big love

Can We Forgive the Gay Villain Stereotype If TV Shows Give Them Boyfriends?


It’s no Hollywood secret that when you need a mystic, you cast a black actor. When you need a mobster, Italian or Russian actors work best. When you need a terrorist, find the nearest Middle Eastern fella. Oh, and when you need a villain? Well it doesn’t matter the skin color of the actor, so long as you make him a homo. And after staying true to the script on True Blood, HBO’s other big deal series Big Love is making a go of it. But is the stereotype finally evolving?

From 300 to Desperate Housewives, movie and television writers consistently make their “bad guy” characters interested in the same sex. (The soap opera One Life to Live made a whole storyline out of an evil gay character who killed someone that threatened to out him.) How come? Because it’s natural for audiences to fear, have a harder time identifying with, and root against characters they don’t see themselves in. Hollywood, an industry maintained by the least creative people on the planet, thinks you’re stupid, and will feed you lowest common denominator fare.

But does that hold true on HBO, a network willing to break boundaries? Well, HBO is the network that killed off the only gay character on The Sopranos.

We just found out HBO’s blood sucking series True Blood would be giving one of its vampire king characters a boyfriend, played by Theo Alexander. And while that doesn’t necessarily make him evil per se, the show’s producers have set up a humans v. vampires story arc for the series, leaving Alexander’s character immediately branded as one of the bad guys. (We haven’t seen the script; maybe he’s sympathetic to humans like Bill.)

And now on the polygamy fest Big Love, the upcoming season’s biggest evil doer — who audiences already know is gay — is getting a boyfriend. Alby, who is the son of “the prophet” Roman Grant, is leading the Juniper Creek compound’s Mormon sect. Viewers have already come to despise him, at the same time watching him struggle with his same-sex attractions (there was a truck stop bathroom gone bad scene last season). And now writers are giving Alby (played by Matt Ross) a lover, Dale. Reports Michael Ausiello:

The character [of Alby] is “being groomed for an incredible season,” teases co-creator/executive producer Will Scheffer. Adds counterpart Marc V. Olsen: “Alby’s boyfriend, Dale (Benjamin Koldyke), is appointed head of the UEB — a trustee. They stumble into a relationship, and this guy is [just like Alby] struggling with his urges. He’s been going to [reparative therapy] for several years… unsuccessfully. Alby is going as well.”

But attempts to “pray the gay away” are just the tip of the iceberg. “There’s a provocative nature to what we’re doing,” Olsen suggests. “It’s more than just the Mormon culture. We’re highlighting certain aspects of the church’s relationship with its gay members that I think, as the story unfolds, is going to cause no [small] amount of controversy.”

Big Love is great television. So is True Blood. And the one thing that’s helping us get over the “villains are too often gay” stereotype is that producers here are sexualizing these gay men. Rather than just sitting on the sidelines as the stock gay villain, these three-dimensional characters often have complex story lines and, to the chagrin of the Parents Television Council, just might be seen in bed — or truck stop — with another man.

We’ll be watching. Gleefully.