As we enter into the roaring ’20s, Queerty is looking back on the last 10 years of culture in our “Decade of Decadence” series. We’ve seen an explosion in queer representation in film and TV, music, politics, and on social media. We’ve grown more aware of intersectionality, gender identity, and sexual fluidity and we’ve seen major social and political advancements across the globe. It’s been wild, wonderful decade, and we can hardly wait to see what the next one has in store.
With the explosion of services has come an explosion of marvelous stories the likes of which have never reached a wide audience. Now kids can grow up cheering on their favorite drag queen, watching the New York Ballroom scene at the height of the AIDS crisis, and see a superheroine capture the villain and win a kiss from her crush. TV still has miles to go to achieve a truer sense of representation–we can think of multiple glaring ommissions–but looking back it’s surprising how far we have come.
Have a look at our pics for the best TV series of the 2010s.
Honorable Mention: The L Word: Generation Q, The Politician, The OA, London Spy, A Very English Scandal, 13 Reasons Why, When We Rise, Batwoman, The Fosters, This Close, Riverdale, Work in Progress, RuPaul’s Drag Race
What a shame that a show with such promise—and which had a terrific queer storyline featuring a real-life gay actor—had to come to such a disappointing end. Empire never tried to hide its own soapiness, and it always paid good attention to the struggle of Jamal (played by Jussie Smollett) living as a gay hip hop artist. Empire axed Smollett following charges that he faked a hate crime, leaving the audience in something of a limbo. Still, in this case, a great start is enough to earn a spot here.
9. The Normal Heart
Fair warning: Ryan Murphy’s name will come several times on this list. The first concerns his directorial outing, The Normal Heart. Based on Larry Kramer’s play about the AIDS crisis, the HBO film channels the chaos and despair of the plague era. A stellar cast that includes Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, BD Wong and Alec Baldwin brings the story all the gravitas and power the material demands. Moreover, as Ruffalo’s character bears witness to the unfolding epidemic—and stomachs the rage that comes with it—so does the viewer. The Normal Heart isn’t just a movie. It’s a call to action to defend a community.
Much like Empire, Transparent began on a note of hope only to turn sour, due in large part to the behavior of a cast member. The casting of Jeffery Tambor as the transgender woman Maura Pfeifferman will forever remain a controversial issue in the annals of television, a fact further undermined by the actor’s abusive behavior toward his coworkers. That’s unfortunate, as the show afforded more opportunities for transgender artists on both sides of the camera than any other up to that point in time. More importantly, a show like Pose would never have happened without Transparent first, flaws and all.
7. Tales of the City
Armistead Maupin’s seminal series of novels got the 21st-century treatment it deserved, one featuring a diverse cast of characters, and a chorus of queer voices on both sides of the camera. This latter-day Tales celebrates and scrutinizes the advancements of the LGBTQ community, its generational and class divides, and the existential questions that sit before us in the new century. Rarely has a series so expressed love for LGBTQ people, our history and our future.
6. American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace
Ryan Murphy and Tom Rob Smith (London Spy) joined forces for this operatic treatment of the murder of Gianni Versace by spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Darren Criss gives a career-defining performance as Cunanan, leading the show down a path of potboiler twists and turns, building to its inevitable tragedy. ACS: Versace argues the magnitude of that tragedy could have been avoided were it not for a society rife with homophobia, where same-sex couples couldn’t marry, queer Americans couldn’t serve in the military, and where successful men lived in closets and empty, straight marriages. It also posits that a man of great promise can become a monster if he is spoiled, not loved.
5. Killing Eve
Sorry Hannibal fans, but only one horror/mystery series dripping with homoeroticism makes the cut here. That distinction goes to Killing Eve, a feminine thriller charged with so much sexual energy it inspires us to keep an open mind. It’s a Bond story about the Bond girl—suspenseful, stylish and very refreshing. Leave it to the ingenious mind of Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who also gave us the excellent Fleabag) to come up with a story this unusual, sexy and utterly addictive.
Thank goodness for Lana & Lily Wachowski, the transgender sci-fi nerds that have gifted the world one of the great sci-fi sagas in The Matrix, and this gloriously queer show about a group of diverse characters sharing a mental link. Sense8 may have been too sophisticated for its time, and for its metaphors about the internet, the patriarchy, globalism, social class and gender & sexual fluidity. But rarely has a show ever been this pro-LGBTQ, as evidenced by the interracial, trans-cis gay couple of Nomi & Amanita (trans actress Jamie Clayton & Freema Agyeman). An unceremonious cancellation by Netflix brought about an unprecedented (and unmatched) fan reaction that allowed Lana Wachowski and the show’s co-creator J. Michael Straczynski to return for a wrap-up movie. Ultimately, Sense8—a show about the evolution of humanity—made a powerful statement about attraction: we don’t fall in love with looks, class, race or even gender, but with the souls buried underneath.
Exactly how did a show with such accolades, such promise, and such a devoted fanbase die so quickly? Critics have often posed the question over TV classics like Twin Peaks or My So-Called Life that met with the swift ax, only for audiences to return to them year after year. Looking falls into that category. The San Francisco-based show about the everyday lives of gay men used its often soapy storylines of sex, dating, backstabbing, and friendship drama as a greater prism by which to view the changing identity of the LGBTQ community, and its place in the world. The show may have ended to soon, but at least Looking helped make the careers of now-beloved performers like Jonathan Groff, Murray Bartlett, Russell Tovey & Frankie J. Alvarez.
2. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Who would have thought that a rebooted animated fantasy series aimed at kids would also become one of the most LGBTQ-affirming shows ever? She-Ra takes place in a world of gender and sexual fluidity, of same-sex couples presented in a matter of fact way, of gay parents, nonbinary characters and where butch women and femme men have sex symbol status. Even better, they enjoy wild and exciting adventures, complete with all the action beats that usually get reserved for men. At only 27, head writer/showrunner Noelle Stevenson has a bright career ahead of her. She-Ra cements her as one of the most important queer artists working today. What grand and gay adventures will she have in store for us.
Oh, like it was going to be anything else! The pinnacle of Ryan Murphy’s explosive decade of TV domination, Pose represents queer life and history like nothing else before it. The New York ballroom scene, the scourge of AIDS, the role of transgender people in shaping the community, and the ongoing struggle for equality…it’s all here, recreated in gritty detail. It helps that Murphy passed off showrunning duties to the show’s co-creator Steven Canals, and to transgender writers like Our Lady J and Janet Mock. It helps too that the show employs an extraordinary cast, led by the extraordinary performers Billy Porter and MJ Rodriguez. Though soapy at times, we’re loathe to think of another series that depicts the LGBTQ community with such stark realism, or such love.
Indeed, and above all, Pose is a show about the love that makes a family, a community, and that finds hope in even the darkest of times.