finds her parents are two moms (Markie Post and Alison La Placa) and he is self-professed “terrible with moms.” So when he finds out he has to deal with two of them, he is nervous and asks terrible questions like which one of them “Jane came out of” and “Did the lesbians come with this place or did you have to lure them in somehow?”
Jane’s moms are also therapists who attempt to help Kenny through a “rebirth” by discussing his childhood.
Meanwhile, Kenny’s pal Craig (Christopher Moynihan) books a gig at the coffeehouse and finds his lesbian audience loves songs like “No Man Land.” He finds himself a lesbian folk hero and plays several times to a roaring audience of “sisters.” But when the manager, Renee (Annie Tedesco), tells him she would date him if she were still dating men, he decides to write a song to encourage her and his audience declares him a “turner” or a man who thinks all lesbians are just waiting to meet the right man. Renee kicks him out and Craig is no longer in “the lesbian groove.” In fact, he learns that lesbians aren’t just waiting for the right man. Another man show about learning lessons about women! I’m sensing a theme.
Considering the audience of these shows are more than likely men, these very special lesbian episodes were done fairly well. Lesbians were shown in positive lights and the men were the ones who needed to be enlightened. The jokes were funny and made by the women as well as the men. Their being lesbians were part of a plot that didn’t have to do with the sole fact they were gay. Instead, it was for commonality sake with Mike and to be intimidating to Kenny, who is terrible with moms. And if men are taking away from these episodes that lesbians are not waiting for the right man and still don’t want to hear anything about their butt size, then that is fine with me.
In an ideal TV landscape, we’d have more regular lesbian characters like Callie and Arizona whose lives are portrayed as normal and the word “lesbian” isn’t mentioned several times throughout an episode. In the meantime, I’m happy the “very special episodes” are evolving and featuring acceptance and positive portrayals of relationships.