Well-Written “South of Nowhere” Features Queer Teen Girls

Spencer’s entire family is mired in the crisis of the move. Her mother is so busy with emergency trauma at the hospital that she is spending less time at home with husband and family, and Arthur is quietly unhappy about it.

Clay seems to be experiencing a different high school life altogether. Unable to get into the classes he needs for college and beaten up by the jealous thug boyfriend of a girl Clay meets, his first day of school is a tough preview of what life in Los Angeles may hold for him. Impressed by Clay’s refusal to back down in the fight, socially-conscious Sean takes an interest in him and is shocked at Clay’s lack of awareness when it comes to race politics.

Life is easier for Glen, who is enjoying notoriety as the new basketball sensation. But his competitor for the starting spot on the team, Aiden (Matt Cohen), isn’t about to relent his position on the team. Their mutual animosity is heightened by Aiden’s obvious attraction to Spencer. To complicate matters, Glen has his eye on Ashley, but is shocked when told “She used to date Aiden. Then she changed teams. She got into girls.”

Glen is quick to bring the subject of Ashley’s sexuality to the dinner table. He tells his parents that he heard that Aiden, “turned her gay.” His father corrects him, “Son, people don’t turn gay. They either are or they aren’t.” But his religious wife begs to differ, “That’s just one opinion. Let’s just hope and pray that his girl finds her way.”

Spencer has listened in silence but finally pops, “I think God is a little too busy to worry about which two people like each other.” Glen adds, “Mom this girl is too beautiful to be gay. She’s probably just experimenting.”

Her mother’s response gives Spencer a hint at the disapproval she herself might one day face, “Life is not an experiment. You get one shot at it, and if you’re not careful you’ll experiment yourself to the grave. Spencer, I think you should find some new friends. This girl Ashley sounds like she could be a bad influence on you.”

Thus the ground is laid for Spencer's journey through the rest of the season, as she struggles to understand her sexuality and her relationship with Ashley in the context of conflicting social pressure at school, and at home.

The show is well-written, and the storyline for each of the lead characters is compelling. While the life of the Carlin family seems idyllic, the differing philosophies of the parents is setting the stage for bigger conflicts down the road. It’s particularly interesting to see how differences of race and sexuality among family members have the power to divide when ignored or mishandled.

Gabrielle Christian and Mandy Musgrave are likeable lead characters and have an easy chemistry with one another. Both play their characters as bold and mature, yet uncertain of their true selves. Having two positively portrayed queer characters on primetime television is likely to make a big impact on queer, questioning, and straight teens alike.

The show pays respect to its teenaged viewers by portraying the young characters as relatively informed about gay topics, even if still conflicted about them. But this isn’t surprising when considering The N’s stated mission to “be the authentic voice of teens and to help them figure out their lives.”

According to The N’s publicity materials, it aims to arm teenagers with “information to help them meet the challenges of adolescence.” The N promotes “tolerance and respect for others, and helps kids build self-awareness and acceptance.”

South of Nowhere is a big step in that direction. Regardless of your age, the season premiere–directed by Donna Deitch (Desert Hearts, Common Ground)—is not to be missed.

South of Nowhere airs on Fridays at 8:30pm on The Noggin.
Visit our South of Nowhere section for more information and episode recaps.

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