Year in Queer 2006: Television

Numerous scripted shows did feature lesbian characters in standalone episodes in 2006, and the vast majority of them provided positive portraits ­— or attempts at positive portraits — of queer women. On Veronica Mars (UPN) last March, Veronica investigated the blackmailing of gay students in an episode in which the gay-bashers were clearly positioned as homophobic bullies. On an episode of Without a Trace last March, a lesbian couple kissed on air and were allowed to have a happy ending — a rare occurrence in a crime drama.

On Eve last April, bisexual character Rita (Ali Landry) pretended that she was dating Shelley (Eve) when she ran into an ex-girlfriend. Though the episode was by no means stellar, its intentions appeared to be in the right place. The same can be said for a July episode of The Simple Life, when Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie planned a wedding for a lesbian couple.

By far the best standalone episode including a lesbian character was “Blind Date,” an episode of NBC’s 30 Rock in which Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) was set up on a blind date with someone named “Thomas.” Thomas turned out to be Gretchen Thomas (Stephanie March), setting up the tried-and-true comedic gag of mistaken homosexuality. But Liz, who was described as having “bi-curious shoes,” reacted positively to the set-up, and the result was an episode in which being mistaken for a lesbian was never a bad thing — it was even slightly disappointing to both Liz and Gretchen that they weren’t compatible in terms of sexual orientation.

On daytime TV, All My Children brought back lesbian character Bianca (Eden Riegel), only to have Bianca discover that her girlfriend, Maggie, was cheating on her. The soap opera continued to squander its lesbian story line possibilities this fall when it announced that they were introducing a male character named Zarf who decides to transition from male to female after kissing Bianca. The possibilities for this story line to devolve into ludicrous and insensitive portrayals of transgender folk are endless, but at least Bianca, it seems, is still a lesbian.

Scripted Television: Cable

For complex portraits of lesbians and bisexual women on scripted television, viewers still have to turn to cable television. However, even on cable television, lesbian characters are rarely allowed to have active love lives unless they are on a gay-themed show such as The L Word (Showtime) or Dante’s Cove (here!).

TNT introduced a Latina lesbian paramedic, Angela de la Cruz (Tracy Vilar) on its show Saved (which has not been renewed for a second season), but the promising character soon fell back onto stereotype when it was revealed that she was trying to get pregnant. Nip/Tuck (FX) also squandered its lesbian character, anesthesiologist Liz Cruz (Roma Maffia), this season, even though the show brought in iconic singer Alanis Morisette to play Cruz’s love interest. In a three-episode arc, the two women met, dated and broke up without even sharing a dry-mouthed peck. In a show that often pushes the boundaries with its bizarre and sexually adventurous story lines, this was certainly a disappointment.

Lesbian characters were also part of the storytelling landscape on HBO’s The Wire, in which Sonja Sohn plays Detective Shakima Greggs. But although the show consistently wins kudos for its complexity and excellence, and it also featured a gay black man, Omar Little (Michael K. Williams), whose love life has been part of the series’ story line, Det. Greggs’ personal life rarely makes its way onto the screen.

Teen lesbians were found on cable in 2006 on Degrassi: The Next Generation, which featured Latina lesbian character Alex Nunez (Deanna Casaluce), although her story line was never a major one (she reportedly gets more screen time in the second half of the season next year). For a more complex exploration of a teen going through the coming-out process, The N’s South of Nowhere was the prime destination this past year.

In the first season of South of Nowhere, which concluded in early 2006, 16-year-old Spencer (Gabrielle Christian) faced her feelings for Ashley (Mandy Musgrave), and the two began dating. In the second season, which aired this fall, Spencer came out to her parents and dealt with her homophobic mother. Though Spencer and Ashley continue to be girlfriends on the show, they seldom share moments of physical intimacy. This may be due to the fact that The N is a channel geared toward very young viewers, but it makes Spencer and Ashley look more like best friends than girlfriends.

Series creator Tom Lynch has even acknowledged that he is aware of the double standard, but given the direction that the girls’ story line has taken in the latter half of Season 2, it is uncertain whether the lesbian teens will ever get to show their affection with more than hugs or dancing on South of Nowhere.

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